Tag Archives: Poetry

Axolotl

[Dug up out of old comments, in part because I’ve been admiring Nancy Parmalee’s Twitter avatar.]

In a Yucatecan grottl
Lives the mighty Axolotl
Fine-toned skin all pale and mottle
wears the fearsome Axolotl
Fearsomer than any bottle-
driven specter, Axolotl
brave prehensile-fingered glottal
gills denote the Axolotl
salamandrous sideburn wattle
decorates the Axolotl
Poets who fear being shot’ll
spurn rhyming the Axolotl
but the wise will never coddle
those who spurn the Axolotl.
Doling verse with spoon or pottle
little serves the Axolotl
Doggerel spun at full throttle
honors best the Axolotl
“Never mind the who or what’ll!”
Shouts the fearsome Axolotl;
“Cowards, grant me kisses caudal!”
Dares bravehearted Axolotl.
In our hearts, the pale and squat’ll
live forever: Axolotl.

Xolotl

Citrus flower hangs heavy in rain-washed air.
Restless parrots argue over palmfruit,
their brilliant green tails flashes against the lapis sky.
Coyolxauhqui’s round white face
watches over all from above the temple.

Xolotl’s blood drips on the parched soil.
He watches each drop fall, his bright star in the west
following the sun toward the ocean.

His vessel heavy, his blade worn,
Xolotl regards the traffic on Alvarado Street.
This blood, this sacrifice
that in Mictlan could raise the dead from their dry bones
here falls lifeless to the pavement
splatters the low and whitewashed wall of cinderblock
between the parking lot and the 99 cent store.

He carries the dead to their eternal home
he guards the sun in its transit of hell each night
and longing for Xochiquetzal ruler of artistry and joy,
the precious pleasure-flower goddess, her headband of green feathers
brilliant in his home’s remembered sunlight,
Xolotl again takes his long blade,
scrapes wash-water from the laundromat window.

A reading

I’m putting together a collection of poetry to make available for sale — I will of course let all of you know when it’s finished so that you can rush to buy several copies for each of your friends — and I found one I wrote some time ago, entitled “Everything Ending in My Sin.” Liked the sound of it read aloud. Thought I’d share.

 

Alluvium

This pebble in my boot, when it was one
still with its mother rock, cooled over tens
of centuries: a batholith. Bright grew
the flakes of muscovite, bright grew the pale
discolored quartz, each grain an infinite
fine tetrahedral tesselation, it
rose out of the depth of earth buoyant,
a yearning isostasy, then was stripped
of its crust-cover by dull-rasped storm.
At length outcropped, massive and without fault,
the rock began at once to decompose.
Frost-riven, wind-and water-worn, in turn
summer sun-scalded and ground down by ice,
mother rock failed. A craze, not half as wide
as spider strands, but still a root-purchase.
The mosses’ fierce and ravening grasp, the clench
of desert aster’s roots ratcheted, prised
apart by microscopic increment
rock from the monolith. Melt and refreeze:
ice put its Archimedean back against
the wall, strained quietly for centuries.
A thousand years, ten thousand, and the break:
Rockfall. A stony flinch, echoing gasp
as earth released its hold on earth, falling,
fracturing, a scattering of shards
and shrapnel. Storms to file the edges smooth,
an eon’s iterations, boulders rent
to cobbles, cobbles to stones,
shard-sanded scraps of stone a pediment
gravel apron mantling the mountain,
until the whole assemblage, self-entombed,
fuses itself, forms a conglomerate
core of some unborn range. This pebble in
my boot a scion of lands lost, a seed
of landscapes not yet made. This reddened heel
a blistered point of contact where my life
meets the much longer life of pulsing rock
falling, rising, its crests a mile above
and frequency unfathomably long.

Paleontology

[Time to haul this one out of the archives, what with all the targazing I’ve done the last couple days.]

Paleontology

“What is it that sets us apart,” she asked,
“from sunset or sierra?
What is the line between ourselves
and the terrain from which we come?”

He thought he knew, but something in her eyes
transfixed him in a way he knew too well.
Deep and dark and wet they stuck him fast.

In parts of California, long ago,
impressive monsters ambled in the hills:
placid armored sloths two people tall,
cats with teeth as long as boning knives,
dogs the size of bears. Now and again,
a glint of water tempted them, or else
a furry piece of meat held strangely still,
and only after the imprudent pounce
would the tar entomb them.
Now, the graduate students pick their bones.

