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´╗┐Title: It Takes Practice Not To Die
Author: Bartlett, Elizabeth
Language: English
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[Illustration: Front cover]


Elizabeth Bartlett

_It Takes Practice Not to Die_ was originally published in 1964 by Van
Riper and Thompson in Santa Barbara, California.  The book is now
out-of-print and the publisher no longer exists.  The author's literary
executor, Steven James Bartlett, has decided to make the book available
as an open access publication, freely available to readers through
Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivs license, which allows anyone to
distribute this work without changes to its content, provided that both
the author and the original URL from which this work was obtained are
mentioned, that the contents of this work are not used for commercial
purposes or profit, and that this work will not be used without the
copyright holder's written permission in derivative works (i.e., you
may not alter, transform, or build upon this work without such
permission).  The full legal statement of this license may be found at:


[Illustration: Creative Commons logo]







Some of these poems appeared in the following anthologies: _The
American Scene, The Golden Year, New Poems By American Poets II, New
Voices 2_.

Thanks are also due to the _Beloit Poetry Journal, Chelsea Review,
Commentary, The Critic, Dalhousie Review, ETC., Fiddlehead, Harper's,
Harper's Bazaar, Literary Review, New Mexico Quarterly, New York Times,
Odyssey, Poetry Dial, Queen's Quarterly, Quixote, San Francisco Review,
Saturday Review, Tamarack Review, Yale Literary Magazine_.

Library of Congress Catalogue Number: 64-22731

Copyright 1964 by Elizabeth Bartlett

First Edition

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or
parts thereof in any form, except for review purposes.

Printed in the United States of America



  _Poems of Yes and No
  Behold This Dreamer
  Poetry Concerto_




















(1 x 1)^n





_E_xistence=_m_ultiple _c_onditions^2


























































[Illustration: Abstract design]


  I tell you it is inside,
  a substance no one has yet identified
  or described
  as something natural to flesh,
  a glutinous secretion in the cells
  that can harden and melt.

  Milky, it clings to the gums
  with a stickiness that fastens on the tongue
  to be dumb,
  or else stretches and winds a band
  around the heart so tight, it has to snap
  or loosen, springing back.
  Fluid, it waxes the bones

  to ease their impact and recoil as they bounce
  over stones,
  except when the latex thickens,
  becomes too crude, more fat than resin,
  and freezes in the sun.


  My head has no affinity with my feet.
  When I stand on one heel and lean
  on my axis spine, I reel to the floor;
  I can not turn on a fixed orbit.
  My shadow divides me by day and escapes
  me at night, a trait apparently made
  to confuse me, since I follow a course
  without regularity or recurrence, my cosmos
  inclined to alternation at moments
  evident to no one, not even myself.

  Who is reasonable?  A tightrope walker,
  perhaps, builders of bridges, sailors,
  mountain climbers--those whose direction
  is indicated by their opposition
  and held in a careful equilibrium
  like a golden pendulum, its means,
  each according to some counter force.
  Lacking such moderation, I look for
  wisdom in safety, and safety
  in wisdom--and dangle between.

  A two-legged creature, whose symmetry
  goes paired from ear to foot, I find
  duality a natural condition; a Chang
  and Eng existence united in fact
  but separate in fulfillment.  Parted,
  we die, and together compromise
  our right and left, depending which has
  the stronger influence.  Made as I am,
  the wonder is not that I sway or spin,
  but manage to stay inside my skin.


  Consider the circle.
  It is a miracle
  of completion,
  end and beginning one.

  Reduced to a point or
  expanded to a sphere,
  its ratio
  is unchanged by ego.

  Compare it to the line,
  that matter of fact sign
  of direction
  started but never done.

  Whichever way it moves,
  how far or long, it proves
  distance can go
  only so high or low.

  I think we should rejoice
  there is no other choice
  than straight or round--
  makes life easy, I've found.


  And still the arrows fly
  in all directions.
  No one is safe.  The wind
  has no armor.

  Strength, beauty, valor,
  whatever we find
  and name perfection
  is target to the eye.

  Who is immune?
  Either we aim--and miss,
  or ourselves become
  the victims hit.

  Even a hermit,
  locked inside his room,
  remembers St.  Francis
  sang often out of tune.

  We learn to die
  from a thousand wounds,
  each scarred inside
  till the final failure.

  Meanwhile we endure
  and suffer with some pride
  that we can be so human--
  enough, if we must, to cry.

  The point is inevitable.
  Whether heel or head,
  who is invulnerable
  is already dead.


  Be whatever you like,
  close your eyes:
  on the desert a burnished stone,
  in the murky sea a jewel.

  Go wherever you wish,
  bind your feet:
  through the night where a wing has flown,
  towards dawn where a leaf drops cool.

  Live however you would,
  stay your blood:
  with the sky over earth as friend,
  at peace with the mind and breath.

  Speak whenever you will,
  seal your lips:
  of this life proclaim time an end,
  in the next cry Nazareth.


  I have walked from river's end to end,
  a slow companion to the light seagulls
  that circle overhead

  and I have stood still above the bend
  that separates the foot from distant hulls,
  to fill my eyes with flying sails' wings spread.

  I have watched them many times repair
  the far shore's curve around the sun
  and hold it there ensnared

  until provoked they drop midair,
  instinct with seaward gravitation
  and angry claws declared--

  their mutiny a gold crazed rout
  that tears the cargo from its hold
  and scatters it about.

  I am not old
  and yet, when night brings me to town,
  I forget their wings and drown.


  That morning, after the storm,
  everyone gathered about the tree
  and marveled at its fall:
  the body leaning gently on one arm,
  its mighty head now cushioned by deep
  branches, seemingly asleep.

  "You wouldn't think a storm," one said,
  then broke off, staring at the fruit
  that never would be eaten red
  and sweetened by the sun, or set
  in jars and slowly left to cool,
  the ripening years ahead gone, too.

  "It was the wind."  "The rain."  Each spoke
  a part of truth out of his own mouth
  with words that could not make it whole
  because the naked roots showed
  how much there was to doubt,
  the secret in the darkness crying loud.

  Even a tree, she thought, biting her tongue
  and bringing her childish thoughts down,
  remembering the climbs, the stout swing hung
  on rafters soaring to the sun,
  a tree built like a tower
  so you could visit God and talk for hours.

  The men sawed logs and timber all that day
  until there was nothing left, not
  even a shadow where you could wait
  and hide to see if it would wake,
  then they buried the hole and forgot
  what else they might have covered with the sod.

  Dead trees tell no tales, she thought,
  nor empty nests, nor little girls who see
  how helpless all things are when caught
  by storm, no matter how big or
  strong or secure, and she walked quietly
  into the house to help with the next meal.


  Thoughts like an empty cage
  receive the morning
  through the windowpane
  and quietly swing.

  No flutter brings my eye
  to a meaninged core
  for the waking light,
  the door transparent.

  Held blind by the mirror
  and deaf by the bell,
  I must search my mind
  by taste, smell, and touch.

  Bars silhouette a wall
  to enclose the noon
  where images halt
  and the night soon comes.

  O bird that set me free
  to try my own wings,
  how this false spring tree
  clings that I perch on!


  Breaking the soil of her mind
  was an old habit as she plied
  the hoe back and forth over the year
  to see its design, the cut and stripped
  images of reason stacked in rows
  of answered arguments.  She swore
  at the stones, the matted grass
  and stubborn clay that held her back
  as though to a winter still unprepared
  for spring.  Was she never to be spared
  from questions rooted in the past?
  She attacked the clods with wrath
  until there were holes in the ground,
  then her thoughts crumpled down,
  taking her strength with them.
  Aching from remembered resentment,
  she turned to the struggle within herself,
  but moved lightly now and penitent,
  trying to ease the rebellious soil
  and soften it, to make it pliable
  to the new seeds, the new demands
  of the changing season, knowing plants
  thrive better in kindness than bitterness.
  And suddenly the year stood plain, at rest.


