CAUGHT in the black nets strung between stars,
Forge-formed from matter fused in sun’s marrow,
Sent up from long sleep woven with wave’s songs,
Born of and possessing while possessed by the light,
You awake, you awake.
Touch senses the groundswell, the flicker of slate fins,
The red feather gills that pulse, lunge, and drift
Down through the flesh of the ebony depths.
In blood’s channels, the surge bursts up the slope
of the stones and the shells, of the ear and the bones.
Beneath pearl veneer, your eyes gaze past the spray,
Observing the blued breath, the raised face of day
That glazes the sea’s skin and goes out and goes out
To that flint edge of light where the fogs and the storms,
That shrieked in those nights without number or name,
Scud and dissolve to be merged with the moon,
Their signatures smoothed by tendrils of wind.
You drift in the calm between current and breakers,
Where yesterday’s darkness can no longer enmesh you.
Shedding night, shedding sleep, in long light you awake.
BLACK breath of the blood and the lunge of the blood,
Of the sphere’s fecund surface, of swarms of plashed silver,
Of obsidian atmospheres split by spewed fire, of catatonic rain
Carving runes in stone spires aged beyond radium’s archives.
These loci of motion where matter moves not
Except along the ridges of
The patterned and polished shores of
The sanded smooth and ever returning swell of
Stonecast and far down past that light,
Deep in the blind abyss, I breathed
To the silt’s slow measure,
And awoke from such trance to clutch
The hollowed stone, the slick weed rock,
And was borne up in the wave wrack
Through a spume of iron storms
Murmuring the symphonies of Leviathan,
And shed my gills and bones into the silt
On the sheer slate peaks of islands
Prisoned deep beneath the light.
What was such light? I could not name it,
Or carve from its clay a god and kneel.
I could not hear its voice, its dirge,
Though flakes of that fire furied everywhere,
And swept up all in ashen wings,
And sifted many out, and sealed some up,
In tombs of salt, in pumiced shrouds,
Where ash and flint was all our food;
Our food, our blood, our salted flesh.
If in that frozen, burning dark,
was flesh alive at all?
If in that darkened scarlet eye,
was life redeemed at all?
What worn and spectral emblems guard
The gates of this dominion?
What captured trophies dangle and drift
Along the halls of brine and ice,
Save Kraken’s beak and cuttlebones,
Snail’s shell and weed-webbed skeletons,
Corals’ cusp and bone-smooth mandibles,
And sidling chalk-white spheres enfolding blind albino crabs?
And dust, and dust, and over all a shroud
Of gills and scales and shells dissolved in curdled sand,
Where worms anneal the moist foundations of the land
With silken tunnels thrust and spun
Around a deep whose whole demand
Is to maintain, sustain, the ancient silence,
Until the sun’s sharp fingers slash,
And laughing crush wet flesh on stone,
To bare and bleach oblivion’s command.
Above, the eel’s philosophy
Describes the dawn from caves.
Towards gold the myriad schools ascend
In cloaks of powdered calcium.
Their shimmering emerald mantles blend
As rising shoals define the waves.
The battered moon seeks company,
An audience of sense,
And finds no eye to note its light,
No empty, arcing arms to lend
Large motives to its motion.
Green begets green, immense
Tides offer up their shells and bones.
The barren, fetid lands
Lunge upward from the slime…
And pause in the silvered light.
From platinum pools, pale eyes emerge,
Whose body’s fins resemble bone.
Claws scrabble out across the strand
Where limpets nurse on moistened stone,
As dawn arrives to lure from sand
All who have dwelt below.
And I drifted towards such caverned silence
Dreaming dreams I did not dream to know.
THE WAVE assumes the curve of the moon’s mating with the wind.
The cave records the shape of wave’s caress on sandstone skin,
While drifts of prismed crystal foam clamber on its thighs
With offerings of tentacles, sharks’ hearts, gold limpets’ eyes,
In eddies whirling all about in the dance of molten snow.
Here matter mates with motion on beds of burnished slate,
And meeting scrawl a message, but the poem which they create,
Or towards what goal of timeless trance they move, we cannot know,
For the life of amber seldom speaks to what little light we hold.
We can but walk the strand and say, “We know what seeing shows.”
The green daubed sea stained on arcs of russet stone.
The smooth dome limed with scales, with trilobite and pearl.
Incandescent corals meshed in reefs of green glazed weed.
The velvet cowries’ polished skin,
The brittle tunnels of the worms.
The shadow of squids’ tendrils twined
In arachnid’s ice-grey lair beneath
The urchin’s agate glen.
