Sam Savage photo by Nancy Marshall
Part One: 1981-1989
By unexpected paths we have come
to a clearing at the end of the day,
there are only grownups on the swings.
Though the daylight lingers on
like a house where there is room
and a cloudy green phrase is being read to us,
there’s a feeling of leaves in the car.
The people are still looking for their surprises,
they’re holding their radios up to their ears,
but the birds fly over like different pieces of music.
The magic light falls like ordinary
string on the calmly strolling couples.
We know how our lives will go on,
our homes are so much like our cars.
From night filling stations the phoners
are calling into recesses of loneliness
and Baby is waving from the rumble seat.
Lines of Flight
………………………for Kate Manheim
The future doesn’t have any pockets.
Close your eyes and see for yourself
a reservation with no Indians.
Above the traffic in the cloudy street
an extremely blue window floats.
But what are we going to do about
the silent piling up of little shoes?
Across the street the house is late.
We don’t wear those kinds of clothes anymore.
We should have kept our child-sized
dreams for the real dark.
We should have stayed
like in the old movies.
Where we walked in the friendly air
our footsteps are still standing by the car
and trees have grown into our pictures.
We stand like country people looking at clouds
while an umbrella folds the universe,
with the balloon Forever floating off over the roofs
and a rustling of falling mail
between us in the pleasant light.
What should have been
a journey out
has become a journey back.
The hand that held
holds a candle
and a tiny pick.
We taste in our mouths
the rust of our cars
the rest of our lives.
The explorers sit
by their bushes,
the exiles have only
Over the wreath-green
clocks the future grows
Soon it will be
bye-bye from the porches of the air.
A life is a minute of pieces,
a confusion of trees
through each of the windows.
Are those mountains in the distance
or an impression of hats?
From a wire across the street
a portrait of the moon swings to and fro.
I have lost my resemblances.
The one who went
by my name is missing.
I don’t know how
to make out of words
a plan for living.
Far from the flashing chrome
of the longed-for cities,
wooden boats knock
at the sea-wall,
piles itself over the harbor.
the light leaves,
we weep something,
but there is nothing.
and feet follow.
on retreating horses.
Impressions of longing
shape of a bird
on the dusty panes of desire
faint as regret.
Rhapsody on a Gone World
I remember her first shy tortoise-shell
appearings white and beautiful neck
and emeralds, she desperately was
her body’s romantic servant and loved
the bleakest things she could imagine
with a tranquil addiction to white frost
and snow and subtraction as a way of life,
a method of abstraction, until the alien
became at last what was most familiar,
coolness became her warmth, and her sun
was shadow. Her acrobat was the sky,
the clear blue dark and high sky
above the streets and avenues of New York.
The nothingness of love gave her entrance
to exits reserved for the old, it was the dark
she followed like a light.
A shadowy tinsel smile handed me its presents
in the weightless glow of a lead-gray dawn.
Wrapped in the glass panes of a tattered coat,
her wide mouth streaked with loud beaches
and crowded bars, she was photogenic
as a freak in her pageants and panicles
of ribbons and bells. In the infancy of ice
every bubble she touched with her softest
black floated like a plastic moon above
the delicate cisterns of her longings and desires,
and the unyielding fictions of a desperate
innocence held us. An Asian sorrow hung
on the fringes of the air, and the moon’s effigy
holed up in the cool sky like a trance.
LBJ woke in our dark in a bed as vast
and lonely as Texas.
He sat with his sleepless advisors
and made paper planes
that flew over the sad and jungle-green
jungles and killed the people,
who were also made of paper.
Vietnam rose out of Asia into dog days
of benzedrine and acid, hallucinating smells
of mushrooms floated on the yellow breath of summer,
as she burned the last years of her fire
in the dissatisfaction of her difficult desires.
Pinned like a butterfly to a palette of sleepless colors,
her face painted in moody mimicry of an ashen flower,
she gathered the sifting dust of bar lights,
the ice in her glass melted in her silences,
her mind was a pale shanty in which she spun
in anguish, a small-town girl gone wild in the city.
Talking in multiple voices, yellow with trailing speech,
fearing fields and wide streets, she walked her killer monkey.
The lies of politicians wronged the air
and acid drifted like evening through her.
She ran out of beaches, cinnamon candy, snow,
the circus of her wants repeated itself like laundry.
