The color of Egyptian parchment flows
into night souks, where our baby rings
match will for will, as forethoughts, as
postscripts, as partial manuscripts signed
by the angels of detritus. Harm is a coda
sung by temperamental witches we bottle
for their effervescence. Come sing to me
of pastoral odysseys, wherein you were a
solitary bee, and all the experimental
gardens yielded artisan calcifications,
stripping us of the nuance of musicality.
I want, in these times of potential babies,
to be held in custody, like a peril from the
old Dust Bowl, like a wishful eccentric
escaped from Browning’s gravid labors.
Misshapen talent folds into the stripes of
Arkansas clouds following the bagging
of schoolboy geniuses. In prisms aching
with secure status—artificially glowing—
I pursue the last hints of your imprisoned
valor, making the connection between
forms of church behavior. It is correct
that we provide shelter to the wealthiest.
My telephone trip, long and legless:
laughter in the mirror’s broken shed,
manners divine like a prisoner’s tools
taken away at dawn. You cradle shoots
of the sky that fell, the cities of the plain
popping into air bubbles from vanity,
open emblems of certainty. Knowledge
is bestial fur, growing on the staircase,
as you replenish the mottled behavior
of lap children, their chronologies
decipherable. If you ask me, these days
it’s not enough to carry harmless viruses.
The Great Wall of China: I
In the sixth month all is bustle and excitement:
write things down animal-hearted, our life is war,
why grow arms back to front, why the dizzying
heights of the greater ranges? Jade, wine, pearls,
monkeys, peacocks, coral, amber, lions, eggs as
big as water jars: water and pasture but no city
walls. The barbarian houri with flower-like face,
nomadic chutzpah against a lake, tower for
receiving distant nations, shelf of grass, shelf
of glass. Its age, its speed of construction, its
uniformity: I am a lonely widowed ruler, I see
sprawling crocodiles of humanity waiting for
a capital to grow up around us. Wear silk and
walk like scholars, not like those who live with
birds and beasts. Pedigree of foreign exotica,
matrilineal aphrodisiacs, laughs with the breath
of spring, dancing in a dress of gauze: the height
is thirty cubits, the width is twelve, and it circles
the entire empire in the last days of belligerent
horsemen. The sorghum is ripe and the soybeans
are fragrant, ten thousand li long, the hearts
of our compatriots arisen from the ripe plains.
Singing melancholy songs with the people of
my household, desires deep as gorges in border
towns, the sure footfalls of the chamois sunset:
inside there is a letter on white cloth, I kneel.
Naked to mecca, bowing in the spirit of water
flooding these caramel streets, eschewing ships
which bit me in the mouth, sailing to excavate
my face of its detritus, fire and blood and tissue
sifted once before, in the dawn of argumentation:
water laps across the dogs’ skittering feet
while nannies huddle under the sizzling lamp
describing the Philippines’ topography in words
strange men have dictated. Water rises hourly
in moody flagrance, bedding with the boards,
washing slapdash over pseudo-Hungarian rats,
severing quickie landlords from their trysts,
sinking brown boardrooms of boredom wherein
tall enigmatic women strip to their bottoms
in disgust at female idiocy, their nails eternally
polished to the skyscrapers’ consistency,
glint and romance and the placid death wish.
My fire was a well-turned phrase borrowed
not from Johnson but from the women’s magazine
advocating 14 new technologies to shock your
lover into sprung attention, middle of the night
or no. My fire was a jar of incoherence, packing
words resembling Alzheimer’s second youth,
or my lost dog’s whimpering cries in the dream
where we all go to die, a jar of incoherence,
as I said, which I have pried open at last, looking
deep into its ill marrow, to find a mumpy rebellion
of fungi and broken-backed viruses, all robust
and timeless, if you count time by the millennium
as I do. My fire was a hearty fare of longitudes
and latitudes climbing to the top of the globe
I spin in my dream-wonder, staring out the window
at the dead pines of winter, the muffled snowfall
that arrives as in a fracas the police forestalled,
and the washed blue Mercedes with its hood
propped open, God knows why. My fire was the burst
vein in my eye, as I charted an explorer’s path up
the tallest mountains of New Mexico, willing
myself to fall into the silent march of murderers.
Art, the fleabite to time.
Naked urgency to hallucinate.
I borrow lamps from the lame
and pry open my crotch,
witnessing truth spill out
like gazelles’ brains
and tigers’ guts.
The poems here are from a new manuscript called The Moon Blooms in Occupied Hours. This book needs to be seen in the context of the one I finished just before it, My Tranquil War and Other Poems, my debut book which took an awfully long time, many years to put together. The books after that first one have flowed in quick succession, and in fact I’ve recently picked up great speed. The poems in The Moon Blooms felt very strange and perhaps unwanted to me at the time, after the overt political content of My Tranquil War. I didn’t understand, four or five years ago, what exactly I was up to with The Moon Blooms. I seemed to have retreated to some deep unknown place, and I put aside most of these poems, neither submitting them nor liking them all that much. Recently, however, when I put together a collection called Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish, constituting poems that were written right after The Moon Blooms (although there is some overlap), I realized that I liked these poems a lot. They felt very durable, honest and, for someone like me who is not confessional at all, as confessional as I’m ever going to get. The three poems here feel that way to me, tracking closely to events in my real life, although I had no idea for years that that was in fact what I’d written.
The poems in The Moon Blooms are important transitional work for me, because with these poems I left behind the representational/political/empirical quality of My Tranquil War, probably for good, and started fully giving in to the surrealist/dadaist/absurdist tendencies that were always present. It assumed very radical dimensions in succeeding books like Soraya and Death is a Festival, but the seeds of the desire to escape “reality” are very much evident already in this collection. “The angels of detritus,” “a peril from the old Dust Bowl,” “my telephone trip, long and legless,” and “knowledge is bestial fur” in the poem “To You” are an acute chronology of almost unbearable pain in my personal life at that time. I think this poem represents a valiant effort to present myself as able to withstand grief of the magnitude of torture, but you can clearly see the emerging schism in the personality: will he or won’t he? “Prisoner’s tools taken away at dawn” is as much an affirmation as negation, since a poet’s tools can never be taken away; but this is bravado ex post facto, just as it was bravado to write these poems at that time. I think every line of “To You” speaks to confronting the pressures of imminent bourgeois life, realities that I didn’t want to give in to, and still don’t.
I won’t say much about “The Great Wall of China: I” except that it is entirely a found poem and more akin to poetry I’ve recently been writing in its anachronistic tenor and intentional distancing of lyrical sanity. “Sprawling crocodiles of humanity,” although this may be from the eyes of the Chinese ruler, applies as well to the locked-in, locked-down, locked-out condition of modern-day slaves/serfs/subjects in the neoliberal order, although we (poets) always have the apparent “choice” to “wear silk and walk like scholars.”
Again, since the bulk of the poems in The Moon Blooms were hidden and unknown to me until just now, I find “Apocalypse” very revealing as to the shifting posture I was taking toward the emerging collective calamity, that is, instead of being localized to and identified with particular causes and events and personalities and trends, it had now ascended to the status of overarching envelope, inescapable at the atomic level: everywhere and nowhere at the same time. The first part speaks to the sheer ordinariness, the accepted dailiness of apocalypse, with reference to “nails polished to the skyscrapers’ consistency, / glint and romance and the placid death wish.” It seems no longer possible to list the constituent elements of apocalypse, and The Moon Blooms doesn’t try to.