The tour guide hurries us
from room to room. Pointing
at parlor paintings, flounced men
and women dressed in silk
all adorned with sashes of rank
arranged on walls tinted pale blue-green
the shade of Europe's eyes
which match seas sparkling
in sun's tattoo of island paradise.
Ushering us up broad polished stairs
to airy bedrooms. Catching breezes
which travel like gossip on lips
of clouds. While we were allowed
to quickly examine part of the past.
Feeling the goose down pillows
or the bed where Sir Henry Morgan
slept. Hearing stories that
caused us to laugh at how
his pirate exploits gained Henry
fame, titles, and this structure.
White-washed pillars, large balconies
overhung with shady fruit trees,
mangos, avocados growing
all around for nourishment
and aromatic cool cover.
Regarding the old clock
still ticking generations away
in mahogany shiny long case
while we were informed
ever so briefly about how
Kingstown was a haven
for rascals, buccaneers,
and slave sellers who supplied
bodies for the sugar cane farmers.
"And of course, pleeze
try our rum. None finer
anywhere in the world.
Duty free, and much less
expensive in our shops."
Told to us in perfect English.
Blue blazer worn with panache.
His smile set in that chocolate hued
laughing face, white full teeth like
some zoo attendant. Eager for us
to glance at the exhibits—
but see none of the animal 's
pain. As if on cue, we could
hear steel drums begin
causing us to drift away
to some melodic joyous place.
This island like a happy lilypad,
floating in a blue-green world
painted by some drunken impressionist.
Adding to this coloured view
of an island as plantation
for tourists. So we were led
down into the dirtfloored kitchen.
The domain of a woman,
Rosamund by name, whose picture
hung on a wall. And our eyes
focused on her likeness—
a dark face which we regarded as
judgmentally as if she were stock
in a meadow. A crude sketch of her
wearing an old straw hat
in sepia tones which bled
earth's color. At that moment
Calibans howled in frustration
imprisoned by her gaze.
Looking but unspeaking.
Listening to our guide explain that
Sir Henry treated her
just like family.
Showing us the large cast iron stove.
All the time fired and hot.
Needed to heat water for
bathing. Large enameled
basins to wash in. Pots,
pans, platters for daily
cooking and entertainments.
Pointing to the pile
Rosamund got wood from,
how she split kindling with
her own axe. Arising before
dawn to ensure the chores
were done. Grinding meal
by hand. Making bread.
Washing clothes. How she took
pride when fixing biscuits.
(A favorite of Henry's so
it says in his diary) "Rosamund the lady
of dis kitchen, makin' love
wid her pots," said our guide.
Adopting the "Yeh Me Mon"
Jamaica dialect. Breaking from
cultured voice of civil
refinement which masked sins
easily. And it was only when
we exited the kitchen
moving to another historic
gallery that we saw
the old chains and ankle clamps
attached to the stove.
Test of Faith
At a twilight camp meeting
Deep in poor Meshack Miss-issip
On an open field sheltered by palmettos
Where lovely women of all shades
Butterscotch ginger and eggplant hues
Gather to help y'all call the Lord
They drag their young'uns with 'em
Far from temptations in wicked Nineveh
Song fluttering over heads like angels
Looking down in a mirror at sisters
Singing separately but competitively
In pious fervor right hands raised
To God above calling on brother Gabriel
To sound his golden horn which promises miracles
It is jes' when Big Mama Francis
Purely covered in yards of delicate white chiffon
Rises as slow as smoke of offering from
An ancient wooden folding chair
An she begins to proclaim and sway
religiously allowing time before she falls
Overcome by the moment waiting for hands
On an invisible clock to reach
An appointed time for faith will surely save
Like we assume automatic doors will open
Admitting us effortlessly into rapture
Hoping to be carried away like a 50's bobby-soxer
As Big Mama swoons backwards into what is surely
The ready waiting arms of her twin boys
Eight-year olds Enoch and Esau
Properly schooled in how to catch the spirit.