  Hunger, I have known your pangs,
  the gnawing urge, the ceaseless demand
  from beginning to end;
  inevitable as air and light,
  as rain and seed and soil, as tides
  and seasons; the perpetual cause
  of all that moves and is moved; the force
  that flows through stars and men.

  We are born hungry.  Begins
  the appetite with warmth and tit,
  with wombskin quivering yet
  from cry replying cry, then another sense
  commands another hunger fed
  to feed the next and the next, each heir
  and progenitor of this past,
  that future, and the cycle reset.

  Hungry pilgrims, we can not rest.
  Distance is but another nearness,
  as soon met, then shorelines bend
  and we must home again
  to other journeys, our Eden
  faith a continual repetition
  of arks and floods from which none
  returns invulnerable, the apple bitten.

  Creed, color, race, we have all sworn
  allegiance, fought bitter wars,
  tasted glory and gall
  for insatiable gods deified
  by our own hungers; with rites and sacrifice
  made bread and wine from flesh and blood
  that we might have eternal food
  here and hereafter, immortal.

  We are fed by desire
  and consumed like the fire
  on our tongues, in our hearts;
  a flame forever unappeased
  by our words, symbols, deeds
  or monuments; the phoenix, man himself,
  recreated from his own ashes
  out of hungering dreams and parched.

  We live with hunger always,
  that fearfilling, painpinching cave
  wherein we hide like hunted stags,
  lips dry, but tasting heroically
  of miracles...  Who has not seen
  visionary lions fall to dust
  and, scornful of the world's ambition,
  left the hunters truth in rags?

  Fish, birds, beasts, all are prey
  to the same illusion, all wake
  to the hunger that stalks and prowls.
  Sands thirst for unquenchable seas,
  plains thrust toward implacable peaks,
  time moves unfulfilled and blind
  from plans unrealized to those surprised.
  We die hungry even while hyenas howl.


  The day to day commitment to failure
  that judgment daily argues against me
  condemns me to despair.  I am guilty
  of more than silence.  At times words fail your
  wisest men and then, intentionally.
  But my silence, like all my secrecies,
  has no defense, none conventionally,
  my personal idiosyncrasies
  no social crimes.  When pride is pain and shame
  an agony too keen for reason, I
  had no other weapon.  Who is to blame?
  There was no intent to deceive or lie.
  My absence is sufficient evidence,
  voluntary exile, not providence.


  Of vegetable, yes,
  but amorphous
  by analogy
  to stem

  not a flower
  nor a seed
  and no use as fruit.

  Of animal, too,
  but understood
  of cry

  not a fish
  nor a fowl
  and no good as fur.

  Of mineral, besides,
  but disinclined
  to heat

  not iso-
  nor meta-morphic
  and no worth as ore.


  Now there are great numbers of people
  coming and going with the wind,
  and the wind seems changed;
  its voice is never still
  and its eyes are strange.

  Once, we remember, it was possible
  for the wind to move on two feet
  and formulate a philosophy
  of life and death by reason
  of environment.

  Then the wind that blew around us
  was a familiar one;
  we knew which side of the house was open
  and what grew from our hand
  each season of the year.

  When it was far, we could gaze
  beyond mountains, across seas,
  over days and miles of distances
  to twisted deserts and vast plains,
  bridging there with here.

  Wind voyageurs, we knew
  what a man puts into his mouth
  he eats, where he lays his head
  is shelter, that the clothing
  he wears, covers him.

  Then we had no illusions
  about customs or differences,
  since the wind was the same wind,
  whether it came from the north, the south,
  the east, or the west.

  Time was a place, we remember,
  where the wind was able
  to look a man in the face
  and remain long enough to hear
  what he had to say.

  Now there are great numbers of people
  coming and going with the wind,
  and the wind seems changed;
  its voice is never still
  and its eyes are strange.


  I went to the orchard
  where the trees were ripe
  and found a hard

  I went to the meadow
  when the grain was bright
  and heard a crow

  I went to the valley
  which was hidden from wind
  and saw a bleached

  I went to the mountain
  whose peak showed no print
  and met a lame

  I went to the desert,
  the jungle, the shore,
  and always some cursed

  I went to the city
  at last for the source,
  and there in the streets
  were men.


  A stranger came one day along that road
  and looked out on the field, the barn,
  the house set by itself against the woods,
  the air as empty in its fence
  of silence, as the hour of light.

  clothes torn, his hands streaked by the cuts
  of glass through which he came like hurtling stone
  to sudden halt, he searched the bluff
  of easy miles for signs of God on wheels,
  then limped some more and paused, the bills
  in his pocket less a commodity
  of exchange for another man's good will,
  than a threat of violence that was worse
  for being secret.

                            _Car wreck found._
  _Driver missing_.  He saw the headline words
  small on a page, his name announced
  in an obituary column.

  he glanced back over his shoulder
  to see whose shadow was following behind,
  while at a darkened window, its owner
  stood with gun upraised, remembering Job.

  A stranger came one day along that road.


  After the burning nights and the barren speech,
  after the dry wind through stony streets,
  we found our little green where lilies were,
  and knee-deep oxen stood watching us
  triumphant under trees.  For this was peace
  as nature meant nature's peace to be,
  with fruitful soil made ready by its need,
  with instincts tamed in gentler ways than fear,
  with freedom measured freely as the sky
  measures breath.  We lay there side by side
  breathing kisses, feeling the wet and cool
  of bodies grassed in loving, each a groove
  within a groove, seeking counterpart,
  with close-open-close, with light-in-dark
  and waves lapping.  We heard the overflow
  of lake down buttressed dam and sluiced walls
  making music in ditches, singing birth
  to seed in spike, to trunk in root, one surge
  alike in all.  Then, happily, we chose
  which way, and barefoot climbed the gold
  to tip the rim of that day's widened
  cup, before the darkness could descend
  to cheat our purpose.  Together, all of us swam,
  caught in a shower of light that fell on hands
  and hoofs, on flesh and hide--the rainbow now
  a shore towards which we moved with one accord.
  And the sun ceased fire and lowered its arms,
  promising new terms for our tomorrow.


  This earthship, which we now sail on seas
  of time and space, aware of other tides
  and stars and winds than move about us here,
  is smaller than we dreamed.  Once, its high
  mountain masts pierced infinity,
  as we rode, bow into future, and past
  at our stern, a vessel without peer
  in the universe, the first, the last!

  The sails gave way to engines, the spars to wings,
  the continental coasts to cosmic shores,
  and still we see no end to journeying.
  Although our rocket shrinks, we keep our course.
  We watch, we sleep, our dream a toylike thing
  that wakes and wonders---whose will, which force?



  Through the window of the bus, he combs a field,
  close-shaves the bristling oats, straps in a fence line,
  pockets adjoining timber, then rides into the morning,
          Now retired and let out to pasture, he
  does not mind the clouds, the rain that fogs the highway--
  his eyes are patched with blue.
                                Hands leathered and roped,
  knees astraddle, boots shined, he is seated beside
  as neat a filly as any in the herd he used to lope
  in season.
            With stallion gallantry, with sweets, he holds
  the miles to coffee stops and anecdotes ... till memory
  spurs his old man's hopes ... and the night stampedes.


  Separated by long years and the visibility poor,
  her mood reflects the weather, darkening within.

  Dishes, diapers, sighs, and pills ... roof by roof,
  she hears the monotone of wheels recite the gloomy
  catechism, and prays for a different kind of virgin
          Nervously, she rubs her good luck stone,
  then wraps her thoughts in cellophane as a heroine
  of film and fashion, glad to forget home, school,
  and all the lost-girl tales they tell of Hollywood,

  She listens, nods, and smokes.  She does not mind his boasts,
  only too aware how the ashes cling to his coat.

  (1 x 1)^n

  I can accept
  the being born
  and the dying,
  in doubt, alone.

  I do not reject
  or, seeing, scorn
  anyone's crying
  about the unknown.

  And yet.  And yet.
  How the being alone
  in the living
  makes me mourn.

  I can not forget
  the breathing in stone,
  and forsworn.


