Monday, December 26, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Near Morning

Cow’s breath warms his swaddling

a brood mare snuffles her foal

crumbs of prayer

caught in the mouse’s paws

the shadows of the guests

linger along the wall

though the guests have gone

A leather drawstring pouch

embroidered with dialect

bulges with drachmas

the scent of sandalwood

a costly porcelain jar

rolled up in the rug on the back

of the little mule Ham

sleepily nibbling her fetlock

hock-deep in snow

The man has lain down 

with the woman at last

It is nearly dawn

For a moment

there is a stillness

so absolute

even the stars don’t blink
The infant beginning

to inhabit his body

is startled by the cold

kiss of air on his cheek

by an ember falling into ashes

as sound as soft as the step

of a friend in a garden

a serry of torches

marching across the wall

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Poem--Joseph Brodsky's FLIGHT TO EGYPT

Every year, Joseph Brodsky wrote a Nativity Poem. Here is his "Flight to Egypt".  The translation is mine.

                    FLIGHT TO EGYPT

. . .where the drover came from, no one knew.
Their affinity made the heavens slate
the desert for a miracle. There, they chose to light
a fire and camp, the cave in a vortex of snow.
Not divining his role, the Infant drowsed
in a halo of curls that would quickly become
accustomed to radiance. Its glow would climb--
beyond that dark-skinned enclave--to rise
like the light of a star that endures
as long as the earth exists: everywhere.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tuesday Poem-Attachment


Pursue me, Hounds of Hell, with blazing eyes and already bloodied mouths.

Hunt me, Lord of Hosts, with an archangel’s harrowing, incendiary wings.

Search for me where I’m perched on the edge of the edge of the ledge of 

the tundra about to crack into the sea. Chase me over the curve of the world,

across continents of crags, cataracts, shorelines, river valleys of dry bones.

Through all Creation’s wilderness of thickets, stalk me, track me, race after me,

until I collide with the frontier’s barbed wire and have to hurry to hurdle it

so as to save my soul. Let me stop then and be astonished by the signs of life:

a field of mild cows, grazing; a garden ripening with blossoms and greenery;

the first house of the first village, the colonnade of poplars shading a road,

geese murmuring under hay barns, and mill wheels spilling all the earth’s

waters where I wash my face and hands. Let doors I’ve always believed bolted, 

open, offering light and a seat at the table--I’d thought I would never find

a place set anywhere for me or the unutterable darkness I carry, lodged inside. 

Here windows resound with birdsong. Plates abundant, when we take hands 

for grace, a hundred thousand years of grief fall away.  The wine glasses brim.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tueday Poem--A Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto

Bees build around red liver,

Ants build around black bone.

It has begun: the tearing, the trampling on silks,

It has begun: the breaking of glass, wood, copper, nickel,

silver, foam

Of gypsum, iron sheets, violin strings, trumpets, leaves,

balls, crystals.

Poof! Phosphorescent fire from yellow walls

Engulfs animal and human hair.

Bees build around the honeycomb of lungs,

Ants build round white bone.

Torn is paper, rubber, linen, leather, flax,

Fiber, fabrics, cellulose, snakeskin, wire.

The roof and the walls collapse in flame and heat

seizes the foundations.

Now there is only the earth, sandy, trodden down,

With one leafless tree.
Slowly, boring a tunnel, a guardian mole makes his way,

With a small red lamp fastened to his forehead.

He touches buried bodies, counts them, pushes on,

He distinguishes human ashes by their luminous vapor,

The ashes of each man by a different part of the spectrum.

Bees build around a red trace.

Ants build around the place left by my body.
I am afraid, so afraid of the guardian mole.

He has the swollen eyelids, like a Patriarch

Who has sat much in the light of candles

Reading the great book on the species.

What will I tell him, I, a Jew of the New Testament,

Waiting two thousand years for the second coming of Jesus?