All that weaves the water with the wind
On this coarse loom where all our blood began,
Here in this parched arbor floored with brindle sand.
At ebb, we find that little lives
And only drifts of weed behold
The blind and tireless sculptor shape
And winnow down the land.
He molds and blends and chisels curves.
He hacks and smoothes and rends.
He blasts out pits and pillars caves.
He throws down tools and strolls away,
His fingers forceless, ceaseless,
His eyes evolved from wind.
His work awaits him patiently.
With wings cast out on quiet air
The arcs slope down to rest below
In channels strung with dripping stones,
Flesh-hued, bleached and dappled dun
By salt, this season’s sun.
In that deserted nave, we stood erect
The crisp brine drying on our skin,
Enraptured by the water’s drone,
By ancient tongues of rasping rock.
Cascades within the crevice laved
The barnacles ‘ crimson limbs
And plashing pools to us revealed
Silver scales and ivory teeth,
Mantas’ barbs, the arms of buff anemones,
All snagged within the urchin’s violet spines.
Such charms with the shells’ white tally held
Us prisoned there in liquid chains;
There where the walls’ rayed records
First displayed our secret names
In vaults packed thick with fern,
Now buried deep in settled silts
Of the sunken shores we once had crawled,
When the pacing tide had thrown
Our sea-shaped flesh amid the rocks,
And left us cringing in the foam.
Our first breath our myths ordained,
And with our claws we fashioned forms
From hollowed bones, and scales, and skin,
From fur and sinew, shells and skulls,
From polished teeth and spangled feathers,
But mostly from the surf-carved stones
Of this our first and only terror.
The Valley of Shells and Bones
“WHAT SCALED and feathered fetish shakes
Awake our loamy sleep
In these sealed vaults where dust and sand
Enrobe our golden masks
That hover over dreaming faces
Drowned in tinted musk;
Here where the spider curls
And chitters in the crystal locket,
Here as time’s mouth leeches
Blood and brain and bids
The leather skin to tighten in
On the empty, staring socket,
And bind the breath that fading far
Laughed within the dusk?”
Here is your thin, tin trowel
And here your sable brush
For prying loose these mitered stones
And sweeping off the dust
That sifts between these shaken dreamers
Like paling ebony snow
As you squat above the site
Where you worshiped once below.
Come thrust your torch
Through the shattered walls,
And map the stains on stone,
To explicate these distant deaths
From strewn patterns of bone.
The distance that such deaths define
Is measured by that ageless path
That winds up from the sea’s last limb
Meandering to the blood’s demands,
And, rolling over shells’ sharp rims,
Finally finds its well-trod way
To midnight’s flaming brands
Where vacant, lusting faces gape
Within masks of whitened clay.
The path slopes through the stunted wood
Where the mantis ruts and feeds,
Then spirals down to the sacred caves
Where men in twitching files repeat
The witless chants of wind and waves.
“The curds of rancid smoke performed our genuflection.
Our flayed limbs writhed and steamed in screams of light.
Our lidless eyes became one daring crow’s confections.
Our shriveled nerves shrank back from the coal’s delight.
Our marrow melted fast as flames licked up our blackened bones.
Our gaping mouths spewed rancid smoke as if they would relate
The secret magic flint and steel on tethered flesh create.”
Here is your iron pick
And here your crested spoon.
Not silver, true, but still
The emblem of your art,
Which is, to wit,
To lay these bodies bare;
Explain their ritual agonies,
Deduce their sorry fate,
Describe their diet, sex,
The colors of their hair,
And tell how long
Their ashen lair
Has lain beneath
Our present pleasant state.
ACROSS panduriform pale angiosperm on mirrored peltate falls,
While near the placid lotus, pollen mists the purple shoots.
Between the black bees’ shimmered cells the lank lobelia nods
To our bark boats’ khakied passengers who drift within the dawn
Past palisades of jade arcades where three white peacocks nest
And watch the blooming shadows splash each feathered parchment breast,
While pods of chocolate, bursting, plop down through the humused air.
The river’s surface mists then stills. Ivory roots press into loam.
Below, the moon-orange carp defends its’ clutch of amber eggs.
Above, the lynx with opal eyes creeps out along her limb.
Nearby some agate claws scrape soft on deliquescent stone.
We float upon the river’s skin, moved by gusts of will and whim,
And soothe our minds by naming names,
And tell ourselves we have come home.
Trillium and lush Gentian, Adderstongue, and Ficus.
Scarlet gowns amaze the green, reveal the adamantine
Wall that girds the grand escarpment of the ferns,
Its surface bound by misted fronds laced up with waxen vines,
Which part around a bamboo tube that gives a muffled phut —
Then the sting of feathered dart, the rapid pad of fleeing feet,
The rustle in the treetops that cannot be the wind.
