Early Writing

by Red Dog Pieface, Peter Bailey


This publication of Early Writing is by Chris Church.


FOUR WHEELS, TWO AXLES, AND ONE GOD
INTRODUCTION TO A MAN TALLIED

HERE IS [THIS IS THE STORY OF] NO. 19153097, FROM A COMPANY, A REGIMENT, AND A DIVISION OF ONE OF OUR ARMIES——SITTING ON ITS FOUR WHEELS AND TWO AXLES.

BUT SOON IT WILL MOVE DOWN ROADS, THROUGH DUST AND SLEET AND SPACE AND TIME.

SIXTEEN MEN WILL BE IN THE TRUCK.

A CLERK IN A REAR ECHELON CP TYPES AN ORDER READING: “16 EM WP FROM AREA G-376 TO HILL V-254 IMMEDIATELY VIA MT WITH COMPLETE TE.” THE CLERK HANDS THE ORDER TO ANOTHER CLERK, WHO MOVES A SMALL BLUE PIN ON A LARGE STRATEGIC MAP FROM A PLACE MARKER G-376 TO ANOTHER PLACE ON THE MAP, A HELL MARKED G-254.

IT TAKES ONLY A SLIGHT MOVEMENT OF THE HAND TO CHANGE THAT SMALL PIN, A MINUTE MOVEMENT IN THE WORLD OF LOGISTICS. BUT IN THE OTHER WORLD, ONE OF THE ACTUALITIES OF BODIES AND BRAINS AND EMOTIONS, THE MOVEMENT IS ONE IMMEASURABLE CONSEQUENCE. INVOLVED ARE VAST UNITS OF POWER AND WORK AND LOVE AND HATE PITTED ONE AGAINST THE OTHER.

A SCIENTIST WOULD HAVE TO SPEND A LIFETIME IN COMPILING THE CHEMICAL AND PHYSICAL CHANGES, THE ATOMIC DISTRIBUTIONS AND REDISTRIBUTIONS WHICH TAKE PLACE DURING THIS MOVE; A PHYSIOLOGIST COULD NEVER IN HIS LIFE CALCULATE THE ILLIMITABLE MOVINGS OF MUSCLES, SIGNALINGS OF NERVES, CHANGING OF BRAIN VOLUTIONS EACH OF THESE MEN SUFFERS.

A PSYCHOLOGIST? IT IS DIFFICULT EVEN TO DREAM UP A CONCEPT OF ALL THE COMPLEXES MINOR AND GREAT, AND THE EGOS, SATISFIED AND UNREQUITED, WHICH WILL BE PRODDED AND CRAZED WITH UNUSUAL STIMULI DURING THIS TRUCK RIDE.

BUT, NOW THE TRUCK IS MOVING OUT, THE MESHES OF THE GEARS ARE CATCHING AND LETTING LOOSE ALTERNATELY. THE MEN SIT IN SILENCE, THEIR BREATHING AUDIBLE ABOVE THE RATTLE OF THE TRUCKS WHEELS AND FRAME.

THEY SMOKE CONTINUOUSLY, CUPPING THEIR HANDS OVER THE GLOWING CIGARETTE ENDS SO THAT NO LIGHT WILL SHINE OUT INTO THE DARK AND UNKNOWN NIGHT. THEY GO ON SMOKING AFTER THEIR THROATS ARE DRY AND THE CIGARETTES TASTE SOUR AND LEAVE A SICK FEELING IN THE PITS OF THEIR STOMACHS. THEY CONTINUE SMOKING BECAUSE THE CIGARETTE IN THEIR HANDS GIVES THEM SOMETHING TO FEEL IN THE DARK THAT IS KNOWN AND FAMILIAR. SOMEHOW IT REASSURES THEM.