Daylight seeped without motion into monochrome rooms,
cardboard boxes for furniture, bare bulbs in the hall,
she stood at the window listening to faint machine guns
hammering at the broken jukeboxes of memory
and her eyes ate street.
Time plunges right through women
and turns their sea-green hair to grass.
Her used-up tomorrows floated off
like mist from her, her open mouth
wandered in silence, her famished white face
was scribbled with the hieroglyphs
of a life gone wrong. She could not
rise clear of her litter. Smaller and smaller
horses assembled on the prairies of her solitude,
toilet booths opened their semitones
to receive a wraith pissing morphine.
A plaintive moon hung upside down
in the street, and we each woke asleep
beside the wrong thing dying.
Wind was blowing in the chasms out there,
in the dust in the halls.
We heard it in strangeness, in
crevices, in hostile rocks cry.
Think of night
as a decorous animal with enormous ears
sitting quietly behind you,
or as a man traversed by fields
walking to the horizon
or sitting beside the animal
playing tricks with a handgun.
From time to time it opens fire;
an old man in a park
clutches his side
and looks into the eyes of his footprints.
See it in the bureau mirror
exhaling your face;
with a very quiet pencil
the night is drawing lines;
in the forest of inexplicable ink
the enemy soldiers are pointing.
Think of death as a river without water,
drying our eyes by drowning them,
or as a powdery destitute rain falling.
Yellow hands thread dried fruit,
yellow smell of damp beds.
A Simple Mechanism
I have made the journey
of old clothes without you,
the journey named A Bench in the Park.
Now snow is falling
on thousands of years
in a corner I can’t find,
a gray dog is passing.
Emptiness is stalking
a bird through the apartment,
a piano is playing
the solitary rocking of a chair,
the cars are running over their sounds.
I can’t master the disappearing ink
of the art of the threshold.
When our acrobats
exchanged epilogues at the airport
a vacuum was created,
a long tube, a pipe or cylinder.
If and So
Abandoned to bending over bridge rails
watching water, where a woman If
waves in circles, shadow green,
the virid plumes of a banana tree,
the man with cello plays with moon,
wipes his tears with floating trash,
bits of headlights and broken buildings,
because he loves the woman So.
I recall that foursquare
and seven gears ago
our Uncle Remuses brought forth on this continent
a hand crank
and got it going for a drive,
and I recall (or rather I remind)
that our 1967 Buick is broke (as we are)
and has been (have been)
for years in the driveway
which isn’t a driveway anymore
and isn’t peach ice cream
anymore, it never was
peach ice cream
or the little girl eating it in the laundromat
next to the woman with the newspaper
where I read about a man trapped
for three days in his house by a pet dog.
And we can’t do anything about
the broken crank shaft
and the rotted tires anymore
or against the honeysuckle
covering the car up,
except let the dog go live in it with the little girl
and try to imagine a world where we can have peace
from the decrepitude of our too-human machines
and the berserk antics of our intimate animals
and be happy with the taste of ice cream.
Dr. Roentgen Get His
They do it right.
They dress you in the white
grave-clothes of another epoch
and lay you out on a slab.
Don’t move, they say,
and they mean,
Lie still in your body,
don’t wiggle your bones.
and you know something
painful and dreadful
is about to happen.
A terrible eye is about to look.
What will it see?
bathed in something black
and thinner than light,
and the ghosts of organs.
…………is there nothing else?
Oh yes, says someone
you don’t know, pointing to a bird-wing-like
blur behind the white bars,
A darker deeper bird rises,
and as it falls
it leaves you faceless
behind this graceless
portrait of yourself,
stripped of your skin
and ready for the plunge.
We look up, it
is suddenly evening,
happening without us.
The long pictures
stand by their shadows,
turns its head
and does not see,
opens its mouth.
to tell you something
out of myself,
but a conversation
of gray doves
drowned me out.
the dark ascends.
We look up, it
it has emptied
and closed the gates
to the park.
An Essay on Marriage
We used to have
memories in common,
now each remembers
his own life.
Fixed in our old
we reminisce desire.