  Together we talk of parting
  and are drawn out from the shore
  across a running sea
  that was not there before.

  Cautiously we lay our bridge
  in air, island to mainland,
  and wonder will it reach
  beyond the tide or stand.

  Already our eyes are widened
  by the miles that split us here
  as we turn at the bend
  and pause.  Dark reefs appear.

  Together we mark the distance
  between words and waves, the wind
  swinging our cables.  Chance
  moves forward--we, behind.


  Your bed
  they said
  so shall you lie on it

  But I found rocks
  were kinder than clocks
  and did not cry for it

  They meant
  without a sigh in it

  But I liked stars
  much better than bars
  and kept the sky on it

  No crown
  or down
  held me in tie to it

  But I dreamed jewels
  in the deepest pools
  where none could spy on it

  They thought
  I ought
  so I could die in it

  But I learned ends
  do not make amends
  and did not try for it

  Some day
  I may
  know the how and why of it


  Like gods competing for the universe,
  they shoot the planets between their fingers
  with trigger thumbs that scale the speed of light
  to intervals of space-colliding time.

  Ping! and fiery constellations leap apart,
  bright spheres of whirling suns and moons that mark
  the checkered squares of sidewalks, heaven's zone,
  and hell, the sewer curbs where lost stars roam.


  Having lost my terror of the air
  and learned, by dropping hard, a pity for
  the grass, I grow used to the ways of cats.
  It takes practice not to die in the act
  of living, whether climbing up a tree,
  walking a fence, or coming to a brink,
  springing free.  The ninth time can't be worse
  than the first.  Meanwhile, there are birds,
  sunshine, roofs, and kind old ladies.
  The grass itself is innocent with sleep.

  _E_xistence=_m_ultiple _c_onditions^2

          _You who would be mathematicians in your living,
          remember Einstein_
  The problem
  is not always immediately apparent:
  it does not become one
  until the response to a given condition
  fails to satisfy
  the need that a continuance implies.

  Whether conscious
  in amoeba as well as hippopotamus
  or unaware
  as in water, earth and air
  there is evidence
  that each continues to be present.

  The process
  by which we seem to choose or guess
  based on inference and conclusion
  regarding what is
  and what is not suggests both as hypotheses.

  For the nature
  of questions is to question nature
  since its design
  is reciprocal by reflection of the mind
  as the rainbow
  to its image or crystals to snow.

  Perplexed by reason
  reality itself dissolves in the sun
  while the question
  remains above and beyond all consideration
  of doubt and fog
  a bubble suspended in the hands of God.


What is it you want? he asked.

Looking at him.  As though she thought he had something to say and
could find the words to say it.  The words no one else had yet found or

What is it? he repeated.

Her eyes an open darkness.  Leading to a corridor of black mirrors.  As
though at the end was a locked door and behind it the final secret.


Within that hallway of silence, her breathing, the beating of her
heart.  As though echoing his questions.  Waiting, hoping for the

If you would tell me, he said.

Pinpoints of light straining towards the threshold through a soft warm
mist.  As though they would help him to see, to slip across barriers of

If I knew--

Blind beams behind opaque windows.  As though in an act of desperation,
a man might hurl a stone.  The shuddering tinkle of shattered glass.

Here, he said, you take the stone.

Placing it in her hands so that she could feel it, roll it between her
palms, sense it through her fingers.  An ineffable, tangible continuum.

I give it to you, it's yours.

The whole, beautiful truth, God helping.  Love solidly immured within
its mineral heart.  Ticking away the centuries, immune to change.


  The needle between her fingers
  came to a pause as she smoothed
  the seams of her life and lingered
  over old threads of truth
  she had stitched with her own hands
  and bitten off her with her own mouth,
  noticing how these had blended
  with and become part of the cloth,
  until her dimmed eyes could not tell
  in the fading light which was which.

  There was not much of the garment left
  to mend, although the remembering hid
  what there was and changed the facts
  of dark wool to the brighter silk
  of summers past, when she had matched
  her wardrobe to her hopes and risked
  the need for later alterations,
  unmindful how both would grow outstyled
  and she herself become a pattern
  of an age more pitied than admired.

  Again the needle swayed and she sighed
  at its impatience, as though it cared
  that wool wear a rocking-chair pride
  with dignity, as though an air
  of mutual warmth existed between
  her and the winter which would help them
  keep what little vanity remained,
  and the thread grew taut again,
  leaving the stitches along the seam
  smooth and even as her last defense.


  Joseph had his coat,
  a different color
  for each brother,
  and it was bright.

  What happened, we note,
  was seventy times seven
  their debts were forgiven
  till his coat turned white.

  Jesus, for his part,
  preferred to begin
  in the newborn skin
  of a lamb, instead.

  We know that his heart
  devoured all sin
  like a lion,
  then spilled and bled.


  Five.  Between each the ages
  that separate, yet unite
  the pillared span.

  The oldest leads and guides
  as the short, crooked thumb
  of long experience.

  The others follow.  Up and down
  to the last small boy
  trailing behind.

  Unevenly they stride
  through the gray, silent dawn
  toward the sea

  where the waves still breathe
  of sleep, and empty miles
  unwind the shoreline.

  Five figures probe the wind,
  the tide.  They pace their length
  along the sand

  and pause.  No light breaks.
  The stillness keeps, as though
  the current

  deserted, had suddenly ceased.
  With poles, hooks, bait in hand,
  the five move on.

  Heavy with clouds, the sky
  broods behind a mist,
  leans on cliffs

  and frightened by its dream
  of a dead world's beach,
  begins to slip.

  Until five fingers rise
  on the promontory's tip
  and lift their poles.

  Upheld, the morning wakes,
  pours gold!  Fish leap!
  The land's alive!


  If we could unwind that brain,
  discover its world, the response
  of sense from A to Z, the place,
  time, weather, and human

  If we could trace the course
  of its myriad streams
  to the first rain, the slow
  gathering of waters
  in pools and springs

  If we could collect the whole
  evidence grain by grain,
  the words, numbers, symbols
  that shaped the color and sound
  of mountains

  If we could record the dreams,
  the chain of centuries from dusk
  to dawn, those testings of beliefs
  that broke the link and shook sparks
  from the sun

  If we could model its twin
  as a lasting monument,
  a brain with all our findings,
  long after men, their myths,
  wonders, gifts

[Illustration: Abstract design]


  Some birds there are that do not like a cage,
  that want the whole world free to come and go
  as seasons do, despite drought, heat or snow;
  that feel their liberty a heritage
  no bars can shut in or no masters assuage
  with pretty bribes and warning threats of foe;
  the wilder ways of chance they choose to know
  with wings against the wind as surest gauge.

  Eagle, crow, skylark, jay--no matter what
  the size of beak, how sharp the claw or small--
  each finds his own nest feathered best for him
  alone, on tree, rock, shore or grassy plot;
  there he can hear his own answered call,
  aware of baits that snare, of shears that trim!


  All the breadlong day she moved about the house
  and nibbled at its crust, until she saw Carl
  walking griefwards with his shadow to the barn,
  whereless in his step and heedless of the cows,
  and she wondered how he could be so thoughtbound.
  What sad, whyful thing could make a man so lost
  within his world that he had no fisthold on
  it to demand a moreness for his account?

  She turned from that window to the hopeside one
  where she had reseeded a world of her own,
  a garden like the days of her truthhood--green,
  and fenced in its innocence, flowering trust,
  where flowers became their dreams when they woke up.
  Reminded by the sky hanging out the moon,
  she hung hers in the doorway, then lit the room
  and hurried to her oven's tomorrow crumbs.

  He came in quietly and guilt-rubbed his face,
  seeing Jen's waiting at the table.  "Ev'ning,"
  he said and heard her reply creak underneath
  as he woodenly walked to the sink and draped
  a towel around his neck, unwishing the blame.
  If soap and water clean could make a man feel
  holy, what use would the devil's mirror be?
  He felt no such deception while she said grace.