AFTER A WHILE THE ONE IN THE DARKEST PART OF THE TRUCK UP NEAR THE DRIVER STARTS TO WHISTLE SOFTLY BETWEEN HIS TEETH. THE TUNE IS FROM A SONG THE MEN MADE UP AMONG THEMSELVES—ALL ARE FROM ONE PLATOON AND THEY HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR A LONG TIME, IN MIND IF NOT IN TIME. BUT THE GUY WHO WROTE MOST OF THE LYRICS HAD BEEN CAPTURED A FEW WEEKS BEFORE, AND TO HEAR THE SONG MAKES HIS FELLOWS FEEL EVER LONELY AND CUT OFF FROM THE WORLD. THEY THINK OF THE BOY, THINK OF HIM SEPARATED IN SOME PRISON CAMP AND ENTIRELY APART FROM HIS WORLD AND THEIR WORLD AND THE ONLY GOOD WORLD THERE IS THAT THEY KNOW OF. AND THEN THEY THINK OF ALL THE MEN AND THE UNITS OF MEN WHO ARE SEPARATED FROM THEIR OWN GOOD WORLDS. AND IT OCCURS TO EACH OF THEM IN THE TRUCK IN HIS OWN WAY THAT THEIR TRUCK IS SPEEDING DOWN A HIGHWAY THAT NO ONE HAS EVER TRAVELLED BEFORE, THOUGH THERE ARE MANY RUTS ALONG THE WAY. IT SEEMS THAT THE ROAD IS BEING LAID DOWN JUST AHEAD OF THE TRUCK AS IT SPEEDS ALONG THROUGH THE DARKNESS, ITS FAINT BLACK-OUT LIGHTS NEVER QUITE ABLE TO PROBE THROUGH THE NIGHT ENOUGH TO SEE WHAT IS LAYING THE ROAD DOWN AHEAD OF THEM. THE MEN FEEL THAT THE TRUCK IS GOING NOWHERE, OR AT LEAST TO SOME PLACE UNKNOWN.

THE MEN SIT IN THE DARKNESS, SPACE RIDING PAST THEM, SIXTEEN ISMS OF SELFNESS COMPLETE IN THEMSELVES TO THEMSELVES, AND YET SOUND IRREVOCABLY TO THE REST OF THE ISMS, TO THE TRUCK, TO THE CHASSIS, THE WHEELS, THE AXLES, TO THE ROAD, TO THE FAINT LIGHTS, TO THE DARKNESS, TO THE UNKNOWN. MAN HAS EVER BEEN MORE ABSTRACT IN ANY SITUATION, EXCEPT PERHAPS WHEN HE IS BEING LED FORTH TO HIS EXECUTION AT A GALLOWS OR A GUILLOTINE OR AN ELECTRIC CHAIR. THE SWORD HANGS ABOVE EACH OF THESE MEN, AND THEY ARE VERY ACUTELY AWARE OF ITS SHARP PROXIMATE EDGE, BUT THEY BEND THEIR HEADS ONLY SLIGHTLY IN PREPARATION FOR THE BLOW WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT FALL. THEY BOW THEIR HEADS AND LOOK AT THEIR DUSTY BOOTS.

IT MAKES AN HARMONIOUS PICTURE OF SELF-CONTEMPLATION. BUT THE IMAGE DOES NOT SHOW THE CIRCUMAMBIENCE OF MORTAL THOUGHTS. THE PICTURE IS A CIRCULAR CURVE OF ARMS AND LEGS AND IT DOES NOT GIVE ANY INKLING OF THE MANY YEARNING REDUNDANCIES OF THOUGHT AND MEMORIES AND REFLECTIONS.

THE MEN LOOK RESIGNED, AND THEY ARE, BUT THEY ALSO FEEL INDIGNANT, COLD, WEARY, AND SO FORLORN. MOSTLY FORLORN, MORE LOST THAN DROWNING MEN, FOR THEY DO NOT SEE BRILLIANT FLASHBACKS OF THEIR FORMER LIVES AND NOTHING IS SUDDEN. EVERYTHING IS SLOW AND DEADLY IN ITS APPARENT UNIMPORTANCE, AND DULL. ESPECIALLY DULL.

THEY DO NOT SAY ANYTHING. THEY ARE PERHAPS NOT HEADING FOR AN IMMEDIATE BATTLE AREA. IF THEY WERE, THEY WOULD NOT FEEL MUCH DIFFERENT, THE APPREHENSION OF NOT KNOWING THE HOURS AND DAYS AHEAD WOULD MERELY SERVE TO SHARPEN THEIR ALREADY INTENSE FEELING OF SEPARATION.

WHO ARE THESE MEN? WHAT ARE THEIR NAMES AND THEIR BIRTHPLACES? WHO LOVES THEM AND WHO BORE THEM?

THESE ARE NOT SIXTEEN MEN. THESE ARE ALL MEN, THE GOODNESS IN THEM AND THE CRYING ACHING LONELINESS IN THEM. THEY DO NOT HAVE NAMES OTHER THAN HOMO SAPIENS; THEY DO NOT HAVE RACE OR CREED OR SYMPATHIES OTHER THAN THOSE CALLED HUMAN. THERE IS LIFE IN THEM, AND ALWAYS JUST BEHIND, SOMETIMES IN SHADOW, SOMETIMES NOT, BUT EVER UGLY AND PATIENT LIES DEATH.