We are broken
hearts with clouds.
are icy prison places
for our faces
Our sad animals
pace the raggedy
circles of our souls
as we sit helpless
in the funeral
of its little light,
in the meager desolation
of a vaguest prison,
the commonplace calamity,
the complex disaster
Let us spread
if we can,
if you will,
the clasped misery
of our hands
and ask forgiveness
on bended needs
of Our Lady Aphrodite
and the barman
who has lost heart
in the effort of loving
and drifts or drowns.
Let us compose
what we can
with what is left.
Let us crash
again by night
for love at each other
and lay our bleak
scalps side by side
under the never-cringing
I mean by reason
an intellectual fury,
an axe whistling in the air.
I mean by passion,
a house built of rage,
a raft against the current
that holds all
and takes all.
I mean by love
a howling by the road,
turning back to the empty cabin,
facing what it has to face.
The way people who live in the path
of an advancing desert
look out on their own fields and say,
This is the enemy land.
The Age of Discovery
Though at the end of the watercolors
the darkness is complete
and full face separates from profile
and footsteps in reverse,
receding but coming closer,
cross to the wrong side of the room,
and from the roofs of the trees
the windows are dropping
the last of the nasturtiums,
and the auction of vases
has infiltrated the villages,
though it is later forever —
inside the nightmare it is
the weekend of the mind. We love each other.
The beaches are crowded.
Though the president sings in his nose
and the roses in the rose garden
are driven insane by the noise
and the oculist turns in panic
from the eye that sees —
behind crumbling walls
tonsured paleontologists assemble
skeletons of angels.
Though a noise that is not any sound
lies in the wake of the china horses
and a rain of deserted flowers
announces an encroachment of twigs
until our minds are treeless
and the forgetters have gone off with their notebooks
into the margins of the afternoon
and the lesson is lost among moth wings
an adventure is waiting in a room
for a shadow to move from the door.
This is the last
weekend the lovers have.
The moon wanders
like an absent mind.
There is yesterday
like a fallen horse.
You won’t ride that
one again. Bang.
And tomorrow will not
be any place to meet.
in swift eclipse.
Death comes over
the capricious hills
and far in the heart
Bravo. Bravo. All
the little hooks
clap their hands,
clap their hands.
…………………………death would be a lovely long journey
…………………………and an endless vacation from flesh structure and bones
Death is light, a tinge
of yellow gentle
on the sleeves of coats,
a pollen of silent vowels
on our conversations,
floating at an angle
to the points of interest
like a weightless stair,
it is a strange direction,
on which the grass is dying
in our minds.
We have our cars
but nowhere to drive them.
I try to tell you
about the town I saw with my eyes closed
but no way to find it.
Do not be afraid,
death is a sky
in which no one is swimming,
it is a frame of mind,
a point of view,
a pond afloat on our reflections,
the light of evening filling the air
with a sadness of rooms.
It is the orphanage of dreams,
an enormous mural painting
of a tiny park at night,
the flowers folded at the feet
of the statue of the hero
the walks stretched out beside the benches.
The trees are tired of flight.
April of the Beautiful Sleeves . . .
April of the beautiful sleeves,
you are like Saturday
coming down the stairs
as you open a plastic bag
looking for something
or move your things in
from the horizon.
In the shelter of trees
the house has come to rest,
the green of a field means “perhaps,”
a window arrange a cat,
the mountains make us wave.
…………………….Wherever we go
through the quiet woods
a raft has been set adrift.
Someone with a razor
is opening a glove.
Spring is like a newspaper
opening in the trees.
…………………….Let’s dance or not,
the world is where it can.
The farms slant down
the perfect hills,
a rip starts up the sleeve,
an arm emerges
Thunder, far at first, then near, and the sky
darkens and the white crash of sun
on the shade trees becomes a new grim river
pouring over the branches and over the delicate frogs
poised on the twigs like small glittering birds.
Their jostled eyes half lit with pain, they cling
with painfully small desperate feet to a crust
of intricate shadow or look down centuries
as though listening. Abandoned by God
they cling in melancholy muteness to memory,
as the rain comes floating to them like knowledge
and the branches are swayed by uneasiness.
They dream their inapprehensible lives out
without hope, the filmy petroleum eyes staring
above the huge clownish mouths, and the gaze
does not flicker because pain does not flicker,
as the bleared transparencies darken
until there’s no other light than recollection
and no other sound than the beat beat of water.
Self-portrait while Sleeping
The flatness of a human
being lying down,
sleeping or dead,
is touching in its
a nugatory gadget
over which even
a table lamp towers.
