A Letter Home

 A Letter Home
for Kenneth Palmer, organist

Today dawn came over the French
Baroque garden with the dreary birds'
Relentless chatter in the shrubs.
They drenched the armless mermaid
in their bathing, cracked
The skin of ice that wrinkled fast the face
Of water stealing stars from space,
And stirred the pool into a thousand mirrors
Struck with gold.
A month ago the elms were flames
Burning among the pines. 
The wind now hints
Of sleet and snow; the arrowed chapel dove
Appoints north to lord the air
While prints of summer leaves are
   pressed like yellow gloves.
(Five fingers spread a moist caress on stone,
Now nailed by slivers of frozen sun.)
But even spring is bitter in another
Country, on the other side of winter.
On the gentle slope outside the window
A cup of shade held last year's leaves. 
On the forest's edge
New blooms scattered beneath the jackdaws
Storming the fields and woods;
I must go home.
Each day I bend into the crowded street
And twist and turn the crooked way to church.
In overcoat I mount the bench and search
For Bach
With groping hands and far flung feet,
Until both Bach and I are out of wind
To fill the pipes.  And still behind my mind,
Though every atom is involved (a whole man
Wants it so), though truth is at my fingertips,
The host of diehard queries linger
Hushed and tense: and always blazing
Green and blue, Saint George has neither won nor lost
The stained glass war of good and evil.
I came here for answers and found
None; the cobblestones beneath my feet
Whisper questions; voices on the wind
Inquire in susurration at the window.
The mermaid shushed by snow, my Venus
Headless in the courtyard – these,
   all heavy footnotes
Starred to my attention,  tell me all
   I have learned:
To fail in loving is the great defeat.

Winter 1963


by now
I have learned
that all things portend
but then
when we fought each other down
by day and made it up
by night

i did not know

the sloop sailed
hard by the ochre cliffs
the waves slapping like wet sheets
on the stony shore
a gull shrieked
riding our spill

from the falcon’s nest
a feathered missile hurtled
air to air
spur and talon demolished
the gliding wings

it is an omen.

Deya, 1980’s

A Quiet Evening at Home

I have just stoked up the wood burning Jotul,
and just in case we are inspired to song,
put on the heater in the music room.
By my wing-back
is the copy of Great Jones Street
cover curling from the damp
bookmark in place.
I have just cooked turkey in mustard
with old-fashioned mashed potatoes,
loose leaves of lettuce on a serving plate.
We eat the leaves the way you might eat bread
alternating with the main dishes
to refresh your taste buds.
Normally I don't cook,
but S was obsessively ripping up plants
by the roots,
with a pitchfork,
clearing the way for timber men
who come next week
and fell the huge dead almond.
As usual, once the plants are out of the earth,
S is in anguish
until there roots are once more snugly tamped
into soil in some new nook of the garden.
We have the only jetset irises on the island.
Their lag is six months,
but I suspect a new variety
is in the making, an iris genetically evolved
to thrive
on displacement.
Actually, given the world we live in,
where homelessness is not only from war and acts
of God,
where even our village of two hundred fifty souls
has a man living in the treehouse
built by kids, who offered it
when they noticed he was sleeping under a porch
by the parking lot – living in such a world
I started to say, it's no wonder
that all nature
is becoming extremely transient.
Not only do species die,
billions of new creatures are born,
most of them viruses
threatening the human race.
It's the world fighting back.
All the animal minds are calling on their brothers,
the primordial forces of the earth,
the volcanoes, the very geological plates,
the winds, the sea,
and, in the heat of Africa, another microbe
was just sent on its trajectory
toward the total destruction of venal man.
Now it's time for a couple of tokes of female dope,
if there is any.
Searching this cupboard and that close,
she comes up with a jar
of just the right thin,
except the flowers from 1991 have mildewed
to a damp mass of funky green
fuzzed up at the edges with white mold.
Another jar says female, no year,
but turns out to be okay.
Now comes the hard part.
What to do the euphoria?
Read a little?
Look a Schubert?
Put a few words down?