  They ate their silence from faithworn plates and spoons,
  swallowing the forgiven coffee used twice
  each day and aware of the greater trespass
  they shared in this house which was their staybetween.
  Cracked like their hands and cups, who knew when its seams
  would give?  In the fearwhile, the question unasked
  kept their lips still, as though words tempted a risk
  beyond their strength to mend should the seams be loosed.

  The meal done, she freed the table from its chore
  and brought him the county's weekly paper, their
  footnotes to other people's answers and prayers,
  then bent to her needlework, seeking accord.
  Lost by, he stared unseeing at the words poured
  through his eyes as though, shuttered against exposure,
  the negative in his mind could be immured
  in its acid and yet bring some meaning forth.

  For a hurt away and far as a man might walk
  on a friendly day to a neighbor's door, lay
  Nielsen's farm, a credit to God had He made
  it with His hands, but none to the man whose straw
  grew luckside up as though his plow left a spore
  of gold in every furrow.  It was a trade
  so many seasons back, the reasons became
  changestricken at this stranger who sat absorbed.

  Touched to the slow, Carl paused and tested the bowl
  of his pipe, needing a valid doubt to prod.
  Had he pawned his soul to find refuge in rocks
  and let a waterfall drain in a sinkhole?
  Through the smoke, he traced the wry and twisted road
  down whenless years that had plunged him here to rot--
  and yet, of Nielson he had required no bond
  of hate, for this neither one had bought or sold.

  Torrent to trickle, not friendship had reversed
  the law, but an unnatural love of worm for bird,
  of plant for weed, of a sterile man for Merle,
  a woman he could not wed and mark as cursed
  without destroying the very universe
  that had mothered her and which she owed rebirth.
  "You take the farm and Merle.  I'll make my own world
  over."  The words had been all too well observed.

  He had not known how close hell was to heaven,
  not then and not while he lived in it alone,
  watching Merle's seed grow beyond his graveyard slope
  from buried dreams she never guessed were even
  there, living as she did within her children's--
  not until another came to share his ghost
  and made him see that death was not like a coat
  one wore and had mended by a wife named Jen.

  All the thought round, he gnawed on the bitter rind,
  hungerwhelmed for a taste of Nielsen's larder,
  that orchard whose fruitening he had bartered
  for peelings, and dry angered at the two mice
  who squeaked in their chairs, each resigned
  to his own corner of an empty cupboard,
  but mostly ashamed because he could not convert
  thorns into leaves, grapes from stones, thirst into wine.

  He cleaned his parched pipe from its ashes and stood
  to wind a watch with broken springs, setting it
  for tomorrow when his shadow would be hitched.
  "I'm turning in, Jen.  You come before you cool."
  His footsteps made the attic cling to the roof
  as she folded her needlework's piece of silk
  in a sewing box made like an infant's crib,
  then raised herself and blew its darkness on the room.


  Not the mirror ages our reflection
  but the other faces that we see
  looking at us

  Not the calendar changes our season
  but the other voices that we hear
  speaking to us

  Not the memory troubles our silence
  but the other sleepers whom we meet
  dreaming of us

  Not our living suffers the violence
  but the other beings whom we feel
  dying in us


  I raced, I rushed, I ran,
  to catch the empty hand of time,
  before the wind, the blowing wind--
  this breathless gift.

  I willed, I worked, I wept,
  to melt the frozen face of time,
  before the sun, the burning sun--
  this frenzied bone.

  I drank, I danced, I dared,
  to tempt the stony foot of time,
  before the rain, the driving rain--
  this raptured flame.

  I leaped, I laughed, I loved,
  to ease the burdened heart of time,
  before the dust, the settling dust--
  this flesh, this blood.


  On the caves of time
  again they draw their lines
  and circles.  Earthmen.  Born to prove
  that they can reason and compute
  a way to survive.

  Now primitives in space,
  they hunt with atom spears
  the bright eye targets of the night,
  and cry their mammoth victories
  across the cosmic waste.

  There they create anew
  high mysteries and truths,
  with satellites as shrines, and wire
  the electronic brain they use
  to command the light.


  Any day now you can expect
  the age to come together
  in its own fixed image.

  There will be no broken glass.
  The jigsaw cracks, painted black,
  will make a Roualt mirror.

  Then we will truly see ourselves
  as the headlines say we are,
  creatures of disaster.

  The No. 1 Song in the Hit Parade
  will be _I Hate You_, and _ugly_
  the keyword in fashion ads.

  Children will hug their witch dolls,
  blow atom bubbles in glee
  and play the most exciting games.

  Punishment will be their only
  reward and all the villains
  heroes in their goblin tales.

  Every man will be Satan
  of his own dungeon
  and no place like hell.

  Machines pretending to be
  human will evoke what's left
  of our pity and laughter.

  Manquakes, nightmares and fallout
  will lead to our final triumph.
  Only the worst will survive.

  To prevent immunity
  strict controls will be enforced
  against pure food and drink.

  Anyone caught sober or happy
  will be exiled to the upper air
  and banished from darkness.

  Mentally accelerated
  ones will be confined to wards
  in quarantine hospitals.

  Our most ardent wishes will be
  for illness, failure and misery.
  We will wear bad luck charms.

  There will be more solutions
  than problems in the race
  for non-existence.

  Traffic will be by tunnel
  and invariably fatal
  to minimize upkeep.

  All-risk benefits will be
  socialized on a single
  pay-as-you-go tax plan.

  To save time and expense
  cemeteries will provide
  one-room efficiencies.

  Everything will be reduced
  to simple essentials.
  We will need very little.

  Books will be easy to read
  backwards or upside down
  and even without looking.

  Music will be produced by noise
  in various degrees
  and ingenious combinations.

  A few zoos and museums
  will be allowed to preserve
  some relics of art and nature.

  As a change from monotony,
  schools and churches will be open
  on special anniversaries.

  We will be too busy dying
  the rest of the time to think
  or believe in anything else.

  We can hardly wait for that day.
  It should be coming soon.
  The news is getting worse and worse.


  Where fireflies are stars
  and the evening sky a sea,
  there you will find me, far
  from the leveling demands
  that leveled you and me.

  When distant mountains bend
  like deep swells toward the shore,
  then you will see the ends
  for which I built my dikes
  against the lowly roar.

  Though breath was all I owned
  to force my heart to climb,
  though words were all the stones
  I had to seal my mind,
  you will know why, in time.


  He who would climb the heights of tone
  and scale the peaks beyond the listening ear
  must first walk over water
  and learn to stand on air, alone.

  He who would swim the waves of light
  and dive past shores into a sunless glow
  must first merge with his shadow
  and melt through solid glass, like night.

  Where eyes are fins and sound is leap,
  the rhythmic force performs its own ballet;
  when dreams are fired in clay,
  they burn a path through timeless sleep.


  Returning miles of space,
  can you find the precise hour,
  travel through that day,
  locate the very moment
  ago, there?

  The mind goes back and forth,
  stops at what time stations,
  Monday morning, January 7th,
  winter, and ten years
  after then.

  The trunk arrives, departs:
  hotel, depot, airport, pier,
  with sticker seals to mark the sights
  and tag the route,
  remember where?

  With tickets, menus, souvenirs,
  a life's receipts in black and white
  to trace the course of wind and tide,
  the way back home
  from why and when.

  And buses, taxis, subways, cars,
  for how-long, how-far conversations,
  so much, so many, who and what,
  with love, regards and yes, again,
  name, place, date, pen.


  It was a silent evening, I remember,
  through the river's mist it comes to me--
  a star pierced the air; white with speed
  it leaped across the sky, slipped and fell;
  I heard its cry, it echoed in the sea,
  the swift wild cry of the scornful ember.

  Alone I stood there, never had I need
  of fellow rebel more, I, a rebel.

  Down the dark beach I ran, I stripped; time
  was an eyeless reach across immensity
  and I plunged deeply.  They blamed it on the tide,
  the night; they had not seen infinity
  like a vast unchanging vista wide
  before me.  If you go too far you'll drown,
  they said.  Ah no, only those grasp the sublime
  who challenge the dream, before going down!


