Now are the tacit seconds laid between, the song and sing – when ghosts once locked away, stumble into forms of animals and blooms, to revel in their coruscating sheen, and marvel at the crimson creep of rays, that finger forth between the gloam and blue.
Now is the valiant hour when thoughts oblique, in hushed danger drown within the eye, or gasping at the brink of misted vision, scatter into the cracks of furtive winks.
The vibrant moment now is tolled and rung, and rings aloud in hollow chamber’s sigh, as petals, wings, or leaves – unlaced, undone – are slipped aloft on exhalation’s glide.
One of the projects I began working on last summer was a science fiction novel about an artist who works on stories in a Western genre. This framing device surrounds a sub plot which is an American Western retelling of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The novel is in a rough an unedited state, but the following lyrics are from that sub-story. The character of Tomahawk Sal is a version of Innana, the Sumerian goddess of erotic love and death, cum Calamity Jane of Deadwood fame. She is also something of a witch. Sal’s lovelorn complaint for the attentions of the main character echo a similar episode from the Gilgamesh epic, and is voiced as a campfire song after being transmitted into the speech of the Enkidu character, known as Hard Luck. Tomahawk Sal is also a mélange of other mythic and liminal figures, including Baba Yaga, Hecate, and Olive Oatman, a frontier woman from Illinois, who was captured and raised by Apache Indians in the 1850s.
Love me in the haylofts Above the cattle lowing, Or love me off in golden fields Before the reaper starts a-mowing.
Your love is like a winter wind, Slinking in through gaping chinks. Your hearth is cold and ashen, A chain of broken links.
Will you not love me in the corn? No, the corn is green and sour. Will you love me in the barley, then? Alas ’tis poor man’s flour
Will you love me where the wild goose flies? The cliff is perilous and steep. Then love me where the jackdaw nests? Her voice is harsh and cheap.
Love me in the bell tower While the pious mime their praying, Or under mourning willow With leaves so gently swaying.
Your love is like a lightning fire, Running o’er droughted grass. Your love is hard and stinging, Like the drover’s flashing lash.
My love is true, my hair is silky, My ankles white and dainty.
My arm is strong my wisdom keen My spirit one third saintly.
My love is true, my fingers fine, My plaints entreat thee “ruth.”
Your hair is grey your face is lined I spurn your love for sooth.
Then curses I’ll heap upon you Upon your sons and daughters: May your lands be barren wastes And brackish be your waters;
May your fence posts fall to splinters Your bullets fall meek and harmless; May your herds incline to wander And your horses flee the harness;
May dogs snap at your heel spurs And fortune always spurn you; While ravens mock your daily toils And haints be bound beside you.
Lately I have been experimenting with using copyright free images as a backdrop for short poems or poetic fragments. This is perhaps not very sophisticated in the cultural sense, and likely not in the pop-cultural sense either since my productions have been quick and low-fi, but it creates visual interest for social media purposes, and makes my poems shareable. Keep in mind that all are copywritten. Here are my latest examples.
Forty miles gone in Napoleon shoes, another day’s dawn with the Julian blues. Crossing white rivers, crossing past streams; crossing o’er bridges burnt black at the seams. Sitting in your captain’s tent jotting down plans; counting birds from the bush into your hand. Words lash and they flash: cold Damascene steel, honed by grit of the past on the sharp’ner’s wheel. Keen is the thirst that’s got blood on the lip, and takes vein to the tongue with a lap and a sip. It took a hard minute of thinking to find that you’ve got a warlike mind. I’ve read your book, I’ve studied your sign, put down your axe, and I think you will find, you’ve got a warlike mind, babe, you’ve got a warlike mind.
At the black water edge of Pacific’s shore, I’m swept up, knocked down, blacked out on the floor, your sharp sudden surge, eliding defenses, crossing the wire, overrunning the trenches. Mocked by the king, and the lords, and the prince, awed over by scenes of stark violence. You came on by night, wrapped deep in the fog, as I toiled in the swamps and slogged through the bogs, pinned down by moonlight and blitzkrieg advances, I threw all my dice and drew all my chances. Ares in a summer dress drinking cold wine, done up in red boots, crossing the line. To me it’s just a vicious mess, I guess it happens sometimes, that you’ve got a warlike mind, babe, you belong to a warlike tribe.
Woke up exhausted on the wrong edge of your bed, with unpleasant dreams falling outta my head. Medusa in blue with a cup full of potions, dripping in poisons with love’s easy notions, asking ten times if I really still care, while freezing my blood with a basilisk stare. Looks locked with my eyes, under interrogation, keeping full score of each new allegation. You call out for peace in this desert landscape but ensorcell my soul to prevent my escape. Look, I’ll call you sometime, we can have an armistice; you just laughed in my face and ate all my breakfast. I can’t keep this up, I need to stop and unwind, and take a small break from this trouble unkind. You can call it victory and I’ll call it fate, while we go for a stroll in some forest upstate. We can soak in the quiet if you’re so inclined, and make a retreat from this warlike mind, and bury the hatchet on the warlike mind.
I surrender the field to your bright shining charger, and watch from the ramparts as you pillage and plunder. Head bowed, I march to the grim execution, paying due homage to your proud institution, swearing off conflict and black enmity, resigned to the guilt and the indemnity. In solemn white chapel with contrite ablution, I promise on saints to full true restitution, and balance the scales with each leaden ounce, and sharpen my dagger, made ready to pounce; now the troopers have laid down their arms, and returned to their fields, and their plows, and their farms, and taken a shine, to the peaceable clime, as I brood with a warlike mind. With eagles above, my mission aligned, my strength ascending, your weakness divined, I was born for a warlike time, and I’m in love with your warlike mind, babe, we two are a warlike kind.
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After posting and publishing this poem yesterday, I realized it was still falling short. I had high expectations, but I think that was mostly based on the fact that I had hammered some of my ideas into the difficult sonnet form and knew more or less what I was talking about and feeling and sensing in the verses. Unfortunately, I don’t think I was able to convey those thoughts, merely to relive and recreate them for my own amusement. Ultimately, I do think poetry should be communication driven. I still don’t have a problem with making the reader work, that is part of the fun, unlocking the secrets, but I do not wish to revel in obscurity either. So hopefully, this new version, with unnecessary fluff cut out and sinews tightened will be more readable and more to the point of my mission.
We sailed on black tarmac, rudderless, root-locked, adrift in white Ford, skimming the humid gauze of Des Moines’ dark. By dash-light glamour you mocked my pulse, quicked by your sweaty petting palms.
A rhinestone shroud of halogen soaked hues absorbed your lolling laughter, low and louche. Still unloosed, the lash that binds honey to the bruise that purples my dreaming eye with spreading flush.
Buzzing in the noon, knee-deep in summer’s corn, laid out on the hood, like serpents on a stone, green and white and tan and taut of form — and molten as the flames that feed the unbound heart.
The highway miles unroll; journeys never cease; time ‘s the turner’s wheel, and memory the grease.
We sailed on black tarmac, rudderless, landlocked, drifting, by turns, to split the humid gauze, as under the rayed and haloed light you mocked my rising in your sweating, petting palms.
Iowa noon, buried knee deep in the corn. Tan, green, and white. And lithe as serpents wound — splayed out and twinned on brazen steel shelled form, molten as the flame that feeds the unbound heart.
A rhinestone veil of halogen soaked hues, be-shrouded your lilting laughter, low and lush. Yet, unsundered from the honey is the bruise that stains my inner sight with spreading flush.
The highway miles unroll; journeys never cease; time’s the spinning wheel, and memory the grease.
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