CASUALLY, WITHOUT A FUSS OR DISTURBANCE, DEATH MAKES HIMSELF FELT BY ALL THE MEN IN THE TRUCK. THEY SIT IN THE QUIET OF THE NIGHT AND THE RUMBLING OF THE FAST-MOVING TRUCK AND RECOGNIZE DEATH IN THEIR MIDST, AND TAKE COGNIZANCE OF HIS PRESENCE AND ADMIT TO THEMSELVES THAT HE IS THERE, THOUGH THEY DO NOT WELCOME HIM. DEATH IS RECOGNIZED, AND AS HE SETTLES HIMSELF COMFORTABLY IN AN ATMOSPHERE THAT IS VERY FAMILIAR TO HIM, THE MEN WHO HAVE RECOGNIZED HIM AS BEING AMONG THEM, SLOWLY AND WONDERINGLY REALIZE THAT THEY ARE ALIVE AND HAVE ALWAYS BEEN ALIVE, AND THAT ALL THE TIME THEY HAVE BEEN ALIVE, DEATH HAS BEEN STANDING JUST BEHIND THEIR LIVES, SOMETIMES IN SHADOW, SOMETIMES NOT.

 

 

 

Evocation: Horse

                (Tom Hardy: Steel Horse.)

In canyons creased as boots
you listen for twigs with pointed leaves.
Over ranges bitten by fleas and God
you trail small bushes of dust,
the gully of your back wild with the clover of fire!
The torch still hisses its ear of flame.

Where crushed these brooks of muscle?
Among the banners as heavy as inns
upon the shocked and tasseled field of Agincourt
where candlestick horsemen melt in the sun.
Yes, Dauphin, Perseus’ beast is “pure air and fire.”

Seeing halved-pear haunches
almost ringing thick bells of cloth,
the eyes of Han-Kan stretch
Behind your gallop a windy line of calligraphy
brushes out the bunched air.

It was Tarquin’s wind-polished thighs
that rode the shiny moon of your saddle
over dark horizons,
that knight with the mouth of water,
his whining armor in the wind
and your lonely whinny tiling the cold
of poor fences-down Collatium.

The iron petals of your breathing flare like clover.
How your clangor seats me!

 

 

 

To a Bagpiper in a Brueghel Painting

Recorders like too many birds tootle of storm.
Blind vagrants turn their darkened spoons.
No harm! Perform! Once let the cheeked Brueghel lag
in your pipes, the frogged leap
of this ripened game lapse from bank to bank
and this happy patch of keys, cupped reek, scud of rumps,
skirled world of legs furred red and many hands,
these knees to knuckles,
hats and lips will collapse like your pigskin—
and we yield inflation to an unlacing of eyes
as these at table, missing the ahs and ohs
of sight, fingering for seams of fact,
turn toward us the actual rind.

Birds drowse unsorted on roofs and sills.
Above, the branches’ reach goes bare,
dark as hautboys where the dancers
tread like summer an October of air
to sip on the last warm day and sing
to lift winter and the hunters’ leather stiff until spring.

                                     11/4/59

 

 

 

Casals in Puerto Rico

The old man weeps beside the sea’s prosce-
nium, and smokes; his meerschaum tusk is brown,
Tidewash boils and runs; between his knees
a thousand sands of Spain have fired and drowned.
And every wave applauds its crest along
to feel across its roar the humming bow
of Casals in his simply acquiescing song
that falls with ebb and answers with a flow
that rights the slacks and tilting of our view.
He lifts beyond the shunt of shore and foam
rapidly kissing far out, the striped crew
wooing the infinite with paper and comb,
to draw the hushed legato of his tack.
He has inscribed across the sea’s blue back:
Este es mi sillon—“This chair is my own.”

 

 

 

Parting

Our feet on floors that shine like wheat
precipitate an emptiness so thick its pattern might be Persian.
Afternoon sunlight is as long as a train;
it warms labels yellow with nowhere.
Our dust-cover words muffle
but the shapes of meaning bulge beneath.
Paper-wrapped, the objects of our living wait like bulbs;
knives curve sharp as pistils within yesterday’s news,
but hearts, like lampshades, must be carried in the hands.