  Let us admit it is attractive
  and represents something we think
  we need: to live beautifully
  and find goodness in it.
  Everything points in that direction:
  from beelines to star routes,
  our dreams flower in the cells of night,
  our days are joined to the sun.
  Open or closed, our eyes possess
  the world: all that appears
  fulfills the desert gardens
  and the glitter of gold.  Yet,
  whether we ever can reach
  the source where image and reality
  meet, or survive the force
  of fire turning to ecstasy--
  the immediate need we can not deny
  is, simply, to exist...
  meanwhile, perfecting the wish
  for astral honey and blossoms of light.

[Illustration: Abstract design]


  The ostrich
  like Shakespeare
  believes there is nothing
  good or bad
  but thinking
  makes it so.

  All problems
  he has found
  by taking his head
  out of the ground
  and looking
  for them.

  The solving
  is a matter of foot
  going faster than thought
  to avoid
  being caught.

  Such logic
  of conscience
  may well be envied--
  for who can dispute
  what can not be questioned
  or proved?


  In these long years of war I have seen
  drought, and the truth is, Father, that I
  am sick to death of it.  Can a man
  set his house in order just to die?
  You speak of hope and honor in our day
  and I say hurrah for those not born,
  for there won't be enough fig leaves saved
  to cover their nakedness, or corn
  to stop their cries.  There is no water
  and no sign of rain, only briar
  and thorn, dunghill and dust, while the poor
  groan like beasts on a desolate moor.

  You should have seen it, Father, the day
  they attacked, a day as dark as night,
  with clouds of fire both front and rear.  They
  ran like horses, climbed walls, broke ranks, spied
  out of windows, their faces pained, black,
  while the earth bled till the moon shone red.
  Well, old men have their dreams, and young men
  their visions, but that day won't come back
  until the mountains fall and the hills
  cover us, if those are here still.
  I've seen green land turn to salt, and worms
  rot under clods, while men talk peace terms.


  Sixty seasons I have sowed, man and boy,
  and I tell you, Matthew, that a seed
  can not grow in the heart.  No, one may
  as well throw it away or feed
  the chickens with it.  For a fact, love
  is something that only the devil
  understands.  I'd rather put my trust
  in stones and reap a quick crop, for ill
  or good.  That way, you have no roots and
  get what you can in a few short suns.
  Or take cactus plants, at least a man
  sees the thorns and expects to be stuck,
  unless he's a fool--some choke on wool.
  As for good ground, Matthew, that's just luck;
  I've seen other fellows' orchards full,
  year after year, where no one's lifted
  a hand or a hoe except to pull
  the ripe fruits down.  Some men are gifted.


  _Poet, who are you?_

    Janus, god of gates and doors
    and all beginnings

    A weather cock
    facing in every direction

    A festive singer who can wear
    goatskins and bleat

  _Are you not made like other men?_

    Twin of their image and echo
    fired in one clay

    Shadow of young men's mornings
    and ghost of old men's nights

    Parabola and paranymph
    of lovers only

  _By what signs can a poet he known?_

    For whom zero is an opening
    or a hole to be filled

    Who can measure the earth
    with a piece of rope

    And place the sun on a disc of paper
    under a cracked roof

  _How does a poet live?_

    As alchemist and archimage
    of twenty-six letters

    In constant employment
    to nature

    Free in every sense and word
    except for treason

  _Of what value is such work?_

    To dip the pen of time
    in dew and smoke and blood

    To distinguish the creak
    of a cradle from a coffin

    To demonstrate that life
    is the abscissa of eternity

  _Does a poet have any faith?_

    Whose only criterion
    is self-corroboration

    Who can find God
    in a barrel of wine

    And with the hands of a spider
    pilot a path to the stars



  Windless season without rain,
  you bring the sea up from the rocks
  across the cliffs, drifting clouds...

  Gray weaves the night as day
  and everything moves like sleep.

  Trees climb a hill, lights swing
  upon circles of darkness,
  walls bend a road where you trespass.

  You are the mover, the essence
  of all things seen and unseen.

  Windless you go and rainless,
  without form, color, or motion--
  in you, all time is one.

  Fog or shadow of God maybe,
  who walks and whispers so close to me?


  Here on the shore's last link
  against the landscape dream
  I stand listening.

  Intangible as air
  and yet like mesh, a web
  winds strands about my head.

  I can not see or hear
  beyond the moment's rim
  that holds me to this pier.

  Only a sixth sense
  of faith or fear, whichever's meant,
  sways in the balance.


  Through the porthole of my mind
  memory ships oars and glides
  upon the sea outside.

  Whose hand was on the tiller,
  what buoy marked the shoals or
  whether there was another

  I do not know.  A hazy twilight
  lay over the gray water, and I
  heard the distant horn of time

  blow once or twice in warning,
  while seagulls squatted on the beach,
  windless without wings.

  And I thought, will it be like that
  on the coast of my setting, mast
  and sun obscured by fact?


  Beyond the eye's threshold
  a light swings in the door,
  blurred by the wind and blown

  like smoke across the dunes
  for ghosts who wander through
  in search of missing clues.

  Dimly they turn and return,
  gathering broken sherds
  they reefed against the world,

  each sorting out his own
  to piece the shells into a whole
  and find the echo lode.


  Blind as a crab in the sand,
  waiting for the tide to slack,
  I feel through my hands blank,

  knowing nothing that they can not reach,
  yet groping to believe these
  signs of emptiness real.

  Ground, sea, sky, all are merged
  in the surrounding surf,
  where everything's reversed,

  where breath is radar to itself,
  antennaed to gray silence,
  and only I move, nothing else.


  Along the coast a lone train
  tolls the night, slowing its race
  to a throttled brake

  as a hand plows the mist
  to draw a moving bridge
  across the mainland's tip.

  O magnetic eye that signals
  when human daylight fails
  and all's invisible,

  who guides the current, the flow
  of water, air and pole,
  what dragon's head node?


  His fists smash against the violet air:
  the doors of evening must not close,
  locking him out!  Why, is his youth a beggar,
  crippled and blind, or reduced so low
  that he should drink spit from the cup
  of pity?  Snarling, he wipes his feet
  on the mocking tongue that carpets the front
  of a swank hotel, before the doorman beams
  him with a eunuch eye.  O.K., beat it!
  And he warms his hands with his breath,
  then slouches off, his feline hips
  rolling smoothly under bluejean pockets.

  An expensive whore, desire taunts him
  down through the city's bright bazaar,
  like the cool white tone of a saxophone
  caught in the jewelrich stream of cars.
  Shop windows hive the honey on his lips,
  the perfume of live mannequins clings,
  while towers squat like pyramids
  behind a desert moon now green.

  Smolders the coal in his chest, burns
  the hole in his shoe through the pavement,
  as he turns up alleys where rattling cans
  overflow their Nile.  Thickly, he quickens
  his course, begins to run ... till breathless
  and unspent, he whirls and twists and crashes
  beyond the guarded walls, the harem tents
  of night ... a purple fugitive, who gasps.


  Tell them who scorn my ways
  I lived without their praise
  and will until I die.

  Let them be cynical,
  I have my own faith still
  to question and deny.

  The proud and stiff of neck,
  the small who grub and peck,
  both look too low or high,

  while I but seek to know
  the feel of things that grow
  and, by my living, why.


  Three a.m. along the river
  between the footfall and the snow,
  watching the stars leap out and quiver
  against the desolate scene below,
  the flare of match one's beacon fire,
  one's inner tower of warmth and cheer,
  to keep night safe from its desire
  and blow away the smoke of fear.


  I have not always been blind.
  My eyes opened to the sun
  like any child's, and I ran
  and played in my waking hours
  like schoolboys everywhere.  Night
  was my sleep and the dark powers
  I knew from childhood on.

  I do not speak of the mind's;
  the others came later, when
  natural fears gave way to man's
  and I saw darker things still,
  things beyond the wildest flight
  of a boy's fancies.  Who will
  deny there are worse dragons?