No one knows
Why the sharks
In the flood
Madly churn the surf
And strike at the steel piers
Of modern Cozumel hotels
Concrete and glass ice-cube trays set on end
Awaiting visitors hiding behind dark glasses
Who will use this island sanctuary
And never notice
The evening tremors that deeply redden the waves
Staining the sandy beach
Made sacred by tread of tourist feet
Far from the unfathomed fury of these giant fish
Between broad walkways
Bright in the glare of jaundiced neon
All-purpose department stores
Sell bottles of turtle lotion
Those precious shells ground-down
To lubricate sunburned flesh
Who never see or hear,
The shelves shake or the wordless
Cry for revenge.
Our breath slows and...
I imagine you always at sixteen
when I knew nothing of you
drifting miraculously like a snowflake
in the fading Northern lights
where it's always later and closer to evening
And I knew you would always be smiling
with that face of raw beauty which caused
many a Vermont boy sleepless green nights
Dreaming of coupling with you
Hidden by long ashen silences leading to
white forests when wisps of early frost
cling to clothes scattered still warm
like embers smoldering
in gasps of adolescent acceptance
And after nighttime's freeze
seeing burst trunks of trees where sap
exploded in tortured release
And I view you forever at sixteen
after feeling your soft presence
next to me in that Yucatan village
close by the jungle
Where the bruja* read my tarot
in bones cut from a language foreign
to my experience
Mystical rialtos of recurrence summoning
me to be part of you
In mind as well as flesh
Summoning me to be part of your music
Learning that when you love a Vermont girl—
you must spend your truth
And how we would sleep in wool
awaking to run out in the cold
avoiding cow "gifts" dropped in pastures
Afterwards brushing and rubbing with mittened hands
to revive frozen buttocks still tingling
from creating our joined snow angels
And I am here at your side
our youth drying on our skin
When you ask me to count your hairs of gray
turned pale as the fading winter sun
As we are naked and unashamed
Our breath finally slowing
to the same
*bruja in Spanish means sorceress or witch
Colors of pity—Appearances of love
(The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paints women)
Of those men —
We remember only the women they painted.
Fanny Cornforth became Nimue, the sorceress,
hair floating around her like a cloud.
Lizzie Siddal as Ophelia, doomed
to drown in laudanum surrender.
All these poses with bright color palettes,
foreshadowing movie stars like
Marilyn, Kim, Julia, all "vogueing"
for unseen admirers as if they were
perfectly idle, with nothing to do,
quite happy merely to be seen.
Yes, we know the painters' names.
But we only remember the faces and forms of these women.
Because after all, wasn't Antonia Cacia's figure
used for all bodies as if perfect heads
of upper middle class women could be grafted
onto the working class—as if true ladies
only had heads and women were just mindless bodies?
We remember these women—
Jane Morris was the Astarte Syriaca
with her grey eyes, full lips;
staring out like some spirit
from the underworld haunting us.
Anne Miller with her phosphorescent white skin,
large sad eyes, was a tremendously powerful combination
of beauty and misfortune as Troy's never forgotten Helen.
All these women: Maria Zambaco,
Effie Ruskin, Marie Spatali Stlllman,
Christina Rossetti, their likenesses
with us still in posters and prints.
Painted and decked out in literary allusions,
while they titillated our imaginations
in sometimes shocking Victorian boudoir art.
They are there and nowhere
with long necks, "ten kisses long."
They are the synthesis
for all our Eves fallen from Eden.
They stand before us
laden with symbols.
Loosened hair signifying downfall.
Virgins descending a staircase
to the door marking an innocent threshold.
Unwrapping themselves like
unfolding buds of sycamore trees,
harbingers of Spring.
We gaze upon these women—
All with brilliant eyes beyond ordinary.
All with pale and creamy skin,
the colour of clotted cream.
So alive we know their aroma
is of fresh milk, or almonds,
or rosewater, or some divine oriental spice.
Which excites our senses and makes our breaths quicken.
We are captivated, much the same way,
Alice Liddel caused a Wonderland
to be created for her.