My broken body will deliver me to his sight

And he will count me among the helpers of death:

The uncircumcised.
Czesław Miłosz
(translated from the Polish by the author)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Nearing Winter

The phragmites have given in to the tempo of suffering, stalks now sticks

and feathers brushing on soft drums. The marsh bells stay silent. Clouds

have dominion. Beaches are running with votive lights carried out on the tide, 

and threading through the bracken broken on the other shore, a gauze of mist

will soon hang its skeins of fog under the low sky. Huddled on a surf-soaked

railroad tie fallen from the road, in raw November, I watch fragile hoarfrost

form on the salt hay and whiten the sea moss. Water birds have winged free

from iced-over pools, the wind wandering above, wondering what it has done.

We are holy, in spite of ourselves. We can make sacred a small place on earth 

simply by the mind’s companionship. I’m turning to sleet. But it blesses me.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Maud and the Abram Man

MAUD AND THE ABRAM MAN                     
The milch cow startled     My eyes saw true     A singing man was swinging by
his knees in one of my father’s pippin trees   A lute athwart his breast   he sang 
the daymoone’s beauty   bellowed to Actaeon’s hounds   and tutored the titmice thus ‘Better to be king of a molehill than a Pharoah’s slave!”   Plucking the gut’s 
progression on the belly’s pearwood rose    he howled   then mimed into his collar 
the dangerous dominus vobiscum    then chortling withal   boomed out our Queen’s 
endorséd English parson’s infinite rant   all at the gallop of a wind    I well-nigh 
bepissed myself with laughing   Like a crow he quirked his beak at me and cawed 
His wings flew up    he vaulted down into a frantic gypsy galliard scattering geese 
across the dooryard   leaping reckless and fast upon one foot   until from his knee
a greasy fillet slid   poppy-bright the sore enchafèd under it    At the well I soaked my handkercher and went as if to clean it    He spun at me and hissed   ‘Tis five 
shillings you would wash away!‘   A badge shone on his rags   a sanctioned crest 
of tin    O God, an Abram man!   From Bedlam sent to beg from shire to shire  
I tried to run    he took my arm  and like a courtier bowed prettily and low   then 
kissed my chilblained hand   “Poor Tom’s a dry,” he sang like a player, “Any food? 
Any feeding? Cyder punch for charity?” I gave him drink from the milch cow’s 
pail   my mind on his bloody wound     ‘Crowesfoot and speerwort bruised with salt”

he said   calm as if reciting a recipe for bread   “Rubbed into skin   will injure it   
A linen cloth sticks fast   wrenched off brings pustules   then Ratsbane thrown 
upon it keeps it raw”   The welkin whirled    he was quite mad   I slipped into 
the field flowers    holding my hankercher    his eyes were blue as anemones    
There was sugar in his face     galle in his breast   and I was planet-struck To be 
hanged on his fair gallows with  his hands’ silken halter    I wanted nothing more
Tom and Maud like quicksilver turned    without so much as a God Be Wi’Ye
to my kin    We followed hedgerows through the lanes until we came to London

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Who Is Tom?

The question was asked, "Who is Tom?" I've attached the original, anonymous 16th century poem "Tom O'Bedlam's Song" which makes clear he is a madman. There is another song, a kind of call and response to Tom O'Bedlam's Song, on which I have based my character of Mad Maud.

Our word 'bedlam' comes from St. Mary of Bethlehem, a London asylum.  There was one long corridor in the building, as in a ship's hold, and each of the inmates were bedded like the legs of a centipede off this long hallway, which was called Abraham. Some of the inmates, in order to pay for their bread and board, were given tin badges which made them legally able to beg, both in London and in the countryside. They were called 'Abram men' and though they could be mad, they could also be 'rogues, vagabonds and sturdy beggars,' masterless men who terrified Elizabethan society: thieves, pimps, gypsies and other ne'er do wells who roamed the streets and generally raised hell. Tom could be any or all of the above.