Deya c. 2000

A Storm in Izmir

 The sky behind the bluff catches fire and burns
Down the clouds, spreads to the peaks
Above the bay; the wind changes and turns
The waves into dolphins racing to break
The headland toward the open sea.
The squall breaks over us, not from sky or hill,
But out of black crashing ocean spilled
Over sprits and masts of the fishing fleet,
Water grapples mooring posts and clambers
Paylines, spuming into the streets.
The dwindling wick of sun is pinched,
Fury reels keening on the pitchblende wind that roils
Among the palms, fronds flicking verdant fire,
Savage swords in the caverned dark.

Izmir, 1963

Think of It Like This

 Think of it like this:  

We stand in line, waiting our turn
with Destiny,
always more or less aware
that even Mr Nobody
enjoys a flash, before checking out:
That life was mine.
Some lift off
like Fred Astaire
doing a Peter Max rainbow;
a few burn like meteors,
never reaching the earth;
Mozart fiddled
in billions of brains.
Meanwhile we advance;
fate a sculptor who chips a little here,
a little there,
until gradually we appear
or should I say I appear
in case you don't agree with we,
from the void.
But to get down to now:
inside the translucent door
voices of thirsty men and women
ride the arpeggios of the harp
like so many hives of bees
on the wind,
flap their chins
like donkeys,
braying bravely in the face of it all
while the guitarist's fingers fly
loose like a wing
playing songs all know by heart:
I am, I am
You are, you are
He is, they are,
I was, you will,
he did, she will never,
I know, you know, we know,
To the swirl of egos in the room
we add our two:
the guitarist does not know
all the chords.
All quit their jabber, though swiftly
our inert mood is grasped
the hives buzz again.
What fools they think we are
to sit and stare,
our laughter the last resort of silence,
while we contemplate the truth:
all alone, we orbit - the moon shining,
the sun waiting below the earth,
the sea sighing,
the wind crying to come in
and we sing:
I love, we love,
and then of course
they love.
Harp and guitar, the wood sings:
O how we yearn
for the instant order
of song.

Málaga 1991

February Pruning

The first oxygen goes to feed the fire
that flames in the heart of us;
that flares our gaze out beyond
the near business of day to day.

Like the bonfire
which begins its own round grave,
the center goes first into coals,
then cinders, then smoking dust,
a crater ringed by useless fuel.

Burn from the outside in,
let the flesh go first and leave
nothing bur spirit to ignite
your glowing soul to supernova
        o glorious cosmos!
before the last collapse into that darkness
from which all light is born.

Deya 1994

The Nightingale Express

How many springs is it now
that Tomeu pretends he has heard the first song?
And I dispute his word?
The trouble is
Tomeu is native
and I
a stranger with no such bird
in the land I knew.
But so strong is my wish
I cannot shake my faith:
There must be a wind to bring them
up from Africa – such small creatures
need the charity of a gale
to find the lemon tree
outside my window.
you remember.
Last night only the draft of the woodstove
and the torrente in the bottom
inhabited the silence.
An abrupt squall
drowned the water sounds,
trees buffeting.
The shutters strained their latches
and then instant stillness fell.
we both questioned the air
our eyes met
mouths round to wonder if…
In the renewed hush of pitch black morning
the notes at once rang the valley
like a glass bell declaring
after miles of sea
the joyful dominion of a thicket.
Tomeu of course, heard one last week.

Deya 1980

She Is Happiest

She is happiest
facing the morning sun
among her snapdragons.
Or with the pregnant cat
on her lap
while she reads.
Or trimming the bramble
on our path.
Or playing the flute
listening to the owl
Or when we are alone.
Whatever she is doing
she is happiest
when she is doing it.

Deya, 1980s

Farewell on Sullivan Street 1960 (by Patrick)

we won’t let you go!
tackling me at the knees.

gretchen is laughing
at this new game with daddy.
jennifer is older and cries
her mother’s panicked eyes
telling her it’s no joke

with my books bundled in twenties
i lash myself down the stairs,
toss them into the vw bug and drive mari
to our roach-infested
love nest.

tenth street is a bongo jungle
where we live in sweet rhythmic sin,
joy swirling behind us
as we race toward the tawdry
end so surely up the road.

their arms hobble me yet,
though i now bundle my years
by the quarter century
and still await, with dread,
the accumulating tears.

Deya 2006