Gib mir das Wegrecht
über die Kornstiege zu deinem Schlaf,
das Wegrecht
über den Schlafpfad,
das Recht, daß ich Torf stechen kann
am Herzhang,
morgen.

Paul Celan

Saturday, October 12, 2019

DU'AA'S FOR FATHER


I

The trees are all dead, they died before the rain
and winter, and no one stopped to witness the faces
in the windows, none saw the passing winds
like souls going, only memories lingered
like past sensations, the way music prompts recall –
our father standing in the last orchard
of the world and holding out the apple
even love could not eat. There was a scream
in the flight of wild geese that restored the year,
all around the gloom echoes died and the trees
interred them – veins and nerves collapsed,
bones crumbled to dust, sounds were silenced,
while the silhouettes of the cursive branches
scribbled their absence into the gloaming.


II


You left on a silver wave of light
that the dawn turned grey. Who knew your end
was as close as the start of the dying year –
we took our shifts by the bed and we waited,
bells and crows, engines and exhausts said life
would go on though yours was at an end,
even the post arrived with more bills for you –
time stands still for hope though faith strays
into hope – you know who have waited for love
as it was a guest that never arrived, a father
never returned from war, or a promise unfulfilled,
like snowfall at the close of the year, a year
that dies without you, and whose end is buried
in the sad silent heart of a mute betrayal.
  

III


The cries of a sparrow pierced the morning,
magpies circled, a fox peered from his lair,
and a hawk hovered above the trees –
we found her where she had flown for cover,
impaled through the heart, her wings broken
and entangled, her blood curdling the berries –
You said, life going is the same life everywhere
and what was lost we all will lose.
The week before you died a sparrow flew
into the kitchen, circled wildly, slammed
into the window and fell lifeless on the sill.
When mother went to scoop the body away,
the bird suddenly stirred, righted herself,
and flew out into the cool autumnal morning.


IV


This is the psalter he carried on that fated voyage,
bitter brine from the Atlantic lashed the deck,
as he stood by the bow and prayed for land,
gazing out to sea and humming psalms into the night –
Off Nova Scotia the waves raged against his passage
and many died … what he took from the land
it never recovered, your name, our patronymic,
a generation destined to die far from the tribe,
buried instead at some wild frontier having caved
there to an alien sickness: story is, delirious,
he walked out onto the plains and never returned –
In those last days you caressed an old sepia photo
of him and bade us read from his psalter,
the only relics to survive that misadventure.

  
V


That last week you cried a lot and saw
your mother, long dead, at the foot of the bed.
‘Mammy is coming to take me home,’ you said –
Visions and ghosts hovered like memories,
the past returned and crowded the room, people,
voices, the old tongue, ballads, prayers, and delirium,
and soon we were all gathered by your bedside,
but then it was too late for talk and comforts.
Five Septembers have passed since that morning
and we are all scattered again … what happened
to your ghosts? We can still hear your voice in ours,
your high-pitched nasal screams, and your crooning –
This morning the Adhan called out of another time,
but it was your voice that awoke me to prayer.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

DEATH OF THE APIARIST


The red arses went apeshit in our jam jars,
their buzzed-out bodies droned in a frenzy,
electrocuting the glass in our hands,
which we dropped in shocked terror
at the delirium we had trapped within.

You were the epitome of those summers,
as if their joie de vivre was your birth right –
you owned and pocketed the green shadows
that came and went like shape shifters
to clot the honeycombs of our days.

There are no photographs of our escapades,
those wild safaris in your cloistered fields:
the explorations, the surveys and discoveries
are more indelible now, as if encased in amber,
like the memory of a crepuscular light.

When you finally succumbed to the cancer,
I remembered you standing still in your aviary
among the rattled pigeons, whose crooning
and frantic flapping stirred up a powdered dust
that fell and then settled on you like Oshiroi.

You wanted your remains scattered at the foot
of the garden where the beehives had stood,
but the wind was dead that morning and the ash
heaped where it fell, only the inquisitive, noisy crows
seemed to mind disturbing our solemn silence.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

MOTHER


The changes are coming fast, the last changes,
the blue ridges turning to shale with caps
of snow, the final quiver of the late leaves,
and goodbyes lingering on chilly platforms.

You always sensed autumn at the close
of summer, the shorter evenings, the crisp air
and an eye for the golden-greying sky –
your bones had rehearsed the seasons well.

Now the obituaries are coming apace, family,
old friends, classmates, passing one by one,
and all registered in every wrinkle and sigh,
their going enfeebles like resignation, like sleep.

You never visited father’s grave after,
but we all knew where he was buried deepest –
You carried that cleft like a cross, quietly,
and now you are resurrecting into his parting.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

ECCE HOMO


~Virescit volnere virtus~

The only thinking part is on the surface,
underneath all is sleep and dreams,
and try as they might to intrude,
to unhitch the calm as it were freight,
it is the distant disturbances most
ripple into waves and break the poise.