All these women painted as a manifesto
to beauty by men who preferred to regard
these creatures as raw material for art.
Rather than to understand how much more they were.
Of those men—
We remember the women they painted.
(In the Annamese tonal dialect of Southern Vietnam, the former capital,
Saicon, is pronounced "sigh-Ghone", while Tudo Street, the broad
avenue in the center of the city, is pronounced "Too-dah". The French word,
ville was spoken by Americans stationed there as "vill" rhyming with "ill".
Cholon was the old Chinese section of Saicon and Route one was
the largest highway running North and South.)
in this fertile delta of ancient goddesses
guarding the recurring cycle of time.
established when Khmer kings excreted
their primacy at dawn of history -
decapitating friend and foe in sparkling rivers
of venetian reds that whetted the appetite
from a dry earth never satisfied.
A body lying face down
in the center of Route One.
An Asian face hardly worth a look.
surrounded by plains of grass
where no one ventures.
A city of inscrutable religions
where shaven skulls crinkle
from octane fires of refined immolation.
While others kneel to portraits of Victor Hugo.
And black is sacred
for paper gods are white
and consigned to die in flame.
In a land of all-knowing bronze Buddhas
who see all and never blink.
Jeeps—APC's—roll back and forth.
Raw flesh sticks to tire treads
manufactured in Dayton and Akron.
ablaze with hibiscus and bougainvillea,
smelling sweetly of feces and rotting fruit.
A city of slant-eyed girls wanting
easy tricks. Filled with whine of Vespas and Honda 50s
carrying whores in hot-pants,
their slippery breath prostituting a nation.
On Tudo Street the bar-girls
sweat soft and moan
in air-conditioned drone
while over-sized traffic lights,
symbols of grandeur that marked French colonialism,
change colour as effortlessly as a farmer by day
changes to a black pajammaed V.C. in unholy night.
A single body lies in an unclean road.
A black wound where streams of ants ebb and flow
against a tide of power driven death.
where Chinese businessmen of Cholon
are old and set in their ways of trade.
even truth or lies. Payment in rubber trees,
dongs, piastras, purple script, gold leaf,
just more monopoly money for the game.
Because selling favors is the price of freedom
and all manner of addicts hungrily bite
the empty air craving the safety of opiate dreams.
A pile of bloody refuse.
A being flattened into mud and filth.
Repeatedly driven over in that dead place
of our souls.
like some naked almond skinned woman squatting
splay-legged. Unashamed of her openness.
Glistening after the time of desire.
Inviting all to be strangled by embraces
hot as napalm's wind.
A naked woman waiting
for the monsoon season to wash away her sins.
Substance of the image
Lot's Wife — Helen Frankenthaler, lithograph, 1971
not quitepure flows
bone as if
by a slash
there by stern
Like a stalagmite,
from a desert.
by holy myth
directs our eyes
the ambiguity of
unnamed skin in
has never bowed
an unseen Lord
abstract bible garden
a woman's steps
marked forever by yellow
entombed in dust of
atonement for daring to
and ask where is God's heart?
Abraham's Diner, Machias, Maine
This is a country condemned
to never appreciate a fully revealed G-d.
A place of sacred spots replete with prophecy.
Given unto fathers and sons
taking daughters and sisters to wed.
This is land of the Old Book
where cold rivers run fast to the sea.
Time is marked by seasons
instead of digital clocks,
and evergreens ensure scenes change very little.
Civilization starts here seeking outsiders
to find again the language spoken in Eden.
Great forested mountains are alive
with screaming birds. It is a wild place
fit for love's raw madness when
an undying wind carries words of commandment
across the sky.
In this wilderness region full of miracles,
fifty miles separates
a society of distant tribes.
Convoys of tractors and trailers
go forth along the state highway.
Many wheels hauling commerce,
sheets and boards of lumber.
Their scent of sawdust and sweat
mingling with smoke from wood stoves,
fills the air as if you could smell
rams sacrificed as burnt offering.
Alongside this caravan road
dilapidated and scabbed autos,
abandoned to rusty nature, testify,
to the wrath of a vengeful Pharaoh.