You behold in this
something that once
walked erect among the animals,
except when standing still,
or kneeling loose-hinged
How sad it is,
exhausted by drinking,
and who thanks what
if it lives,
and who thinks what
if it dies,
its speck is.
My Winter in New Hampshire
People have names
like beds made for them
even the stars
That was mine
in the shadow of failure,
opening a door
and closing it
every day in the snow,
every day the same
black desert of snow.
Do you know that room?
It has no walls.
Walking in it,
it walks with you.
Do you understand?
You try to say what you mean
but the words say
what they mean.
There’s no bottom to it
and the top is shoved down
hard and locked.
Can you picture that?
No air in there
and no walls.
If you have never been there,
how can you know?
If you have never
had words snap and crumble
like dry sticks in your hands,
how can I tell you?
A Tremulous Rain
A tremulous rain,
the trees across the field
opens the door.
Syllable by syllable
you remember slowly
until the afternoon
is grief and forever
afraid of the futility
of another gesture.
The shabby rain descending
the trees give a tired
It could be wind or
curtains blinds shutters.
The Death of my Sister Helen
Moon, Little Sister
Moon, little sister,
on the water
house on the shore.
Misfortune on the house.
Darkness on the map
of darkness. Cup
on the table.
Time on my hands.
Hands in my lap.
Cars on the minds
of the horses.
Hitchhikers on the highway.
Stack the furniture
and go, draw lines,
stick pins, do
whatever maps desire.
Go from where trees
bend in the wind
to where they break
in no wind,
down paths leading
onto the rocks themselves
where there are no paths.
And come back lost,
go live in trailers.
Sit on the window-
side of silence,
left with grass.
Look at the enormous
way the moon is out,
how it emerges
from behind the neighbor’s trailer
like another beach
or a drifting oar.
Quiet Day at the Seashore
Today the sea exhibits rest,
Yesterday a ranting beast,
and the day before that
a machine processing white paper,
but today it is something
painted on your window.
And the day before
the day before that
it was rattling a can of nails,
but today it is wearing silence,
leaning hushed against the shore.
It used to understand
what you shouted to it,
but today that is forgotten.
Today it’s vague smile
is for God and gulls.
Through the spotless glass
of the hotel window
it is quiet as entropy,
as if someone
had stopped speaking
or was falling slowly.
Only the white-foaming
breakers suggest the effort of saying,
the distant rumble of empty barrels.
It used to forgive,
and once in Cassis
it tried to explain.
The orbiting fish under the hull
fluttered like white moths.
The light threw stones at them.
Now part of that same water
is parked in front of you,
its engines off.
In Maine it was against rocks.
In Bodega they were cliffs.
In one place
it was chemical blue,
in another it was pistache.
In Revere in November
it was the color of the sidewalks.
But today it is a field under glass,
a green woman melting.
its hands keep spreading,
they climb the beach,
crumple at your feet
or roll indifferently from you.
Once it was an avalanche of keys,
today it is blank with secrets.
One day soon the sky will paint it cruel.
You will look up and see
the undersides of drownings
will lug it up the beach.
But today it is floating on its back.
Listen to it reading softly to itself.
There are only
two truths we can live by:
God is good and
all men are brothers,
and both are lies.
The only hope is despair,
the only poverty
is money. The guns
weep in their turrets.
The playground leaps
with flowers, the children
stand still in time,
move their heads in circles,
talk in squares.
Their eye-wheels turn
to watch me watching,
they smile at the quizzical
map of the world.
They know the truth,
they tell the lie.
Of the field
there is only
the one bird left.
is a story
the size of a day.
are bright with the effort
deep in thicket.
seems to say
Take this path.
A Little Face
A little face stands back and watches
softly the evening burst and the sun
fail and darkness fall into
a dust-empty corner of the year–
and faces the year,
listening to the hour.
And behind the little face’s eyes
closing, other eyes open
and someone remembers
how an hour’s rubbish
becomes a lifetime without yourself,
in a house of cold trash,
in an instant.
An instant is needed
to add to the landscape just
out of sight of memory
a ragged tree–
and another lap to the journey.
It Started Out
It started out as a hand,
became a continent and then
a sea, it was drawing a map,
it was coloring the map it had drawn.