  But I did not see the sign
  of what was to come until
  I was blind as Samson.  With
  one stroke, I lost all desire,
  hope, strength--for who needs his sight
  when cold age pokes the heart's fire
  with only a broken stick?

  Now at my feet a dog whines
  even in slumber; he sniffs
  another's bone as he shifts
  in his own darkness, hungry
  for gain that requires no fight,
  and in his dreams grows angry
  at dream's inconsequent wish.

  How can I reproach him, I
  who am shepherd and watchman,
  and as ignorant and dumb?
  Both of us strain at a gnat
  and swallow camels, the spite
  of those who may look at
  but not touch the other's ration.

  Yet I make no mourn or cry
  I have no tears to defend.
  By now my shoes understand
  how to find the door, the latch
  and go without any fright
  of stumbling up crooked paths
  since all paths lead to the one.

  Yes, yes, the words of the wise,
  but I do not eat their bread
  or cover my lips to swear
  by the debts of the guilty,
  for I can not see the light
  that moves men to take pity
  and neither can I forget.

  When harvest is past, the ties
  with summer are ended.
  Even the flies know better
  than to sit at a table
  where vinegar and gall blight
  the sense--their comfort, the chill
  presaging winter's opiate.

  I ask, who can see God's eye?
  Then let him be sure to scour
  both inside his cup and out,
  for though the temple is lit
  like gold and the altar white,
  the heart of the hypocrite
  shall betray his hands and mouth.

  I sleep the sleep of death, ai!
  An old man, I have no rod,
  no plague to command, no cloud
  to conceal my nakedness--
  nothing but a toothless bite
  as I wander in silence,
  a harmless ghost walked by his dog.


  The old tree weeps for its blossom,
  the blossom for its fruit,
  forgetting, when the frosts come,
  the seed will weep for its root.


  An eye for an eye
  a tooth for a tooth--
  this you taught me,
  this was truth.

  Now that I am wise,
  you turn my cheek--
  and leave me eyes
  with which to weep.


  Sand and stars are not enough,
  there must be proof,
  such as stones capable of love
  to raise up children.

  A test beyond reason,
  in order to move
  the incredible mountain
  and bring down the sun.

  Something uncommon, a sign
  of God in man,
  not just once, but as many times
  as the times demand.

  Still nothing satisfies,
  human or divine:
  the hand that stopped Abraham
  drove the nail through Christ's.

[Illustration: Abstract design]


  Light destroyed in minds
      only the stars

  Strength reduced to hands
      only the stones

      no other language but signs
      no other knowledge but chance

  Time returned to fear
      only the hurt

  Space defined by food
      only the hunt

      each one yoked from head to foot
      each one racked by claw and tooth

  Ears inured to hope
      only the drum

  Eyes condemned to ape
      only the dream


  With wide eyes open
  they walk into a morning
  where darkness shines,
  their feet descending
  a marble stairway in the mountain
  flanked by stone lions.

  Holding hands, they cross
  a sudden bridge, and pause
  to view the clouds
  below them.  Silence
  spills from frozen waterfalls
  to stay the river's course.

  Farther on, they come
  to a garden whose golden stem
  lifts her and him
  in its calyx palm
  and bursts the lovesweet dram
  from their summer's bloom.

  Now winged, they cruise
  between glass walls to gaze
  inside the zoo
  of human cages,
  those illusions of space and size
  multiplied in mirrors.

  Not to be deceived,
  they glide down vertical waves
  of light, where love,
  having slipped time's gyve,
  can happily ever after live
  in the sea's bright grove.

  Voices in the ear
  form a separate soundtrack,
  images blur
  on a shifting screen,
  while they uphold their safe dream world
  on secret tides of air.


  Buzzards in the air
  and flies
  peasants everywhere
  earth size

  Jungles by the sea
  and sands
  at each extremity
  bare hands

  Volcanos over towns
  and hills
  traditioned in the browns
  the wills

  Corn and bean for breath
  and bones
  remembered after death
  the stones

  Dark feet on the roads
  and wheels
  heavy are the loads
  the heels

  Burros led by whips
  and shouts
  in answer to the lips
  and clouts

  Adobes out of earth
  and cathedrals
  attendant on the birth
  of eagles


  Even the desert has learned to protect itself,
  to keep its inch of rain in stored defense;
  against the mountain's strength and pressured air,
  it does not stand, but daily creeps, aware.

  Upon its needled hands and thorny feet,
  it crouches, head bent, with lizard eyes
  alert to scorching light and sand, then seeks
  the deepened shadows against the coming of night.

  Here kangaroo rat and road runner thrive;
  the rattler coils his tail in sleepful ease,
  while bayonet and dagger guard the hive
  left by Indian and Spaniard in retreat.

  Shrewdly, the yucca's panicle of white
  is thrust above the ground, fully equipped
  to meet the world on friendly terms that hide
  poisoned stings, barbed walls, fists.

  One could do worse than put out cactus leaves:
  when harsh winds blow the wrong way and sleep
  consumes itself, from inner wells they cool
  their fruit and, even after a century, bloom.


  The recognition comes as it always does--
  slowly.  One feels a sense of surprise
  to find not all has changed: the blue of miles
  above the snow-rimmed clouds of old volcanoes,
  the tireless browns still ploughed to greening fields,
  the red tiled roofs that accent time between.

  The twenty years move slowly into place.
  With eye as brush and sun as palette, a full
  perspective emerges: as long ago today,
  as near to far.  The wish reflects a view
  almost transparent.  Past and distance blaze,
  caught in a foreground of light, then shift.
  The darkness grays, thickens.  One tastes
  salt rain on the wind that blows through the mist.


  Drop by drop
  the earth is born,
  a billion years
  from dark to dawn

  Drop by drop
  as rivers flow
  past sunless cliffs
  no wind has known

  Where no grass blows
  and no birds sing
  there time drips slow
  and patient, clings

  Drop by drop
  till waterfalls
  are turned to stone

  Here new stars form
  and mountains rise
  clear of the storms
  that twist the sky

  Drop by drop
  while caverns tall
  carve crystal bones

[Illustration: Abstract design]

  What dream lies walled
  within this night,
  what shape shall crawl
  up to the light

  Drop by drop
  as silence grows
  inside its vault
  of carbon snow

  When glaciers halt
  before no zones,
  when both the poles
  at last are one

  Drop by drop
  the dawn shall come,
  a billion years
  from cave to sun


  Dark angel of the night, you come on folded wings
  secret and silent, bringing sleep.  To you belong
  the rosemary and poppy, the final dream
  from which the road turned in its lost beginning.

  You have seen the frightened eyes of the city glow
  upon bridges, along streets, behind roofed windows,
  and you know how small a kilowatt burns in each
  single, separate room, and how each one reaches
  at last a diminishing point beyond which none
  can see but you.  Night is your hour and with it comes

  the inevitable surrender, peaceful or
  with clash of arms, with unfulfilled hopes, terrors,
  the fingers still clutching at the vanishing day,
  the throat strangled by the unuttered word it says,
  the ear straining for the unheard response, the thought
  immense in the dark.  Only you, dark angel, born

  of our love and pity, can see night's passing feet
  around the earth, on rotating centuries
  across the stars, journeying over the ruins
  of forgotten time since we first left that home,
  where the dream began, where the road turned, and the sun
  swung in its orbit, bringing you, dark angel, down.


  I need to live
  where it is cold enough
  to seek the sun

  More like that tree
  well seasoned to the rough
  of snow and ice

  That keeps its fire
  inside of root and bark
  till heat is done

  O fugitive
  from winter and the dark
  see the moon rise


  Of memory and hope
  I made my rope
  and swung

  not knowing its length
  or how much strength
  there hung.

  Backward and forward
  past into future
  I climbed

  higher and higher
  despair and desire

  Farther and farther
  no present to bother
  my flight

  above now and here
  beyond loss and fear

  Ah, this was the way
  to trap time and stay
  its dread

  yes, twisted inside
  then knotted and tied

  For being was this
  both height and abyss

  the head free of reason
  the heart without season
  full sprung.