The earth-smeared limbs unfold before the naked loins,
The tribe-inflicted scars, the shadowed almond eyes.
All sound amid the trees resolves to water over stone.
We stare into the stilling pond cupped among the leaves,
And see a face of beaten gold emerge to meet our gaze
With eyes that in their hunted depths prove to be our own.
Peregrine and Excelsea, Goshawk, and Hyacinth.
Shards of sunlight, blizzards of shadow, glaciers of mist.
The hewn stone bower where the bronze arms lift
Out over the sheen and the haze and the shift
Of that river where daily we drift on the flow
For the classing of birds, the scaling of trees,
The correction of maps, and the casting of coins
Into the bush to lure to our lenses those faces
Whose eyes we once measured with light from our own,
To put to them questions concerning the place
Where the wild lilies rot and the frog’s bulging brows
Make the moss tremble with the tendrils of dream.
And we glide near the bank and call out at first light.
The jaguar’s eyes and uncut gems enticed us from the camp,
Out along the dwindling trail that grazed the sleeping trunks,
Then wound beneath the rising roots that leached the stifling air,
Beyond the glade where each leaf cupped one perfect crystal sphere,
And pranced us on through that dim maze where the very trees advanced,
Where vaulted leaves absorbed the light and hidden hands drew back
The tapestry of lianes to the rhythm of whispered chants,
Revealing carven dancers clad in clinging leaf and vine,
Given over all to roots’ attack and patient, flaking time.
In such damp chains, they struggled still as if they wished to lunge
Towards the ancient mummers’ music of the blade’s suspended plunge,
To hear the young girl’s frozen shriek, to obey the priest’s command,
And taste within their riven walls the pulsing heart in the crimson hand.
Exaltata and Puffballs’ spores, aluminum daubed on jade.
The purple bulbs of oozing figs’ tumescent summer plunder.
Magenta rain that flecks and feeds the calm insatiate glade.
The shimmered wings that soar and swarm within the thunder
To light the trees where all our children sleep arrayed
In a flush of silk sheened flowers, wet with rooted wonder.
Their blue-veined faces gaze while above them faintly sounds
The tightened drums of web and leaf struck by fattened bees.
They hear the forest’s groaning dance, the rain’s tattoo on fronds.
They caress the feathered serpent, hear its savage screet,
And hide like braids of smoke among the vines and trees
To follow with their ancient eyes our expedition’s long retreat.
The children toss and wake in the evening’s placid cool.
Hooves beat towards them in the dusk and singing rings the pool
Where leaf bones drift, and furred roots gently sway
To the lilt of those valved voices whose words we cannot say.
Their languid arms and ochre eyes with signs command the night.
We drift downstream in silence to where darker dark is all our light.
FROM EACH one in the hard soil myriads are spun.
Sheaves of gold on bronze in files beneath the sun.
Is it towards the whiteness of the wafer
The field bends on autumn winds;
Towards the body which is breath not flesh
That the body which is only flesh
Scuffs its limbs upon the soil,
And fears at night tomorrow’s toil,
And sees in dreams the shade of musk
Gold trumpets rising in the dusk?
Or is the seed of wheat enough,
Its own bronze parable of blood,
Enrobing in its nucleus
The architecture of the Ark,
Our constant Covenant of Bread?
On the Thirtieth Meridian, at the pivot of the Land,
A fan spreads out in silted twists
Pinned by five gold inches to the River’s wrist,
And clasped by five white fingers of that marble hand.
Between the rise and fall of speech
Earth’s pulse is felt throughout the land,
Its rhythms mimicked by the priests,
Its regulations drawn on dirt
In circles, trisects, lines, and cubes
Of numbers and of wheat,
Of incantations scratched on stone,
That from their power we may eat
The bread, for we have tasted of the fruit,
And found it, if not sweet, of use
In surveying tombs and gardens that will suit.
The wilderness yields only flesh
Of fruit, or fowl, or hunted beast.
It cannot give us wheat and bread,
And it is bread that we would eat.
Though our bodies be of infirm flesh,
Our thoughts enslaved to blood and heat;
Though we scan the skies with eyes of beasts,
Still, we would walk in fields of wheat,
And from such sheaves deduce the laws
Of war and wealth and God, and pause
To build our towns and temples, paven streets,
And gird the very globe with grids,
And make our maps and take our measures,
To populate the final stars with a myriad,
Grown from one, in the harsh soil, our single treasure.
The Algarve, Portugal 1979 — British Columbia, 2005 — Paradise, California 2018