Tom's poem describes his sojourns in Bedlam ('in durance soundly caged'), with references to chicken and pig stealing (pigs, pullen and culvers, doves); snacking at St. Paul's in the cemetery near the tomb of Sir Humphrey, and sleeping with ghosts there. There is much that is mysterious and beautiful here, and it's not clear how much of this gorgeous poem can be contributed to his madness or if those who heard the poem would have understood all the references. Tom would have been well known to the theatre-going crowd in London: in King Lear when Edgar is feigning madness, he refers to himself as Tom, clearly a Bedlamite. An Abram men was a familiar character both in the theatre and in the countryside.

There is another poem, in Maud or Maudlin's voice, which refers to her looking the whole world over for 'her Tom." In her poem, which is not as widely known, she too appears to have been or be mad. I've decided that Tom and Maud have been lovers, have driven or been driven insane by the other.

Here is the original poem:

Tom O’Bedlam’s Song 
From the hag and hungry goblin,
That into rags would rend ye,
  The spirit that stands
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye.
That of your five sound senses,
You never be forsaken,
Nor wander from
  Yourselves with Tom,
Abroad to beg your bacon.
Of thirty bare years have I,
Twice twenty been enraged,
  And of forty been
  Three times fifteen,
in durance soundly caged,
In the lordly lofts of Bedlam,
With the stubble soft and dainty,
  Brave bracelets strong,
Sweet whips ding-dong,
With wholesome hunger plenty.
With a thought I took for Maudlin,
And a cruse of cockle pottage.
  With a thing thus tall,
  Sky bless you all,
I befell into this dotage.
I slept not since the Conquest,
Till then I never waked.
  Till the roguish boy
  Of love where I lay
Me found and stripped me naked.
When short I have shorn my sow's face,
And swigged my horny barrel,
  In an oaken inn,
  I pound my skin
As a suit of gilt apparel.
The Moon's my constant mistress,
And the lonely owl my marrow
  The flaming drake
  and the night crow make
Me music to my sorrow.
The palsy plagues my pulses,
When I prig your pigs or pullen,
  Your culvers take,
  or matchless make
Your Chanticleer or Sullen.
When I want provant, with Humphry
I sup, and when benighted,
  I repose in Paul's
  with waking souls,
Yet never am affrighted.
I know more than Apollo,
For oft when he lies sleeping
  I see the stars
at mortal wars
In the wounded welkin weeping.
The moon embrace her shepherd,
And the Queen of Love her warrior,
  While the first doth horn
  the star of morn,
and the next the heavenly Farrier.      
With an host of furious fancies,
Whereof I am commander.
  With a burning spear
  And a horse of Air,
To the wilderness I wander.
By a knight of ghosts and shadows,
I summoned am to tourney
  Ten leagues beyond
  The wild world's end--
Methinks it is no journey.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Mad Maud's Song

When Tom is far from me   the kingdom fails   The dales are brown   High 

are the downs   churchyards with briars grown    color welked from the sky 
Ravens hover over cribs   Hedgerows rattle eerily and sere    The moors 

are drowned   I wander through the halls of Albion   and eat the churlish air

There are lovers living    that yet lie together   gladnesse in their sleeping arms 

I early and alone    sit under a fruitless oak    fretting all the summerlong day

warbling out the rhyming tunes we’d sung   Gray goose and gander      waft 

your wings together    And carry the good king’s daughter      across the one-strand river

Blood bracken takes the woods   the towns dwindle away    gorse conquers

the meadow     hayricks shiver with plague   impaled in straw the courtly fool 

When Tom is far from me I cry      Jesu, Savior, can you come, can you come? Bring 

your keenest warrior angels, bring    For on this field of battle lie   oh lie    five young kings

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Landscape Painting

A fleet of clouds weighs anchor on rivers of light and glides out to sea,  

the Genoa jibs and spinnakers crosshatched with calligraphic scrawls

and chicken scratches, sails of my failed poems on parchment attached 

to the running rigging, heading for that dark horizon where crafts 

are scuttled, cargo holds empty, splintered consonants and vowels afloat

on the waves. I pace on the widow’s walk, the east wind dragging at 

the shingles, chiseling the slates, and observe the raging combers break

and seethe and break again. Inside, the kettle caterwauls, untended to. 

