1. HISTORY AS HOBBY
We climb worn marble stairs
into a night of glaring electric lamps.
Castor and Pollux greet us
in marble, naked, thrice as tall as a man;
to the side of each
a pony as pale as the moon.
Then a bronze Marcus Aurelius,
right arm stretched in salute,
silent equestrian dominating the square.
Michelangelo moved him here
as honor, even though his gold
was robbed, melted down
to serve others' pleasures.
Empires rise and fall;
nations fade or reform.
Aurelius knew this and watches,
says nothing, this last great stoic.
We walk through
Piazza del Campidoglio, leave this century
to stand at a stone wall
overlooking the Roman Forum,
ruins from first century
backlit like some stage set sunken
in an urban valley excavated
beneath brick, stone, stucco.
Only a few columns stand
between temple arches raised
so moderns can imagine the festivals
of Vespasian and Saturn,
the singing, girls twirling,
braziers glowing long into the night.
Cows once grazed there;
peasants squatted in huts;
it was their right,
until Caesar forced them out.
The public good demanded
columns and façades, speeches
Now it is shattered stone and dust
preserved by government decree,
history as hobby, reclaimed
as time and money allow.
No Legions march victorious
beneath the Arch of Septimius Severus,
returning victorious from campaigns
No crowds ecstatic in cheer,
just tourists bunched like vegetables
atop a cart in the market square.
The applause is elsewhere,
for a few tenors and sopranos,
for leather steering wheels
tightly held at 200 kph,
before they sit to pasta, bread, and
a bottle of deep, dark Castello Banfi.
You smell anger in the air. It could be reports
of gun fire on The Great Liberator Street in Fallujah,
Allah Is Great Square in Najaf, or the acrid odor
of car bombs outside the Green Zone.
But it is only the leading edge of washed out
Hurricane Bonnie-its wind and rain slapping the back
of my shirt as it caught me weeding the flower garden.
When I look up my face blossoms with rain.
Cone flowers, black-eyed-susans, phloxes sway then bend.
Their scents scatter until all you can smell is anger.
They seem so helpless, though weather is their element.
Their lives are this. The sun, the rain, the moon waxing.
A young Marine lies on the side of the road. The humvee
smoke and wreckage. Clouds drifting across his eyes,
though the sky is clear. A woman in a veil walks by, flowers
bundled under one arm, the other blown away by storm.
3. THE CAVE MEN
At daybreak the harlot
She sat in the silence
of the innocent sun.
She sat astride a truth
for there to be
even a grammar
"I am by birth an heiress,"
"I am the mother
When men still slept
in trees, they knew
from the womb.
Hope and love were
still an empty circle
like an O,
like a damp cave
And they did.
4. THE GHOST OF LOVE: A VALENTINE OF LOSS
The blue light in the midnight fist of Orion
slipped through the obscure distance
and splashed upon another hunter
stumbling along a lonely pond, water of life, water of lust
and love, bounded by dark fauna, darker stone.
Though he tried his best to capture love,
to capture and consecrate love,
beasts roamed the wilderness, their blessings
or burdens suspended in snared breath.
Night, too, withheld its screams.
Something more was expected to stir the air.
He sat at pond's edge
still as a moon-moth sniffing the blind air,
faint light loose around his hands.
The breeze that moaned in pine trees
and lapped bright jewels of water on shored rocks
died in his seiney arms.
For lost love he stayed with the night silence of water
without even a whisper
of her beauty, of her voice fading like the angels of childhood,
and he choked on the depth
of an unsounded lump in the throat,
the moonless agitation attending
the lost granite gripping the shoreline, its knowledge of day
forgotten in fallen height,
as rock preached to them
its cold sermon
so that now, at last, under dimmed clouds,
in the mirrored blue-blackness,
with love a dying flame,
the difference between stone and water and flesh
resolved in black similitude.