We stand still as eucalyptus leaves whose bronze points green the air.
The beasts of farewell stretch their long humps down the gravel,
darkening the gathered pebbles.

                         5/10/59

 

 

 

I Cannot Find Your Arms on the Sea

I cannot find your arms on the sea
I cannot find your lips on the waves

Nor yearn myself across the crusted floor
slowly turning toward you

Drooping clouds swag the sea
to celebrate a far enthroned thunder

The water is cold and sharp
Frightening knives slice the lace

The end of your mind is the horizon
Ending, beginning, commingling my understanding

My life’s engine throbs on this clouded water
Your arms your lips my port is here

The circle of horizon leads to you
Everywhere

 

 

 

Song of the Painted Man

I am unshivered and pale behind my glass,
still and clear through the rumblings of years,
autumnal nature falling…shaken by the tremors of seasons,
forever cold in this uncolored winter.
You’ve seen me shake? …the wind passing down the hall.
None has ever entered where I gaze.
Oh, look at me. Oh, let me live!

Mary bore her child. You blanched with splendid
pain beneath the beams, and many a man
lost his finest friend, a mother her child…
but my hand never lifts from my hip. You gave me
a ring with which my fingers cannot cope.
Oh, look at me. Oh, let me live!

They who once felt me, sniffed my presence
in this room, drew my stillness down
to their unquiet hearts…have used me, a statue
heavy, in a park. They noticed only pigeons
flapping up free through dropping leaves.
Oh, look at me. Oh, let me live!

And now, the walking shadows from you pass
quickly across my thin unshivered glass:
not one leaf has shrivelled dry beneath them.
You obscure, very close to where I gaze.
Oh, look at me. Oh, let me live!

 

 

 

Before Rain

Minus the billowing stratospheric cloud,
Thank God, the sky palely whispers green
and silkily echoes the folded blue of the sea,
the sea which deepens my blues eyes and draws
the significance from my white face.
I lean my arm on the silent rail
upon the windless waves, and muse of men
and history, and islands of the East.
Then all this beauty infinitely stretched
across my vision disappears in the clouds
that lower through my mind; my heart is drowned
deep within this cold, real sea,
the gulls have gone, the storm is brewed, and I
am gathered up to rain Korean death.

 

 

 

The Menagerie of the Crèche

The hills are crook’d by wolves.
Voluptuous for lambs, the trap-jawed herders
malinger red among the wooly tribes.
Everyone, chinned by cold, has waited.
Our ears have chattered with the nerve-narrow rooftiles
to narrower, colder feet
and the drainpipes whistled like quills at the passing.

Snow thickens the town with its slowly wound burnoose.
Last night, mosaic’d eyes,
springing the mind’s dark arches,
lit angels like birthday cakes,
turned their tin and mirror carousels
above that patted dishpan of hay.

Came camels, their pads bedraggled as petals across
the thistle dunes, tipping the masts,
the clutched escutcheons down
to mar the frost.
In stiff bears of cloth
stood the scratchers, glazed as sheaves.
With mouths unzipping like special portfolios,
they lisped at the button-sucker.

I heard hens buzz low and feathery in their throats
at all that light, saw like gentle yokes
the smirks of cows bend down their tips,
carved by warmth.
But I shivered in that stall of ancestry
and among the beasts chewed reverence like a cud.

Now here, before low fires, my divided face
burns and freezes its questions.

 

 

 

The Door in the Meadow

Beyond the curtain, the ringed ducks
gulp the dark; the soundless oval floats at their level.

We lie exposed as whales.
Our desire pokes the air like overturned chairs.
Covered odors loosen on their stems and
tongues find new hasps, thick as bacon.
In your belly’s nest, what landings, what propellers…
how we surprise our crates!
Your hips, with a dazzle of slipped straw, lift their tines.
In all its coffin of being, under me a door.
Our keyed knees softly falling like locks
we reach the breathtaking side of the waterfall.

The rooted moon escapes white as a pig.

My arms among your grasses
thicken like oars.
I crook your head’s dark meanders
to a river of biceps
and what we are emerges in a meadow of shepherds
blurred as a snow-blind ferry from the bay.

 

 

 

We are Separated

We are separated
by the sea by the air
Our fire
  without a single coal
Falls cold
I am melted
far beyond known fires past
My five fingers flow
Into a hand
for giving, for receiving.
I love and am living.