The artist no longer distinguishes shadow from shadow, my blanched face 

dissolved in hair he has made too bountiful. He packs up his turpentine, 

rags, and in his color-flecked coat, wanders toward town away from me. 

Glacial with shame, wild with fury, I'll keep the watch, waiting the first star.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Foundering

My pencil leaves only caterpillar scat on this lined page. Clouds have tied

the sun to the bed frame of the sky. The marsh has withdrawn. No wind, 

no wading birds, the current deeply asleep in some naiad’s tangled dream

my imagination, gasping, drowns in. Fat as a Buddha, I sit and wait. Can I learn 

patience from salt moss? Acceptance from the bowed phragmites? Diffidence

from Black-Eyed Susans whose young faces still look earnestly heavenward? 

This is all there is. All there ever is. Me, trying to decline the world’s language

onto canvas blank as tidal flats, my mouth, open in surprise and full of ash.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Return

He swears, emphatically, ‘On my mother’s grave, live eels are the best bait’.

His buddy shrugs, smiles, already dropping anchor at Red Rock near Lynn.

The stripers are running, and I almost ask if it’s due to the equinox and full 

moon converging--but they’ve passed beyond me, heading for the dirt path 

ending in a toy, oyster-colored marina. They never saw me. The granite wall 

is warm where I sit. I’m a ghost in my own life again, nearly pat myself down 

as you do after having taken a fall, to see if anything’s broken. But the marsh 

has borne the blow for me. The sumac has rosacea. Grey-haired phragmites,

to the beat of the stiff east wind, enact a geriatric exercise class, reach up, 

bend down, cross over, reach up. Beach grass shivers into fall--bronze, amber, gold

amid tenacious green.  Old mallows, mulleins, cattails court as if young.

A widowed white swan has the tide to herself. The current’s tepid, soft 

turquoise is swimmable for the first time all year, but I’m afraid of waves

that crash above my knees. I’ve never gone fishing. Never sailed. Never run 

with the stripers. I take off my glasses to wipe them. Ah, that’s better: savannas 

ruched like satin, salt hay like suede. Another autumn of convalescence. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Dog Days


Verdigris, rust, rot--even the sun is cirrhotic, the phosphorescence riding in

uneasily on the agitated, late-summer tide. Skittering shore birds unthread

the fraying hem of the surf, their yellow beaks plucking at festering seaweed, 

fists of starfish. The reeds are writing their wills. The wind has given up on

braiding the old white wisps of the salt hay’s hair. There’s no telling when

the weather will turn. No place on earth will let me say--I’m tired to death

of life. Gulls circle overhead, chastising me, the combers rise up, manes

fuming. Only sparrows in rosa rugosa are imploring, pity, have pity, let her go.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tuesday Poem--Hurricane Season

The Queen Anne’s lace is tatty, unmended. A pair of paper whites waltz by, 

settling in the silver-gray sea moss. It’s dead low tide. The breeze has been

stripped of its scents--not the stink of the salt flats, nor fish beached for miles

in the seaweed’s garottes, knotted with raided mussel shells. Summer’s defeat 

is total. Above the marsh the air is charged--thunderheads already banked 

over the causeway, over chimneys in indigo towers, the blue about to boil

to black. They’re starting to pull in their boats at little marinas, up and down 

the fractals of the coast. At the top of the Crest, TV cameras are set to catch 

the furious Atlantic, surf hurling itself at the seawall, sending plumes sixty feet

in the air to roar in an arch over the width of the Boulevard, pounding cars 

and siding with relentless cataracts of stones. By the time she hits full force, 

I’ll be curled in bed inside the howl--no longer counting heartbeats between 

the thunder’s boom and incandescence splitting the sky.  The lightning’s flash

of blue powder will capture the marsh on out-dated glass negatives. A figure 

surfaces in the transparency, wearing the mist of a colorless rainbow across 

her shoulder like a quiver strap. Sand runs from my hair, salt stings my lips. 

It is Irene herself--both the named storm and the goddess of peace 

in her white gown--awaiting the unappeasable hurricane’s afterbirth.