  Not creeping by squirm
  an inch measured worm

  with darkening age
  to a burnt out rage

  But swept on an ocean
  of tides set in motion
  by light

  in a brilliance of air
  with clear eyes aware
  of sight.

  Until the strands
  between my hands
  were red

  and I came to a stop
  to let time drop
  down dead.


  I speak of the ruin of that house
  as the worst, for in it lived two blind
  creatures, blind husband and blind wife,
  each trying to lead the other out,
  and finding a ditch by the door.

  If there were trees, they heard them crash,
  when the ground split under their hands
  and knees.  But it was not of the storm
  or quake they thought, or of themselves--
  but of the fruit, and how to avoid
  both barb and thorn, each terrified
  in his heart at his own helplessness
  to save the best.

                        Except in their speech
  where they bitterly laid the blame
  on one another for the loss and waste,
  since neither had fulfilled the need
  for a house that was deep and broad,
  founded on rock; secure and strong
  against fire and flood, rust and moth;
  a house uncorrupt by thief or sword,
  yet so full of treasure that it gleamed,
  with light enough to see, mote and beam,
  the hypocrites of their common doom.

  I speak in pity of the ruin.


  I am afraid of that woman.
  I have seen the scorpion tip
  of her soft red mood
  and felt the feathered grip
  beneath the jess, the hood.

  I am afraid of that man,
  I have smelled the oestrous rut
  that enjoys the sting
  and heard the gun click shut
  at the lift of the wing.

  I am afraid, life,
  of your poison and passion.
  I am afraid, death,
  of your sureness and speed.


  As children we played "Wolf"
  and howled its hot pursuit
  along the canyons of our street,
  wailing the bushy tail
  that followed at our feet,
  sidewalk to cellar,
  lamp-post to door,
  feeling the murderous paws
  and ravenous breath
  tingling the skin of our necks,
  setting hair on end,
  and circling each eye.
  Wolf, are you ready?
  Steady on the first floor,
  he's coming up the stairs...
  second floor, third floor,
  he's stopping for some air...
  top floor, roof, and now beware!
  Rough coat, claws and jaws and tooth
  will catch _you_ and _you_ and _you_ and _YOU!_
  Oh run-run-run from the WOLF!

  That was spring...
  the taste of first free days outdoors.

  Wasting no time,
  in haste and thirst
  we came to summer,
  making our own kind of hay
  and playing a new kind of game,
  with dizzy drinks,
  jazzy music,
  cigarettes and kisses,
  and aware of other dangers,
  the wolfish ways of
  friends turned strangers...

  as fierce,
  as rapacious,
  in spite of all the shoutings
  and the warnings of approach,
  with no one ready
  when the roof blew in.
  How we ran!

  By autumn, to be sure,
  we knew the tricks and character of sticks...

  Nursing bruised heads
  and burnt fingers,
  we shook the straw
  from our pockets
  and settled down...
  to play it safe
  this time
  we thought,
  with a solid house,
  genuine antique furniture
  and homogenized children,
  finding a good night's rest
  harvest enough
  for such sound dreams
  as conscience feeds on...
  not hearing the creaks
  beyond our snores,
  the furtive glide
  outside our doors,
  until one rainy day,
  what a storm!

  Then winter came...
  and we knew then, there was no escape.

  Not again,
  not even with bricks
  reinforced by steel
  over a concrete shelter,
  for our pressure is high,
  our metabolism low,
  and we can no longer
  We have set traps,
  posted prizes,
  sent out scouting parties,
  and armed ourselves...
  Waking at night
  and trembling,
  we cry, "Peter
  Peter, please come,
  we need you!"
  only his toy gun
  can save us.
  How the wind comes through...


  A spinner in the green years, I trudge the snowdeep woods
  to find the Rima trees where I was warm in silk through
  those first winters.  Then the unwinding thread,
  from which I swung by two spare arms and legs,
  hung in the air like a gay trapeze, each vine
  humming to the brace and pull and reel of child's
  spider ways, an upside down dancer with her feet
  in the clouds and the heart in her mouth a feast.

  A beginner in the green years, my thick wool thumbs push back
  the broken twig, the empty nest, the closed gray flaps
  to summer's ringling tent.  Embarrassed, I lift
  a rose still red and moist and soft.  Again I twist
  its thin stem toward the light and dare the sky
  to seize my heels and trick time's crafty eyes
  till I repair the web and climb to one last height
  before I leap ---- ---- ---- to catch the hands of night.


  For the ultimate hoard
  I keep my board bare,
  no gold or lace
  allowed to cover or adorn
  that spare purpose.

  Stripped of frivolity,
  it serves as bench
  and table, my words
  a daily rite
  quenching thirst and hunger.

  Whether I gain more
  by my frugality
  than I here disown,
  or lose as debtor,
  only you, Lord, know.

  But were I compelled
  to acquit this ghost,
  not as a prisoner
  in the heart's dark cell,
  but as host at the altar

  of the mind's high temple,
  I would count my fast
  a feast in heaven,
  and with one candle
  cast the light of seven.


  The cocks have been crowing
  for two thousand years,
  so I understand that part of it
  and even expected, was prepared
  for what happened.  This I swear.

  As for tears, yours are mine,
  since I am the cause of them,
  and if I could, would take the blame
  upon myself.  I know, you think
  in terms of innocence and guilt,

  but that decision was long ago
  made clear in an episode
  of apples, bought in a hoax
  for a song.  I recognize it still,
  one we will always whistle.

  And feel I ought to ask
  forgiveness for you.  A turn of cheek,
  if you like.  Why not?  Back
  of every lie and denial
  is the thing we all conceal:

  the inner hurt that makes our fingers
  seek revenge, to brand the other
  fellow with our own scar,
  as though, by doing so, ours
  is eased.  Let's admit it does

  and, in comparison, sets
  a better example, hurts less
  than losing an eye.  How many deaths
  do we need to prove it?
  And to begin to learn to live.

  Love, you say, and I believe you,
  yet there is self-love, too,
  the fear of having to lose
  not only a garden in the sun
  but a chance to bloom anywhere once,

  which is more natural,
  and why I say all will fail
  unless each individual
  succeeds, for treason always starts
  inside a single heart.

  This is the fatal trap
  that none of us can step
  over or hope to escape,
  because no one is safe:
  first comes Abel, and then Cain.

  So please understand me.
  What you now do here
  among yourselves to free and heal
  yourselves from grief and anger
  may yet preserve and defend the world.

  Shalom.  I pray for this release.
  May you be blessed and walk in peace.


  In April, when she tried to take him there,
  a farm where winter had not heard of spring,
  where snow lay banked on rutted roads and winds
  went shimmying up and down slick roofs and trees,
  he took one look around and said, "God, let's
  get out of here!" not seeing anything.

  Luckily, night blanketed the backwoods
  and they missed the bus, so they went inside
  the house and she thought of cows in their stalls
  and bread in the oven, of the simple life
  collected here within its own crude warmth,
  while he stood smirking, repeating, "You would."

  The next year it was Washington.  They went
  by train and all the way she kept checking
  tickets, bag, baggage, feeling she had left
  something behind, and though he joined "the tour,"
  she realized with a start that it was he
  missing and lost to everything new.

  Everywhere was "like the postcards" and nowhere
  "was worth the time and trouble it took to get
  back from."  In fact, if not for the car
  she bought for later trips, they might never
  have seen the stars, how they moved together.
  "Not all," he said, "not all," and they fell apart.

  It was like that all summer, and even
  a continent full of moons did not change
  the difference between mountains and prairies,
  and she wondered how the others managed,
  the men and women living there.  "Heavens!"
  he said, "I've tried! Let's call it a mistake!"

  "Let's," she answered, knowing she would stumble
  over the same stones, up to the same door,
  till she came to the last and final one:
  single admission, standing room only--
  which was natural, when it came to dying,
  but no way to live, unless you had to.