Every blithe surface is a posthumous life,
every lizard under the sun divine –
we wait for that one daybreak to dawn,
since so many have suffered greensickness
at the sight of light, yet no fool has ever had
an epiphany about his own stupidity –

the lasers of daybreak are the hammers
of the icemen, those argonauts of dreams
and ignominy, who trundle down the slopes
of solitude, moulting skins and beating
their brains into hooks – fish as they may
in the pregnant streams, they still starve

and feed only on their rancors, they break
the very idols their appetites have sculpted,
but, behold, famine follows famine here,
so the emaciated go to their graves of ice.
There is a wheel at the centre of their prayer,
whose axis turns on decadence and despair.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

AFTER LOVE ~ Poems


The Esthetic Apostle has just reprinted After Love in a corrected, revised edition. This edition unlike its predecessor comprises my final emendations, and also unlike the previous copy is now registered with an ISBN and is available on Amazon.com. I would like to thank the Editor-in-Chief, Samuel Muiris Griffin, for his tasteful work on the book, as well as Benjamin Erlandson [benerlandson.net] for kind permission to use an image from his series, 'Escarpment Fog':


After Love is a short collection of wistful poems, 16 in all, that treat of love, loss, war, regeneration, conflagration, aging, illness, and the exotic. One senses slight, nuanced transgressions in some of these poems, especially in 'Nereids', 'The Disappearing Art', 'The Wasps', and 'Oulipo', where the exotic grows out of the macabre and sometimes even out of brutality. An allusion to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in 'The Disappearing Art' finds its poetic correlative or analogue in 'Oulipo', while the miscarriage in 'Midwife' is recalibrated in 'Our Lost Son'. Curiously, even ephemerally, the poems converse with one another so that the theme of bugonia in 'The Wasps' finds an alternate treatment in 'Wildfire' and 'Ephemeris'. The title of the book, After Love, can suggest either a life after love or a yearning after love, and both senses are subsumed in the eponymous poem. The long poem 'Tunnels' expands on many of these themes and explores the larger one of aging, ailing, and the grief of departing our teeming earth. The old man in section III sees his world reflected upside-down and in reverse in the bauble-like apples hanging from the trees, and he tries to find answers to his own condition in their cycles, symmetries, and ultimate decay. After Love is a small book but its themes are large and highly provocative, and it captures in beautiful lyrics the extraordinary majesty and mystery of nature, life, and the human condition.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

ABSENCES ~ A SEQUENCE


The Esthetic Apostle, a new monthly literary journal out of Chicago, edited by my son Samuel, whose aesthetic discernment is reflected in his dedication to showcasing beautiful prose, poetry, artwork, and photography, has just published my poem sequence Absences. The chapbook is available from Amazon ... Here. The artwork is by the wonderful Dutch artist Martine Mooijenkind, alias, Knutseltroep, from Gouda, The Netherlands. The dialogue between between art and the written word is itself one of the subliminal marvels of this collection, and Samuel was most judicious in selecting this particular pairing. He has truly given both works a new breath of life and has infused each with the unsayable essence of their own peculiar aesthetic.

He selected this precis to describe Absences:
Absences addresses the themes of loss of youth, loss of innocence, isolation, separation, exile, death, the absence of familiarity, affection, and above all the loss or absence of love. The sequence meditates on the natural world but finds little comfort there. There are no idyllic, romantic refuges from the self, and pathetic fallacies remain just that: instead of providing a balm to the sick heart, the dales of Arcady merely accentuate its angst. The poems find fitting motifs in poetic echoes and these are channeled into the poems' movement to harmonize their rhythms and oscillations and to achieve a kind of unsettling but restorative equipoise. The sequence resonates with allusions to classical mythology, Virginia Woolf, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Franz Kafka, Johann Georg Hamann, Paul Celan, and Bruno Schulz, and tries to weave its patchwork aesthetic by drawing on their disparate but unified themes. Ultimately, the sequence is a celebration of life, even if life's great peroration is death, and even if we all die the same death over and over again.
 The Esthetic Apostle maintains a Blog [Here], a Facebook Page [Here], and a Twitter Account [Here]. Be sure to visit often, read, and if possible subscribe or purchase.

Friday, November 7, 2014

In Memoriam


~ For Mother ~

 i

In the end you became
Your father when death
Had tripped him into sleep,
And when you stumbled
We all stumbled closer
To your ends, and ours –
Your hands were our hands,
And your bones settling back
To earth were our bones
As we carry them further
Down the road you went,
Further and closer, father,
Until we meet again.

ii

We never wanted you to go,
So we held the frayed thread
You clung to over the edge,
For five days we watched it
Strain against your freight,
And for five days you fought
To haul yourself back …
Now we struggle to fill
The spaces you displaced –
More presence in your absence
And more music in silence
Than all the living noise
That fills a heart with home.

iii

Everything you left behind
Still wears you, father,
But everything is nothing
Without you –
We sift sadly through
Your things but find in them
What only lamentation brings –
A spade against the wall,
A cap or old sandals
All things shorn
Empty and forlorn –
Even your beloved trees
Followed you into absence.

iv

But how could you of all men die,
You who were so indelible
And so crucial, a different dad
For each of us, though one again  
When the appointed time arrived?
Did we really board your passage,
Father, or did it arrive home
With each of us on board?
All the times we spoke of it
And the way we spoke of it,
The way the fear informed
Our words – we never knew
What had already been decided.

v

There was nothing we could do,
And though your mind was gone
You were not gone –
Though you’d vanished around
The corners of every absence
You still met life midway
As if not undersea or beyond
The call of all that tolled
You back from sleep –
When the church bell rang,
Your face went grey
And then your vital clock
Pulsed that one last time –

vi

I think of you lying there
Exactly as we last saw you
Before they closed the lid,
Your eyes and mouth glued shut,
The fingers intertwined,
And the loose suit bunched –
When we put you under
You were a long way down,
With the tight earth round
And darkness closing in.
Are you really there now, father,
Still under the wet clay,
You once dug to nowhere?