I live and desire
Longing for streets, for fire
Night
  without a single shadow
Bares my core;
Swimming through darkness to share
I find the day lined with people
In a grimace
Grumbling of love
Or ignoring.

I want to cry to run
But tears
  without a single shame
would reach our cheek
The way run longer
to your feet
your heart your eyes
I cannot leave.
Do not turn to look at me
I see you clearest
in the streets and swells
Where struggles meet
We love our best
in the everlasting rushing
of the waves.

 

 

 

Ode on My Discovery of Frank O’Hara

Sensuous affluence of itself drops, a hot dinner
in a jungle that has been removed in a revolution of jet-bazookas and spears.

I stare at your photograph as at the earth’s core.
It’s the chin of memory that softens first;
even love is gravitational, its events heavy and separate.

We walk on our garments over the plumes of limousines
up avenues like your eyes, disappeared furred rails of sun.
What am I to do with all the Embarcadero in this Berlioz intensity,
the few ships and the ranging, unclinical sea, or this other overture,
this poet who is goose-liver paté imperishably Irish—
but go to get a pencil? His lines come to me threaded through buses
as though, with the full complement of buttons plus a vest, he sat
charmingly nude riding up Fifth Avenue.

The idea of “not possessing” you seals itself like an envelope
with me in it and I am delivered to a nearby village where I am a big success,
the girls admire my muscles, I make a name for myself at the Mend-Art Club
and the sea likes my sonnets before returning to the cleared difficulty
of dying for one another. Then comes the telephone wailing like a
“Baby, we must part,” New York rears like a crazy horse
or telephone building over my knuckles. An entire future of failures rises to
the gorgeous penetration of this moment’s descent,
insecurity seamless as the bellies of palominos in blown-up parades for centennials of the dying West.
My defenses recede like polar caps,
white and innocent. Fidelity becomes perhaps an amusement we allow ourselves,
and I stop jesting in my tracks.
And here at last we are, our breath between us.
Forever the threshold of lips, in the sky the shine of a muscle.
Those are angels crooning, “he’ll not forget you, will come back safe,
find dinner on a hot stove, will never quite weary of the ways of love.”
You lean from the pillows, heavy, separate, “Come on, baby.”
Your imperishable pate lifts to my laugh
and the moving procession of us, its lights and slowing traffic of hearses.

 

 

 

A Blues for Billie

Her voice unending,
untended as water.
swerving life, a line like a highway
strict with fatality.
She had bones as big as branches,
rubbing the bruise of dislocated love,
strode into rooms without corners
eyes confined, the focus of a zoo,
fierce shield of hair.
and on it the great white flower like a brain;
a blossom behind her eyes stabbed black by rain,
the stillness of spears inside a lily,
tremulous as heroin.

Remembered notes grow together, fittings
in a rust of water,
track and moan of voice a crumpled foil of sorrow,
ringed by tables and heads twisted about her strange and bitter throat.
She moves her coil of phrases
beyond blood that throbs like a voice.
to tell the spoon and match her crossed knowledge
wailing beyond sirens,
of how she came upon the body and wreck of life.

The loam of her hands turns
to an old white horse, bent as an apple tree,
to night-consuming frogs croaking like withered dugs,
to a last loud chipping of wings,
to the sea unrolling farther,
uncrumplable, littered with itself, to all who stare beyond like Ladies through their Fat and tattoos.

 

 

 

Surfing at Laguna

Hold with a slight, sweet bend your body
the motel sign blue on your hip
    the stiffened men
        break the light
            unstiffening the shimmer
                on the waves
                    with their bodies
                        “doing nothing.”

The white curtain moves toward you
your hands heavy water-bearers
                        “not trying to get anywhere.”

Held your eyes I can't look down
can't eat this sandwich…How wet we are! Shining!
The lovely water    green blue
                        “if I feel the tide, I've lost the wave.”
It’s like green and blue
put them together    how different.
O green    o blue    o lover s.

The motels line up at the water’s edge as if to drink.
Wagon wheels…rosy walls of the fading West.
I turn to kiss your winking blue hip.

 

 

 

Sealovescape

My arms among your grasses thicken like oars,
pool and bend our seasons
to the breathing of our great caged clocks.
We lie exposed, cave-hollow whales
awaiting tide and the bellows’ dark.

some far-winged scope collides over wheels of waves
stiff watermarks drag the gravel.
Up like bloodless faces we know,
fish-pulling gulls dripping the ripped sea

loose your dark meanders among me.
Naked is the delta, naked in sun.
Desire overturns chairs and pokes the air.
I am a river of biceps. Come!