Her ghost slipped from his side, willow-thin, wispy
as exhaled air, and he tried to breathe her in,
hold her like a word along the bronchial cilla,
but she began to dance across
the dark water in ritual delight, danced
beyond the shore-hemmed soul abandoned to marry blackness,
danced beyond the teasing reach of anything human,
so that the joining of myth and man,
like cloud and sky, field and flower, grape and vine,
the blessed binding into one new creature
shuddered, faltered as spokes shattering within the wheel,
its sonorous repetition imploding in failed rhythm,
in the music and dance that loses at first its sweetness
before vinegar splatters against the heart. Such
was that dance: lovely and chilly,
excitement and delusion.
A bullfrog cracked the deep still to proclaim the hour was its.
Pine boughs mourned their containment.
Crickets applauded from every sudden where.
She sang or hummed, he couldn't tell, but he knew
deep in marrow that harmony-more superior than dream,
with a promise as full as white and purple
lavender swaying, purity and blood,
completing the sweet air
of imagined spring,
and the song sluiced the black from out the air
so that a thrill of stars shone
in her eyes while waves glowed with rippled
tears across his cheeks, a pink suggestion
fading into the vanishing point of night's heavy canvas
stretched across the nightmare
kept hidden until
the final, awful truth clicked
with dream and hope's
He rose from the tree-shouldered shore,
an Orion loosened from the elliptic, roused, almost gladdened,
and primed, but without new challenge.
He reached out to her withs hands of vapor, fingers
a mist of nothing, less than air,
the bread of his heart
disassembling in the dismal water.
Some fish, twitching with instinct, some opportunistic bass
that only acknowledges hunger in pantheonless existence,
splashed skyward to feed, its mouth drooling
night's urgency as it swallowed a moth like an angel.
He stood in the joyless air and claimed as legacy
this moment, this mountain of sorrow
that neither wind nor rain nor ice could weather
or reduce to the dust gelling in his veins
and spreading like false light.
And when the moon rose at last,
when it finally blossomed into consciousness,
it thrashed the diluted weight of its shining against horizons
without mercy for granite or passion.
5. IN THE CELLAR
I'm standing in the cellar, the only place I smoke
inside the house, a book in one hand, the other
flicking ash into the empty pickle jar that serves
as ashtray atop a simple table of boards and
sawhorse along with the miterbox, an unopened
package of wood shims, and an old news magazine
folded over on an article about how to fix
the war in Iraq, a bare lightbulb overhead, its
pull-string dangling by my shoulder like some
lesson in planetary physics, body magnetism, or
the powerlessness of words, while exhaled smoke
invades cobwebs in the floor joists above me,
some Southern Pine, still blond, well dried,
aligned in sturdy formation that pleases
something vague in us. Did I mention it's almost
midnight and I've just come out of the bath
and stand naked in a basement, putting out
my cigarette and closing a book of poems?
6. THE EYELASH
On your pillow, an eyelash,
a thin curve of you lost in sleep,
in dream. This little hair a secret
sign between us that says
I give you more than bed and body,
more than heart and eyes.
I give you love's magic
that casts a spell to make
the years disappear.
I put your eyelash in my shirt pocket,
close to the heart, and make
breakfast, cinnamon bread
French toast, heated maple syrup,
the way you love.
7. WAITING FOR THE WIND
I have been the young soldier trembling
in the darkness of the gutted earth, waiting
for the wind to subside, waiting to kneel
and pray. But the wind has scattered the gods
among the galaxies. In the near distance
an explosion, a jet in afterburn.
Night grows and turns, it wants to heave up
everything and begin again.
But it's not that easy. There is silence
as a hawk circles a field. When it flies off,
small songs fill the air. But not tonight.
Whimpers fall to the bloodied ground.
In the morning spent shells smell everywhere.
I step into night air, dripping
from the August bath.
I stretch knotted muscles,
extend my hands toward Cassiopeia,
then bow with knee kissing damp grass.
When I stand up,
the slim breeze slowly dries.
Then I hear the moon chiming in the oak tree
like tin hearts on a string.
The moon glazes me with light.
Moths blossom from out the dark;
they converge on me,
their pale wings fanning my pale body
as if to say:
Lift your wings.