When the land thus asserts your membership
in the vast assemblage of dust and bark,
of feather, fur and rock in which we live,
it’s best not to struggle overmuch.
The land is patient, yet insistent.
Fighting off the tar will muss your hair.
Paleontologists an era hence
will find your clothes awry. Embarrassing!
Far better just to let oneself be swallowed
in all-consuming pitch, placidly slurped
into the balm of Quaternary ages.

That’s what her eyes felt like, he thought;
a sudden lack of individual
identity: nothing sets us apart
one from the other, nor from the land around.

Elysian Park

I miss the certainty I had back then.
I miss the knowing all of it, the keen,
the ardent hewing to my heart’s clear path.
Old men slow-shamble in the liquor aisle,
sigh Russian imprecations baleful, soft
under their smog-choked breath. This shortest day
ends soon, the sun resigned. This is the life
I have these days, the slow awakening
and tethered dreams, heart tied to ghosts and soul
enervated, searching these tawny hills
for beating hearts there, under the chamise.
I saw a hawk above Elysian Park,
two hundred feet or more, and all the world
below it scurried heedless to some end.

Camas

I’ve just been notified that my sonnet cycle Trinity will be published in the upcoming issue of Camas, the environmental and literary journal of the University of Montana. I’m immensely grateful, of course, not to mention flattered at the company I’ll be keeping.

The issue will be going to press in December, and available shortly thereafter should you want one. Of course, if you subscribe now — and you should, as it’s a fine journal — you won’t have to track down a copy.

Quick pointers

1) I have a submission up at Postal Poetry. Go check it out.

2) On Saturday, October 4, I will be joining a few other desert writers at the Riverside Public Library, 3581 Mission Inn Ave Riverside, CA, in a reading to celebrate the release of Issue 2 of Phantom Seed Magazine. It starts at 1:00 pm and it’s free and you should show up.

3) Michael Bérubé Online is back in business.

4) So is the Theriomorph.

Optimism

Take my fingers, split nails to the quick,
tear off this sallow skin from nail and bone
and scatter all of it among the rocks
to feed the creosote. This back long-bent
could be reduced to vertebrae and flesh
to jerk and desiccate, this pliant hide
made hard and leathery. Coyote’s teeth
would work to gnaw at me. A decade hence
some poor sun-addled soul will find my bones.
Long femurs splintered. Cranium sand-glazed,
its contents barely changed. Take these pale eyes,
ensky them, blue rimmed with dark violet
and clouded white, as I have cast them up
and skyward on ten thousand days like this.

Dry

This wizened mind will ebb, this desiccated soul will seep
into the land, as water poured upon this land will seep
beneath the grains of sand. An evanescing shine recedes
there on the ground and vanishes, as avid, thirsty air
sears the sere sunwashed soil. The dark and glistening patch contracts,
shrinks to a dot, one last and longing grain of rock still damp
then it too dries, no sign that water ever touched this land
except the fluid carving in the rock, the chasms cut
as one and then another futile storm expends itself,
gouging the land, rending the land, but making no dent
in the land’s unceasing thirst. This emptiness of land
will eat my emptiness. I will suffuse into the earth,
this earth, this desolate expanse of varnished rock and thorn,
this welcoming, familiar disregard, ambivalence
its lovers’ currency. Some distance must be kept.
Wicked cats’ claws adorn these limbs, and their sharp pain at first
is gentleness contrasted with the pain they cause upon
release; barb-studded quills to rend the skin. It is enough
to fall into their grasp. To pull away again is ruin.
I will walk naked out into the waste, will bleed me out
in desolate mad glory, and each drop of me that falls
will seep beneath these grains of sand, an evanescing shine.

Coyote Crossing

Today I pulled a dead coyote pup off of the road.
He’d evidently lain out in the sun a little while,
but death and desert sun had not erased the sweet sly guile
there on his face, mute eyes with arid dignity unbowed
despite a cloak of flies. Across the road, funereal,
their hard-learned reticence sun-dulled, torpid, slow to react,
two golden eagles stared, accessories after the fact,
each one atop a Joshua tree, intent on bearing pall.
They did not want me there, preferred to dine without affront
there on the open road, the speeding trucks their camerieri.
I feared for them. It seemed to me that diners so unwary
would likely end as prizes in the next scavenger’s hunt.

They stirred, disturbed, as I resolved to keep them off the menu.
Clearly, the thing to do was to adjust this dinner’s venue.