Some far edge of foam sharpens,
spreads its lurch, pitches to our level
the hurled unanswering goal,
high held-back hammers of delight!

and what we are emerges blurred
as a snow-blind ferry from the bay.

 

 

 

The Tall Dancer

I

Clouds drop low, shuttered eyes stop traffic
And let it go; the helpful ushers work,
And rituals walk in groups, composing sapphic
Odes to each to each with murderous smirks
While daughters chat with manslaughter, snubbing shame.
From the wet streets borne aloft
To the tiers, the ladies now trail the names
Of costly measured perfumes. The men have coughed.
Panting with silence avidly self-incriminating,
The rows lean forward, blindly self-eliminating.
The tall scentless dancer moves, summoning
Unseen feet from passion. With lifted cunning
he Traffics with stars, beautifying peaches,
Extracting. His impossible tallness reaches.

II

Having been without peaches for years, the wet
And overcoated crowds pass the theater, hissed
At by the hatted, universal silhouette
Of Der Feind on walls, in bars, and—psst!
In restaurants. Men discover sur le pont
d’Avignon der Feind y danse, danse.

There and here, childhood and age he haunts.
Past the marquee, the crowds, their spotted masks gaunt
With fear of the symbol, stumble over low
Bridges to farther towns in grumbling rows
Over the overcrowding world unfaceable
Throats of darkness scream one vast, "Fear!"
Der Feind stands black: positive, silhouetted, unerasable,
Only afraid of tallness aspiring near.

III

The crowd, harried by fear, pushing, unencumbered
With umbrellas, accelerated swearing
Back over shoulders at safety that always has lumbered
Behind in galoshes, tramples over daring.
Running to the place, there, across rivers,
This mob will see the image of its fear;
That much has been promised. There are cheers;
In the crowded rain the thin pole shivers;
The passion that spoils umbrellaed hearts is choked
By sneers, as there unveiled, trembling, invoked,
Hangs a frightening, frightened mirror. The mass,
An audience, boos, turning from the glass,
From the suspended secret of tallness, here,
Above passion, turning in the wind without fear.

IV

Men return from war, the always warring
Held in the rain across bridges with lazy vacationing eyes.
Orioles sing in the little octagonal band-stand;
Frail lilacs have painted it blue. The figure rises
To dance through rain, transfigured; with quiet demand
Disquiets the mob into trampling, dampened ohs
And ahs as his perpendicular tallness grows.
Hopeful, the surging, escaping crowd feels the knife,
A lifting edge of his purely dangerous life,
As with untrembling, gracing feet he reaches
The spinning cirrus, spills out all too-full stars,
And stretches to soft and glorious orbs, to peaches,
To touch the perfect rims of perfect jars.

V

No dancer hidden in a bush, our tallness
Greets joy in a thicket of unforseeable twigs.
Singly, he ceaselessly circumscribes arcs of allness
Through air, with branching slowness tracing big;
Blowing away the passion that emptiness hollows—
His passion a circular gleaming, filled with airs
That breathe no words, which wordlessness follows.
He creates a time no time can disarrange,
An unstill past for each new moment’s hymn.
From old successive lifts of forgotten limbs.
High and far and unremoved, the change
Itself of time, the flux of Toledo sky.
He floats extending where no reaching star
Nor tear can heighten his tall purity.

 

 

 

Glenn Gould Plays Bach

Uprooting glories in bunches
his left hand walks a deliberate way to paradise.
This bending zealot spanks out exultations with his right.

Scooping up rhythms like jacks, he scatters them bright and exact as stars,
then drives tunes mad with velocity before he’s done
glutting his paeans with praise.

The wrinkled fingers, tipped with purity of waterdrops, stop,
but still the wax spotted notes that clot the staves crinkle
black and wet in the ear.

 

 

 

One Night Stand …Duke Ellington

The skyscraper races up its yellow road toward night.
On the coin of a puddle
raindrops play jacks,

with the lights from the bridge.
Then buildings swim away
in this city of water.


Clear the square for sound’s sweet thunders,
swinging wave on wave—
What a bouncing rainmob hails them!
The band plays; stairs wake and walk.
Trumpets are comforters in cold-water flats.

Saxes rub the hips of sound
until reeds part and pant
and the moon shimmies ahead
in an asphalt dress. Brasses slam down boulevards
six abreast
tying up traffic with their tongues,
buying and selling each precinct,
thorough as night.