It started out as a sun
climbing octaves of glass,
it became a moon
riding in through the panes.
It started out as November
and became May as the trees
passed from disconsolate to berserk
and back again.
It started out as the peaceful gaze
of an archival cat,
it became the maneuvered eyes
of a cyclist in traffic.
It started out as a well-behaved park
with laundered birds in the trees,
it became an hexagonal path making circles
in several jungles.
Oh, it began as a sky
and became a window
on which the printed scenery
is as indelible as mind.
The life it has become
is holding a hand to its mouth,
the window is open, the voices go on,
and the maps go on and on.
In the interchange
between the mirror
and its client
I am forgotten
between the face
and its expression.
I walk shoeless
between the feet
and their journey,
between my life
and its direction
On highways falling across the earth,
out of an immensely leafless city,
all night through small towns with lawns
like rafts flung out on the darkness
and main streets like throats of light
and mill towns mourning
the lost tracks of abandoned railroads
through receding Alabamas of dawn,
the wide skirts of the fields swirling
over the motionless land,
under the humped backs of dark clouds
or in the warm sunshine of people talking while I slept,
the car dragged its long sound past,
the trunk filled with blowing curtains
and slogans in rotting nets
and passages from the Great American Poets
and hope like the ghosts of flags,
to a dirt road scribbled over with rain
and heavy books in shacks
and tin sheds full of bullet holes
and cars parked under the trees
and sand blowing through the screen doors.
………………………………………….And also this:
a yard like a field of birds
and a path vanishing in togethering weedstalks and vines
and a sort of peace
and a bucket waiting on the well cover.
…………………………………………..It was an aching stroll.
We’ve come to what we heard,
the creaking of a gate, the echo
of a search. Youth is gone.
Who we are has happened.
Happened all the little deaths
and all the big deaths
and the flooded eyes
and the mothers and the fathers.
in immensely leafless cities
and in tiny settlements of vast dust
and in cars dragging huge flags;
in sunlight through the slats in a blind,
among the tall yellow flowers,
and in the rain-darkened foliage.
Happened the exchangeable
smiles in the glare of ceiling lights
after the lecture on trees,
after the floating dances.
Happened the tourist cabins and the song cycles
and the movies’ famous scenes.
The unrest, the vanished beasts, the fear.
It happened at the root of us
and in the leaves and branches,
to the smoke that lies across the road
and to the moon’s veneer on the pond,
to gaunt men turning gritty knobs,
opening the doors to shacks of clouds,
and to the infiltrated beauty of the loved surface.
And what was it worth?
It happened to days like flights
of wings across a street
and to the horse moving slowly
dragging a rope in the clay.
Happened all the days of impulse.
Happened the cool mineral dust
and the chalky ticking in the air.
It happened to the sunflower
on the refuse pile—will the pile sing?—
and to the young girl thinking, “Soon I’ll be old,”
to the swollen gray tongue of the dead horse
—is this the new sign given?—
to the wind filling the post holes with leaves
and to the gliding entrances of the good skaters.
Happened the far embraces, the ardor of peace,
the remote unreachable plain,
the love, the ladders, and the war.
Now the upper corner of the day is gone.
The mailman has become
the father of the leaves.
A bundle has been abandoned in a washroom.
A nation has stalled in a slime-filled ditch.
Sunlight is falling dappled on the piano keys
and everyone is leaning on a door or portal.
Somewhere beyond these paintings
are colors we can’t see,
a sky beyond this roof.
But here the angels are ordinary
and being itself the blessing.
In broken mirrors
images are made whole.
Here is the startling rainbow
under the unturned stone
and the muscular rose
growing from fatigue’s endless sand.
In the grateful village
saved from giants
names are natural features
like the trees. Briefly
time moves at a slower rush.
The air says, “I am air,”
and the grass murmurs, “rich, rich.”
Suddenly the future opens,
it is the corner where we always stood.
For whatever drifts
drifts to its own place.
Truth is error deepening
When the crescent of loss is complete,
a full moon rises.
A rich man is entering into heaven.
I go as one
who feels the touch of some leaves,
as one who says to himself,
“the swaying branches,”
to stand in the evident light,
breathing out, and into all the rest,
surrounded by just being here.
McClellanville, S.C, 1989
Part Two: Poems 1990-2015
At fifty, one feels the process.