  Mortar and pestle made of brass,
  these and two solid candlesticks
  were heavy fortune, her penance
  for being peasant born and mixed
  by impure stars to common metal
  in a foreign land.  But the level
  to which she raised her hands in prayer
  each Sabbath eve was holy: lips,
  eyes, heart purified by the tares
  that softly burned, the week eclipsed
  of wrongs she placed upon her head
  in blameless white, reflecting there
  the migrant image of a light
  that moved a wilderness of tents,
  made rivers part and mountains cry
  the voice of God.  All this she meant
  by keeping Sabbath in her home
  and polishing the brass like gold.


  When morning breaks
  at the edge of night
  and the stone mind drops
  to its plain of light

  it does not help
  to think of Newton.
  What we really need
  is a new invention

  a mental jet
  faster than the speed
  of yawn and stretch
  in the life we lead

  or a time lift
  on spatial pulleys
  operated by
  the lids of our eyes.


  This calendar is one, unduplicate
  and unrepetitive, being my own.
  What system it may have I leave testate
  in the genes of time as my memento
  of the events, holidays, and seasons
  that made the living so importantly
  mine: a personal history of nones,
  kalends, and ides, without chronology.

  God knows I fought my own battles, made peace
  with defeats and victories, wept and cheered.
  A soldier without rank, I took my ease
  where and when I could find it, having feared
  and met the worst, and found the enemy
  no braver than myself, as much in need
  of saints and miracles, each pharisee
  to his own convictions, though we bleed.

  What headlines emphasized my days and nights
  are filed within the archive of my skull,
  a private record of scandals and crimes
  no press would care to publish, were it called
  to print even a single edition,
  for the weather alone would defy all guess,
  being unpredictable, rain or sun,
  and variable as the heart's unrest.

  Such rulings, documents, customs, arts
  my life decreed, my life was witness to:
  I felt, I thought, I celebrated, start
  to finish, the world that entered through
  these walls of flesh; and there its evidence
  shall wait, in secret tissues of the bone,
  until some future historian's pen
  can disclose the infiniteness of One.


  Being a supposition,
  it is based on some ground.
  As such, the connection
  is important, if not profound,
  because, without it,
  we would no-doubt flit
  as in a vacuum,
  like birds,
  not needing the support of words,
  rising, in-fact, above them.

  I protest the conclusion,
  despite the evidence
  that I am a valid one,
  by necessity, if not consequence,
  for while I argue and pursue
  What I think is true,
  in self-defense,
  God does not suppose--
  He knows--
  and that makes the difference.


  They would have us believe
  that to defy authority
  is to punish nature.
  I would want to be sure

  what they have in mind
  and heart and hand, what signs
  of body politics they mean,
  before I could agree.

  Each sense protests the fact:
  a bird obedient to cat,
  the innocence of thorns,
  a night without awe...

  And yet I would accept
  a world less than perfect,
  for the sake of eggs and kittens,
  berries, stars, saints, children.


  On the library of my heart they have fed,
  the worms of my living,
  and now, surfeited, they are dead,
  leaving their husks on the pages still unread,
  dry, harmless little things
  that crumble and shred.

  Ambition took the harder crust we dread,
  the thick skin on the cover,
  and gnawed with slow, relentless tread
  the marquee lights for which it craved and glittered,
  weaving letter by letter
  a shroud embittered.

  Love chose the softer, tender part, the bread
  of my daily giving,
  and made each ritual ahead
  a carnage of communion as I bled,
  praying for the blessing
  I offered, instead.

  Knowledge went directly to the core, the thread
  that bound my life together,
  and bored its way up through my head,
  loosening by stages the gold and the red,
  until every chapter
  I had written, fled.

  Now that I have finished with maggots and shed
  their dust with some misgiving,
  I am glad for the words not said,
  for being spared the hungers other men have bred,
  in my old age needing
  but a tranquil bed.


  like spring cleaning,
  annoy me,
  and when it rains, I sleep.

  Forgotten things
  prove me absent-minded,
  although I still keep
  goods in storage at times.

  Once I did pushups
  and kept an earnest face,
  collected books, maps, stamps,
  and played the sweepstakes.

  Now I rehearse dreams
  the better to remember them
  and navigate by leaves
  between green and golden.

  How I am or where,
  no one knows for sure
  except my mother;
  she gets letters.


  They go about
  with curious wonder in their eyes,
  like children half surprised
  by what they doubt.

  The time moves out...
  they are more intimately wise
  of what they once surmised;
  they are devout.


  If I ask why
  you need not reply
  the question is proof

  Only my ear
  can help me to hear
  the rain on the roof

  What thoughts I own
  are shaped by my bone
  and etched on my brain

  Nothing more real
  than the moods I feel
  and what they explain

  Warm hands or cold
  the world that I hold
  is all I can show

  The more or less
  I measure by guess
  is all that I know

  All that I see
  with my eyes is me
  and no other truth

  Here with my feet
  time walks on the street
  in age as in youth

  Unless you lie
  in asking why
  you have the reply


  With leaner hands I clutch December's sky
  who held the barefist branch through wind and ice
  in younger days.  The breath of frost is gone,
  my eyes no longer sting.  Warmed by the sun,
  my heart at last has thawed and finds a peace
  it never knew before when storms raged free.

  Soft the fingering fronds would teach me how
  to seed my winter in a tropic ground
  and save my years from being cut in two--
  they sway before the wind with ease, they bow--
  and yet I can not loose my hold, I blink,
  I fear to lie in a hammock and swing.


  If you had no choice
  and there was nothing else to do
  the caged intelligence could

  If you had no voice
  and only silence coming through
  the caved subviolence would.


  Between the goat
  and the scorpion,
  between the horn
  and the sting,
  the dark centaur stands.

  He eyes the centuries
  that hold him there
  to a slow march,
  half-man, half-beast,
  his arrow still in hand.

  The bow is gone,
  long since fallen
  among the angels,
  when love and honor warred,
  while Jacob wept.

  Hunter and hunted,
  marksman and mark,
  he travels on
  past island suns
  where none has stepped.

  You can see him
  on a clear night
  in the southern sky,
  when the earth swings
  and the ninth sign appears.

  And if you listen,
  you may also hear
  a far-off wind
  carry his cry
  down the light-years:

  "O blessed and damned,
  in heaven and hell,
  in passion and intellect,
  all you who are twinned
  even as I!

  "Who controls his fate?
  Say!  Who can escape
  being pierced or grazed
  by its accident or chance?"
  A shooting star replies.


  Whereless in a sea of space,
  how shall we reckon with the dead
  whose graves we marked on a shifting land
  and left at a distance travelled by light?
  What pilot navigates our course
  through a finite but expanding void
  no almanac explains or chart defines?

  Sun, stars, birds, nothing avails
  since Phoenician and Viking passed
  with cross-staff, astrolabe and compass
  to bring us to shores we have left behind.
  We are speeding our unborn young
  to harbors no heard voice guides us toward,
  no radar yet detects, no octant sights.

  Now new dimensions of mind
  extend the geometric skull
  of Ptolemy and Euclid, of occult
  priest and philosopher, to measure time
  not by the sun's zenith at noon
  or the moon's eclipse, but by spectra
  through which we can identify time's white.

  Past and present, both are blind
  to the future, while the Sphinx waits
  for another Oedipus.  O waste
  of sand and wind, swept by an airborne tide!
  Shall we find a snakeless Eden
  and with the apples unforbidden
  begin our second exodus, from Paradise?

  This first edition was completed in May 1964.
  The poems were set in 14 pt. Centaur
  by Mackenzie & Harris, Inc.
  and printed by Bradley Brownell
  in the shop of Van Riper & Thompson, Inc.
  on Curtis Colophon text.
  Bound by the Santa Barbara Bindery
  Designed and illustrated by
  Wayne Thompson

  Van Riper & Thompson, Inc.
  703 Anacapa Street
  Santa Barbara, California

[Illustration: Back cover]

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