Standing on the sunrise,
the candidate, confetti between his teeth,
waves his carousel through glazed boroughs
and on out into the O! now blue world
where sound is intricate as trees.
Hark!
The Duke loafs through a leaf-lovely park.

 

 

 

II

Tearing a sky as flat as Audubon’s,
the jay rips out its screeches out like nails
and teeters like a top twig,
each claw a cold, tight band of gray
on shining plum-bark.
Tail-flicks release a ripple of quivers
through branches below.
His mugging descent’s a comic strip—
he pauses, stuffed, on limbs,
tilted eye whirling in the pose held still as sawdust.

Once aground, he goalies an acorn.
The buff engine goes in and out,
is hoisted to the height of stilts,
starts an arc with pre-stressed mandibles
that flattens the machine to a fluffed squat,
yet somehow cracks the shell before the skull.

2-10-59

 

 

 

Bach Plays the Organ at Gothen

Unbitten fruit, unbroken skin lie juiceless
Awaiting the musicker bold enough to kiss
A quince to love.

All the echoing forest, garlanded
With gilt, towering, trembles at his touch;
The clusters whistle at the wonder passing
So lightly. Then such bursting ripeness sounds
The flurry of his feet awakens moles
The star-nosed questionings.

The quince turns, sweet
With love, blown by this brave breath to its core,
A star of tears
Petalled and squalling, of love our only sum.

 

 

 

Ode on the Winter Olympics

Tied to the mountain with long

thongs and with buckles
my solitude with a crowd in it assembles on the deck
drawing long throngs, their breaths unreal chrysanthemums,
to yearn for still perfections.

The flower bursts in a thousand tongues.
It is a cult of the dead; my fingers hesitate over
two tame geese to whiten the snow.
Trees dressed for a strange marriage
appear. We walk on, the stars bunched in marigolds
exciting to think they were made on this very ground, the crowds of
people drawing all those glittering points together to get a star…
Buddy, Carol, Dick
and death right in the middle of it
                    written there,
the brightest from the ranks of stars.

I come up the steps feeling so lovely
someone shoves me in a vase,
but I’m not having any,

on my feet, its archness
            tenses like sophisticated applause.

and the secret desire to possess racing
through experts
turns the hill to a hand grenade.

They touch the light eagerly
here, bleeding their colors
O faces lined and memorable as stamps!
Fathers and impressions of fathers leading their zigzags with inevitable tracks!
High school secrecies and failures to act!
Religious arguments! Devotions to art and career!
Adorable hips, visceral as otters!
Buddy clubs of Mercuries! Wing comparers!

men and women dressed like men shift about
restless    raising their arms
as people do before a mystery
the crowd on the deck assembled
hard to say no to    like the full-lipped Nile
when trees are half-covered as now
(the snow a dream) and two geese
waddle on to whiten the scene.

O how we love it, this club with its 7-foot badges,
exchange of sexual clothing,    equality of the initiated,
seductiveness of the disinterested, extremes of heat and cold,
of safety and

the many ribbons of fear leading down icy slopes at four
            in the afternoon!
No, it is here in the lodge,
these shoulders hunching, bulking to keep it out,
as though fear were cold and not a true eye, an
odor so deep I am just discovering it as female.
Let him through! How I love to lay a finger    between his knuckles,
the blue man, larger than we    flashing his messages
his eyes or sealskin hair glinting here and there
in the sun on the deck among the people
an identification    all over me like an immersion.
O a s tar splashing! Little rain-kisses
reaching up to drink from the endless arc of his muscles,
the shadows in the blue crooks of him,
the fist of silence there
inside the waterfall

He is a star splashing on me, little rain-kisses on a pond.

Down, the word is down
    the once we see its unity.
In the cold, the air cracks,
half    to one side
half    to the other
    side of the seed

of this hill of “heavenly length.”
Running out and down
past small coffins of silence under trees,
a swung thrill of bees through my wrists,
I reach
down fast enough to the roots below
that drink the rising waters
drop    by drop.
The wind
carves apples from my cheeks
red on the snow
the peel
or skin untwisting back behind me into no sack.
he is suddenly a flash under blue trees beside me in the downward ru sh
he does not speak or turn    nor allow me to turn to look
but a lifting tells me he is there
a lifting locks me, heels tight to the earth

The norwegian skier realized
inevitable falling apart
a kind of hill where other men fall down
ruining the snow
with red
on the first turn and ensuing shifts of hip
track! beauty sets two heels against ritual
a perfect set of curves
through the torsomark, sunny ice showing the route
until four

A serration of form    no longer in the hands of
this Schubert sonata floating
out
over the
window sill
and onto the street, the chords leaving the pavement

ringing
the rests beyond,
those violet stop-signs.