One looks into age as into a yellow mirror.
The heavy folds of the eyelids,
the slow metabolic fire burning down the mind.
The stone sinks,
why don’t we say dives?
I want to say waiting
but I’m not waiting at all.
At midnight the clocks clench their little hands
but no one else is angry.
As the erasures of illumination grow.
Soon they’ll refer to us as “men of another century.”
Who were here, tremendous, on this plain;
to vanish utterly.
Without remembrance of everything perceived
everything endured. All the news
is imagining this.
November, 1990, McClellanville, S.C.
Autumn being thorough,
being shoved about,
bare branches, etc.,
and the dried-out grass of the rest of it.
Bright sun on the houses
and the woods dark
Here (now) is where everything
gets dumped, shadows
the equipment of going.
Though we drive without stopping
in ourselves the fragility
of the edge makes a sharp
end, a clean hole, the precise
place it has penetrated.
Moon over McClellanville
A pale piece
a barely visible
yellowing as it goes down
through the cables and hoisted
outriggers of the boats.
peaceful across the water.
The drunks at the boat landing
What a day,
though not beautiful or nice,
a handsome day,
sun sailing over
slicing the air,
the blades of the buildings.
City of concrete
rising out of
the wash of traffic,
the light scrapes
it all clean
down an avenue
of boarded storefronts.
I look and you look.
The same light enters
two pairs of eyes.
Nothing will be the same again.
Holes to be dug
and cars driven
and borders crossed
to go the distance
and the goal obscure
and the meaning of it
all escapes us.
Goodbye, my jaunty sparrow.
I tried twice to tell
you the story of my life.
First it was too long,
now it’s too short.
Turning around in the road,
then turning around again.
Then turning round and round.
This really is the end.
You said, “There’s no more interesting music.”
I said, “The wet leaves smell of treason.”
You said, “I’ve lost the feeling of myself.”
I said, “When I close my eyes it roars.”
You took the names from all the trees.
I took refuge in the difficulty of painting.
You said, “Curses,” I said, “Curtains,”
though for a long time we lodged among the lucky ones.
Out in the street the light fell obliquely.
The taxis had their roof lights on.
The feeling was clouds, earth tones, and leaf.
The back of the air was contralto and Mahler.
Indeed, the evening was like a giant standing up
to count his strides. We fled in two directions.
The same motion returns,
the same hand, the same pencil
traces the same pattern.
Each day rising
and setting each
day climbing the stairs.
Each hesitant hand
turning a knob,
each dragging dance
starting and stopping.
Love accomplishes nothing.
The same motion returns.
Autumn falls on water
down and down.
We deserve death as we
deserve life — that much,
The cradle rocks to another
beat, the child lives
in another time.
Out of the flesh
grew the culm
of spirit, a column
of dust with eyes.
In the heart of the poem
a form collapsed
and the voice read
on in silence.
Then the sparrows
and propped the gate
with their bones.
From under the ground
a boat came sailing —
Lift the cup,
pause to think.
Something has stopped.
The way is lost.
My name is Weary.
As a young man
I knew both a feeling of abandonment
and a sense of “from this moment on.”
Now I’m holding
both ends of a long scarf.
I turn from the bathers
and cover my face on the shore.
My Father’s Death
The sun had just come up
when all the light of my father died.
A lizard in its crept place opened one eye.
Ants climbed in spiral motion a stem of tall grass.
In that instant an instant was given.
It was shining as on the first day.
Birds sang brightly from the trees
and nothing was left that was obscure.
The expanse of memory:
like a field beyond a field
where people are walking, talking,
not needing to care
what is happening in this one.
And under those hills buried forever
lies an old and famous plain
where a city once stood
around whose unbreachable walls
a hero was dragged by horses
over the plain, over the plain!
Dogs bark and stars sway
above a road where a late traveler
makes his way along the lines of a legend
toward a century he cannot hope to reach.
In the country
a year has passed
but in the city
nothing has changed.
The emperor’s eyelids are pressed with darkness
and all the blood has flowed.
Before the Mirror
We travel on our faces.
than we can crawl
crawl our faces
under all their travels.
View from Northeast Point, McClellanville
The world is so ingloriously
pervade with exits,
with elevators down,
it’s porous. Eternity
makes walking hard
at the edge of the Atlantic slag,
by the piggish thuds,
under the dirty clouds
of an icy autumn.