He was so small. He would have fit within an eagle’s fist
and draughts of slow, dark wings could then have carried him aloft.
His face heartbreakingly familiar, clever and soft.
A plastic bag over my hand, I took him by the wrist.
I knew his paw so well, delicacy of nail and pad
with cracking calluses, resilient and deft, sweet down
disguised as fur, a silver-frosted white fading to brown
to cover it. It was that very paw that once had had
my own paws pace beside it and its kin, familiars,
until their path diverged from mine so irrevocably
cleft by the sickle-blade, that old familiar’s flesh set free
and mine adrift, stumbling in search of unnameable cures. 

I’ve heard the tales of travelers who perish in the wastes
mouths choked with alkali the vultures hesitate to taste.

I understand them now. I have been aridly seduced
while walking in these dead dry desert hills, by fortune cursed,
dragging my feet. Each new rise crested scrapes the swelling thirst,
each hundred yards another coil of rope to fix the noose,
and then another rise gives way beneath your plodding feet.
There, down below, a shimmering. Water! A broad blue lake
and deep, too, from the look of it, enough in there to slake
a thousand more like you without a chance that you’d deplete
or sully its abundance. Just an hour’s march beyond
and at that hour’s end you’ve seen no dwindling of your lack.
But it’s right there! Not far! No sense by now to turning back
and soon! And soon! You’ll drink it dry, that ever-shrinking pond.

I know that lakebed well. The thirsty avidly explore
and walk on blithely past the ragged bones that rim the shore.

My mouth thus alkaline I took Coyote’s paw and pulled.
His shoulders came, his head, and then a sickening delay;
and then the rest of him, mostly. A reek of flesh, decay
of sweet and guileful promise thwarted. Grieving, miserable,
I got him off the road. The seething sun relentless fumed.
Tall towers of dust spun crazily down in the valley heat.
Two hundred yards above on thermals, gained in single beats
of wing, two eagles waited for their dinner to resume.
I laid him in the granite dust under some creosote
to shade the eagles’ heads, unceremoniously kicked
a clotted pair of legbones off to where they could be picked
and cleaned at leisure, took one last sad look at poor Cayoat.

Familiar, this familiar; a synecdoche of loss
in me, and in this land, along wide roads we all must cross.

This was humiliation, a bold promise unfulfilled
brought so prematurely and so permanently low.
By rights the desert’s dauphin, scepter that wild golden glow
there in his eyes so prematurely, permanently stilled.
His smile a rictus, teeth that should have laughed now caked in dirt,
his figure meant for sleekness covered now in fetid flies.
He would have been a god here; he lay broken, compromised,
dissolving in the desert heat, insensible, inert.
And I was much the same, except the part about the god,
smelling a trifle better and still moving for the nonce,
mouth torn by alkali, my body wracked and whole at once,
a trail of salt still lingering on the hopeful path I’d trod.

Unlike me, though, he would cross yet another road today
to the far-distant side where all that’s fleshly falls away.

A hundred feet above, his wheeling vehicles descended,
solemn, near-ponderous, yet graceful verging on sublime,
the flying ferrymen to whom we all should come in time
were we to have Coyote luck when our prowling is ended.
I left before they landed. I had interfered enough,
but driving slow away I saw it clear, in my mind’s eye
the final fluttering of feather fallen from the sky;
the flash of beak and talon as they rend his mortal stuff,
and then ascension — feasting and assumption, flesh transforms
to flesh, to air, to flight, to light — to move in strong dark wings
beyond this alkaline and fleshly vale of fatal things
into Coyote sky, Coyote wind, Coyote storms.

And left to me, a task: embalm in pallid rhyme and meter
his crossing, swathed in patter as a cushion for the reader.

It’s no small consolation that my sojourn here is short.
That last humiliation so devoutly to be wished
still pending, and each moment now might be the one I’m fished
choke-gasping from that illusory lakebed, laid athwart
the plane of life and shaved down thin, each peeled layer sublimed
into this desert air. It is solace that the flame
in each heart won’t burn endless, that each faltering, fragile frame
will in mirage be mired, be in briny crystals rimed,
and soon enough. No use to seethe with envy of that beast
I pulled off of the roadside to be eagle sky-interred;
to each of us in turn will come some avatar of bird
to see each of us from this too, too solid flesh released.

The wheel of time turns swift and each of us to dust will grind;
the Raptor comes for all, and no one will be left behind.

Soon

the wind will shift, run fingertips
through the long grasses, combing them
in feathered, cat’s-pawed fields.
I will plant trees, an orchard
at the forest verge, will feed the deer
on mast, will prune the watersprouts
for kindling. A cultivated wild,
a sweet disorder carefully distilled
and in spring the wind will shift,
will drive fallen plum blossoms
before the livid dawn.