Condemning all to an exodus
far from metropolitan creature comforts.
Strangers cast out to wander on foot.
Old men and women, faces hanging loose
from bone, silently acknowledge
other sojourners. Looking for their way
among parched souls
in dwellings heated
by Sodomite hot fires of propane.
And close by this highway,
Abraham's Diner is an oasis.
A respite from an unbelieving world.
The initial owner like that original
Abraham—a father of his clan,
has long since departed.
This rest stop opens at dawn
and closes at dusk existing
with the passing of the sun.
Only to fade in starlight after
bartering bread for being.
At this diner bubbling hot coffee
warms hearts and hands as butter melts
between wheatcakes on the griddle.
Gossip and news is exchanged
in mica-sharp mornings of cold
at the change to winter season
when the wind stings like
the voice of an avenging prophet.
Specialties linger: soups and stews
as proud as any birthright.
Good enough to sell your soul for
in the hunger of daily judgement.
During endless winters
of logging and hunting,
oaths are declared cursing existence.
Down by Tunk Lake where we lost
the skidder through the ice during quick-thaw,
dams and leg hold-traps
block and hold wild animals.
Until other omnivores
come to claim struggling prey.
Which leave bloody tracks
where lifeless creatures have been dragged,
cutting slashes of bright redness
into a skin of snow.
Gouged and furrowed into worn paths,
giant tree trunks are pulled,
as great around as those cedars of Lebanon,
across frozen paths that chill
the very holiness out of white bone.
While precious fat needed for warmth
congeals from raw deer meat
that has been left outside to cure.
Nailed to a sacrificial beam
out of reach of other creatures,
then sold to the highest bidder.
The steel saw sings soprano
at the mill, ripping oaks of arboreal majesty
into planks of common two-by-fours.
Sturdy men in iron-toed work boots
blow their hot damning breaths on hands.
Calloused and bruised, scarred with life and crisscrossed
by those covenants made long-ago.
Which remain to this day at Abraham's Diner
as the printed menus for the children of Hagar.
Must have SASE
Would the New Yorker
publish a poem
by Charles Bukowski?
His words stained
with the juice
from strange excitements
His bubble still a bit off
plumb from composing
a California commune
of racing forms that tout
a different family of poems
Full of drunky phrases
and barhall floozies
Eager to engage
in qwik sex where
stale cigarette smells
and spilt beer
pervade souls and clothes
Utilizing words like
fuck and shit and spit
to shock and hopefully
arouse dumb pricks and cunts
that they also create
Separate from illegitimate cousins
once removed who are published
in the more respected anthologies and zines
now even online 24/7
Who strive to be thought of
as great versifiers
who call things worldly names
as a way to hide
their true selves
But then again
significant novelty is rarely welcome
And what should a poem sound like?
As these better known bastards
are convinced creativity is found
in an impressive academic resume
These well thought-of instructors
who obscure all feeling
with sprinklings of foreign phrases
Never realizing a weltanschauung of names
does not induce the spasms
that give birth to poetry
Never to sense that it is
the convulsions and rumblings
of naked flesh which initiate poetic bodies
into uncontrollable passion
Never experiencing the arch of a spine
adorned by sweat of anticipation
before that instance when eyes close
and pages or monitors are blank
while breathless release streaks
through veins until
For in that surrender to the written word
whether it occurs on back of a square flimsy bar-napkin
or on a limegreen phosphorescent display screen—
We commit ourselves to be gulled once again
into reliving our painful rejections
Hoping that someone will see our worth
while with moist lips
we kiss gummy goodbyes
to envelopes filled with fervor
As if in a dream
which becomes our own torrent of delusion
Imagining we see our manuscripts
drift through self-addressed
stamped sibilance of mailstorms
or returned with the click of a computer key
Only to fall in cold slushpiles
of unsolicited metaphysical heaps
Which go unopened and unread
at the feet of so-called prestigious editors
All of us obsessed and fixated
from the son et lumiere
of having a poem
published in the New Yorker.