Once inside we are each and every alone and cover
with a gee
whiz, it was great cheeks,
burning lips meeting
the mountain
a heap of popcorn
to be demolished in this palace
(the ice
of her nails forbids me conjure up a woman.)
Why, it’s old Fuzz Merritt, the football coach I never went out for,
which is not why I passed through college, to become part of that
immovable line, football being a cult of the dead,
captivating us
all over the campus
like snow,
Snow! My climb its myriad upturned faces
the film strip
and down
in a deathly whiteness
long as this Schubert sonata;
the everywhere weighted white
landscape where all lies buried
is the dear core of earth,    opened    to us.
Once inside we are sleek
our eyes come up through the ice like fishholes
the spray of snow behind is clouds of glory
O chilling Rossinian tenors! A cry leaps to my lips!
I crook the mountain to me. It is my arm and day is done!
I am a woman and my own son!

 

 

 

Apprentice

Backlash of the apartment stacks up platitudes
rubbed by the odor of your seacoast, its buds & wings
o frying pan of my lost lover! We meet in lands
experienced in movies in striped bathing shirts.
Inside, the prisoner city presses its sighs
against the cold glass night as San Francisco
presses its gunbarrels into my ribs,
the great Fairy Battleship!
more real than the bodies stacked up one on another
like chords of music. “Don’t shoot, my god
we’re French!” they cry in French to the French soldiers in Algeria.
Now disdain
drops her neckline over the gathering
into a round bite of flesh we freely salute.
It’s truly red!

Toothpicks shift evasively
my truths! in the glass.
Truth! How like a shy baboon you are
when two desires unrelated as, say, science and art,
meet to prove themselves, dogs sniffing their welcomes.

You fell asleep in the dentist’s chair. I always do
in the barber’s. It’s the sitting still that does it
Like standing at attention?
Yes, except this was sitting.
You go on changing nature above Central Ave., and
René, sleeping, continues sleeping.
Dawn finally arrives for everyone this morning,
for us, for the wife-swappers in Hollister, the news
cameramen turning their flashbulbs in anxious splendor
toward our favorite queen this year, Eleanor of Aquacade,

My lines encumbered with periods. Old costumes,
mayonnaise shirt fronts, the daring backs
of backless coin-dotted taffeta tap-dancing frocks.

Something passes
between us as between the tired arm and angelfood cake batter.
I will never learn. I turn toward sympathies,
which struggle like a seagull from your brassiere.
It’s been a long night and a long poem.
and the sleeping baby walrus remains
on top of the mountain.

 

 

 

this double exposure

this double exposure
poem of illusions
whose images are real
unveils an unheeding
muse, a karyatid
supporting a temple
to her listening self
an ear attuned to pools?
the eagle or angel
sailing by with cloud crown
what does it say?

her neck
perhaps is bent in grief
that no leaf crazes her
luring gymnopedie
or to invoke the prayer
of supplicating hands
raised to make a faun of her
from what heavy moon comes
this particular light
unguent to day’s brilliance
and assuager of our lives?

 

 

 

Rameau at Versailles

What is birdlike in this tinkling?

Not the beaked composer busy at keys
as if acorn-keeper, nor a falling
of calls, air of tumbrils from ringed
sing-necked doves,
but in the ear the preen of
tier on tier
of sensibilities

Flouncing down the folded stairs stiff with
sibilance of sunlight, encyclopedic
necks a-skim, long legs straddle carefully
each marble course; the hips
in whopping panniers of drooping pink
are thrown into a waggle.

Snowy ibis with their crisp mince cross the grand gravel.

The splendid fountains resound high above the cedars,
not plashing but printing dots and some
dashes of silver,
doubling and redoubling the plucked effect that like
a plummeting of roses that amazes
the gardeners yet…
a pistol show of fireshowers all along
the Mall, conducted on such thin stilts.
(unremarked among explanations of the dark).

The tinkling deploys its tinkertoys of noise on and
out the “very French” doors.
Versailles is inhabited by flamingoes.

 

 

 


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Copyright © 2000 by Peter Bailey