Everything’s pretext for mourning, so when
that old space bird fell in fiery pieces
across west Texas, burning up the son
of Holocaust survivors, I thought of you
How the worst had come as a surprise so
many times at last it could not surprise
because you kept it always with you, near,
the hurt intimate with your heart, too close
For anything like comfort – when I saw
the face of the Israeli astronaut’s
old father, I recognized the look, like you,
unsure that survival is a blessing,
Steadfast, even when he’s most despairing,
For we and our world are past repairing
February 2, 2003
They flee from me, the lithe and lightning fish,
whom I would catch and dally with and keep,
admiring their embroidery, a dish
of light to make the queen of art’s heart leap.
What tailor’s hand their small scales stitched all tricks
of counterpoint and fugue, as Bach, did know;
with nimble wit fantastic threads he picks
and sets them all in unison aglow.
Not by seasons does the sea change fashions.
Fish clothes are classic, some pre-Jurassic.
On their skins sleek creatures sport their passions.
Some are fierce, some soft, some mock and mimic
This sea, where arts converge, makes light music
and music light, shows lust an ancient kick.
It is as in the deep a silken tent,
yet vagabond, without a central stay.
Adrift in its capricious element,
where currents play it finds its silent way.
It floats all dreamless through the star struck night.
If something like a dance it does, it knows
no step and nothing of enchantment’s might
though phosphorescent from within it glows.
Between wet and wet it’s sheer filament.
It seems a ghostly rag, stolen from fog,
this pale aimless form, home to no intent,
white jellyfish, inexplicable cog.
The close stitched seams, the catenaries sweet:
What knows no enclosing meets no defeat.
How many minnows, unnumbered as stars,
hang silver still in these warm tidal pools,
a vast progeny cradled by sand bars
while the sun unwinds as from golden spools
I am huge among them, these tiny fish
that hang just below the air’s interface.
I think of Faberge, that school’s relish
in the miniature, in pride of place.
The minnows surround me. I am the hole
in the doughnut about which they revolve,
each a limpid instance, fish without bowl,
each a riddle no art can solve
Singing so, I paint fleeting immersion
Of breath, each has only his own version.
Mollusks are their own mathematicians.
Blind in the deep they discover whorled forms,
yet they’ve no use for metaphysicians.
Men die for purposes and drown in norms.
The lowly mollusk echoes galaxies
and cares not a wit. His shell bounds his world.
He lacks light for larger intricacies,
bothers not how stars through heavens are hurled.
I culled today a shell from dreamy sea.
It made a point and seemed to wear a map.
With lines of green latitude, precisely,
it was ruled. I disturbed it from its nap.
Now for the deed there is no remedy.
We both lie lost in stranger’s melody.
Each second I’m launching that second’s guess,
second guessing all seconds that have gone
before, adding one more awkward mirror
to a hall of mirrors that’s never done.
Now each second’s guess prepares a surprise
for all the seconds that are yet to come,
for the invasion of minutes and hours
that can’t stop itself and does not conquer
Any objective, but is caught in risks
that bloom from mornings and bright afternoons
to become catastrophes, opposites
of what was intended or expected.
Don’t forget worry is an art form, too,
That we can’t bear to live only what’s true
So many times now have I asked myself
the same old questions that I’ve gotten used
to them as parts of me: it’s no longer
a question of answering them, but just
Of knowing where my edges used to be,
how I’ve gotten smoothed down over the years,
so it’s hard to recollect my roughness,
my inarticulate passions, their ghosts
If I start to think I know what my life
has been and is, I’ve passed into stupor,
those old questions, hypnotic, until I
finally join them in the river’s trance
What’s more precious than a question’s curved mark
To keeps us company in our own dark?
M was never an easy one to know,
for he thought of himself as just the first
or last hesitant outline of shadow,
a beginning or an ending, subtle,
Neither unambiguously the one
or the other, too vague for expression,
someone who was a half way hint, more than
he had ideas or aesthetic, plan
Or purpose, someone who passed life’s short term
beguiled by intimacies and fictions
arising only in him without clues
as to how they might be made more robust
A trace of M is not the taste of M,
who wished to be flower without a stem
Cancer killed a man who led the Vilna
Ghetto uprising, fought in the forest
and knew evil when it was live and fierce
all around him and he wrote poems still
Even after the cancer took his voice
so what was left was written character,
the smell of the hospital, memory
compressed in disinfectant, pain ruling
An empire growing minute by minute,
the glow of lights off the slick floors as night
moved along towards another cold dawn
by a river on a far strange continent
Abba Kovner, we let you go and stay
with us as steel spark of the darkest day
The world is beautiful with breezes, snakes
of grace, serpents of softness, which avid
steal from tree to tree. So green slumber wakes,
animated to indulgence, shy kid
of goatish luxury, by the quick bite
of teeth envenomed with air’s elixirs,
first, last and best poison, in malice slight,
yet most rich in invention’s rare mixtures.
Sin original is mind’s first motion,
art’s intent, which like some fallen rainbow
stirs the waters of harmony’s ocean
in search of the sign which has drowned below.
Eve’s green garden was Adam’s best delight.
Eden’s trance is everyman’s prime birthright