Volta “I will make this,” thought God, “I will make that. (One of the thats can name the thises then.)” And all He had to do was say each thing And it was done, and good, and all was right. And then came man, and this one thing God named, And then this Adam named this that, that this, And then God gave him woman, Eve, by which To breed and lead to us—beasts did the same. There was a flood, of chemicals and such, Which bounced around aboard a barren rock Holding all beings’ potential, earth’s whole stock, Till tongues of lightning (maybe) made it twitch. All life came from this flood, and this is good— We all are equal, and there is no god.
Turn There are no gods or goddesses abroad, And nobody is perfect, heaven knows (And it knows nothing, for it just arose From our old wish to turn the bad to good). And you’re not perfect, love, how could you be, Being a mix of your parents (both mad), Your crazy country, and whatever odd Odds and ends you brought yourself to being? Perfection’s for our Christs and Christesses, Those dream immortals after whom we lust Down in this rubbish bin wherein the dust Of our desires is dumped—God bless! What’s this?! Dear Goddess, as your eyes gaze into mine The water in my veins turns into wine!
Like cloud-mad grass piercing the air’s warm gown On sun-drunk days, our actions sometimes mow Unknown into strange atmospheres—we halt mid-flow, Stopped by surprise as pain’s now-empty form Fills with forgetful pleasure, water-soft and marrow- Deep. Was it some goddess from Her mountains dropped this nectar down On us poor bees, or did some dense atomic tryst throw Off its sparks to kindle in our nerves? What follows Is that fire leaves no reason Nor gives reckoning for the leaf warm Or the body burning, but only dances, beautiful as When insight in its web of light has spun The dust of earth against the Lethean sun.
Captive Flux Who named the days? Tell me who! What god or beast? Valhallan? Olympian? Jupiter’s priest? What lion in what zoo?!
And why label the gloriousness Of our sun-bound spins? Our relation to the fire begins And ends anew each day, nameless.
Haydn Your music is inside me, Joseph— The wind in Cretaceous fronds soothing my mammalian mothers, The pressure forming strings of iron in the earth Around my burrowing fathers, The skin under my flesh, Wind in my chest— Your notes echo In marrow, Bones bored like flutes, mere oaten reeds To sound your serenades.
To April Chaucer, Eliot, Millay: Poets have many things to say To April. What would I say to it? Nothing—it is a construct. Yes, the moon turns, The earth too (to dust), The sun burns Out days, but I distrust All timeframes, the rigid Collars of clock time Dripping days digit by digit, And the natural, cycling kind Appearing to repeat, like April, Like Friday, all coming alive, But actually being new and making older, a mill Grinding all things into grime, Grimmer and gaunter grains Of being—chains. And after all I guess that’s what I have to say to April.
Concerning CERN Smash it, mash it, bake it in a pie— White coats, clipboards, standing by; Crash it, bash it, stand it on its head— Smaller things are easier said; Whack it, smack it, give it a thump— Measure each mote of the insect’s jump.
Fading into the photograph some of your classmates, No less important, no less alive, but not you—you stand out, A sullen rose, having a bad day in 1936, or that’s just how You look. No less hopeful for it, a whole kaleidoscope of life Spirals out from the black-and-white school picture, The market streets alive with sensory richness, Galway alleyways Leading each to different lives. Perhaps you became a nun, The school selling it well, perhaps a nurse, living by the hospital, Perhaps a corpse hours after this was taken, the sullenness sickness.
What became of you? And why is the became more than you are This 1930s day? Just a rose, unpruned, a flame on film, ready to bloom Like a camera’s flash or to fade like your friends Into the drear background. Why? Because I cannot know, Because the narrative act of lining you all up And saving this second forever sets suspense—what happened next? And next, and next, and after that, and then? What happened?
What is happening, forever now, frame-sized, is you standing, And standing out—your cardigan maybe blue, your eyes as well, Hair light and easy on your well-held head—and looking out, Out at lives coming, possibilities, the schooling done, the ticket To America, to India, to some escape from your life back then, From discipline and rules and drudgery, from poverty and fools And from, oh from, the stings and thorns that are coming, As surely for you as for your fellows, the failures, the regrets, That what ifs and the if onlys, the sullenness of a girl Deepening into the well-worn despair of womanhood, The children and the husband and the house, the parents Sickening and needing care, the bills, the aches, the worries, All the things that go along with any joys, joys of parenthood And love, if such you knew, joys of shelter and of family, All the joys that sit around a grief, expectant diners Waiting for a feast, the servants lined around the board, The silver shining and the linen laid, the wine all ready, Just to be uncorked, the dishes coming in, set down with care, The lids lifted, and the horror underneath. Ah, had they but been empty, Then what care? But the rotted flesh, the shattered bone, The food of monsters set out like a kill— And all your ravenous fellows tucking in.
What pains you saw, what joys, what black-and-whites, Will not be known. Only this lonesome rose will grow and die, And only she will ever know the world she found, And what she made of it, and what she left.
When you were seven you wrote your first poem, A child given to word and image By the necessity of your parents’ work, alone In the world of nature from a young age, But without the coldness of the abandoned, For you felt yourself beloved of every creature, Of the woods and of the snow, and your absent Parents loved you too, and your poems procured The services of the mountain and the river As foster parents, the protective shadow Of Urey as your father, and the gentle song of the Etto, giver- Of-life, as your mother. The will to borrow Such parents was a blessing, and you knew a bliss In early years, although your poems could sing a common sadness:
“The snow falls ponderously in the valley Around the fruitless evergreens In the great shadowcoat of the Urey Where the soft Etto is first seen To rise magically out of rock, Ages before the oar and dock; It wonders “What can they mean, These unfalling things that strive any way But down?”, and drifts with snowslow wings Upon their movements and their tracks, Whitening the land, papering cracks, And having no more knowledge than a day.”
You spent your youth in that wild neighbourhood, Observing the tragedy of insect life And the romance of snow falling on the woods In the Etto Valley. The blunt knife Of the sun above the Urey never showed Itself a force of heat, only of light, And it helped the frozen blank blanket of snow To pervade your natural wanderings with the sight Only of eternal waste and coldness. But the Etto and its woodlands would break The influence of the sky and brush the wilderness With moving colour—“a water-snake On ice will writhe and hiss Until it melts the whiteness with its kiss.”
Fearing winter like an old man now, Fall’s chill settling in, the evenings dark, I worry my mind’s furrows with the plow Of thought, each pale idea dropping like a spark Whose fire’s burned out. I brood like ashes In an arctic hearth, clinging to my days With cold-cracked hands, feeling no more the flashes Which in youth promised the world—and then delivered this. But what’s “this”? Just what I think it, nothing else; All its brute nature’s but my frown or grin. And now, so late as now, can’t I replace All raw reactions with deep breath? Can’t I at last begin To give no heed to prize or peril And live like old Diogenes in his barrel?