The ocean is sending
us rumors of bad times, of
and expunge: it
would suck our refuge under.
For Emily Hope, Aged Six
This is our way
down through the candelabraed
asters, the child
talking and reaching.
A child and a man
under the sky.
The wings of the grass
swift on the hillside.
Not to be tarried
by simple verse,
the prose of time
Mitchell County, NC, 1991
The hours converge
on an instant.
the infinite abounding.
Avalanche of alas,
and anger hot
and dry in the dawn
The Sound you Hear
The sound you hear
like lapsing handles
or a vast propeller
turning in a church
is lichen moving
in waves over rocks.
Living Alone in the Mountains
Each poor soul
without another — solitude’s
whine and clang.
like palomino haunches.
A long way to neighbors,
their whiskied talk.
Mitchell County, NC, 1992
looped and tangled.
Earth near death,
the plum tree
dipping iced branches.
I bring in wood to the fire
and brace myself against the dull
miseries of the homestead,
lacking the discipline
and strength of my father.
The pickup in the mire
sunk to its axles,
the hounds not leaping the fence
but crawling under,
the pregnant hog’s belly
nearly dragging the ground,
the wind has circled
the pear with blossoms.
Pawley’s Island, South Carolina
I have become
a fierce old man,
not at all companionable.
but expect nothing.
Each moment, a precipice;
with each word
I weigh in my hand
the stone of my fall.
a frozen instrument
bent to the groove,
in bondage to abstract symbols
of intersecting desolation.
Unfed and hungering
I weep like Alice
by the doll-faced door.
Who will make me small again?
I have entered
like a bather
the element of absence.
Like a hunter
I lie in wait
to surprise what I feel.
Till pushing in line
uncurls from memory:
“Between the white houses,
blue wings of the sea.”
Bridge over a Small River
Two men leaning
on a bridge rail
form a peaceful figure
above the wonderful
of a drifting boat
and one pushing
seems bent with yearning.
The romantic leans on an elbow.
The builder, sitting in a car,
sweeps an arm
as if by this the building rises.
Who can say how long
In the yard, my pear tree blooms
for itself alone,
though the city by this flourish
achieve a partial summer.
On the Eve of War
Flow, rapid future
(war is more rapid),
In the parks and cemeteries
the buds are great
with infolded petals,
the sky is destination blue.
A gull flashes
in the big empty brightness,
a windshield flashes back.
glisten on the trash-bearing
water swirling at the pilings.
Advance of enigmas,
triumph of the merciless,
wherever we turn
the age is upon us
holding all there is
in the opaque energy of its concentrated drag.
In darkness and turmoil
the heart opens out
to the life of this city,
shiny metal view
difficult to describe.
And the graceful yachts at ease on their hawsers.
The sun rolling in from the harbor
the masses of the visible
that we call days
and go among
our many ways,
existence after all.
Son, My Son
………………..for Jeremy, aged ten.
I look at the child,
thinking how the beginning labors to end.
He reads, lost in his book,
the hooks of his eyes
tear at the pages.
Along the edge of the young day
a horse pacing proudly over the great earth.
He rests his world on mine,
but never again
will they speak of “renewed generations.”
The world-wheel turns,
axled on terror. What is one child?
Out of the narrow
of wide kitchen windows
in which I greet
my own shape,
make coffee, oatmeal,
call the children down.
A day that holds no other light. . .
Old refrigerators stoves old tires
in the stream. The road
the town the city
the wheels of the traffic.
Strands of wire
pole to pole
between the small
houses, the trailers.
The roads go everywhere they don’t
a massive web, a huge nation,
they weave no pattern,
smoothing the way, moving metal,
they are the signs
of the breaking of the pattern,
enigmas of interconnecting energy,
channels without issue
in the pulse and crash of our time.
Nothing speaks out of things,
they lie in themselves, and we
in ourselves. What
are we good for out there?
We cannot impose tenderness.
The weight of indifference
presses us into the pavement.
Heart manacled to heart love
happens against us. All
else is boulder boulder and sand.
Rush Hour on the Cooper River Bridge
over the bridge to Mt. Pleasant,
pieces of a city
on long files
of glittering traffic,
at the definition
of an era
In opulent surge
over hubcaps and bumpers,
heads and eyes
in the frantic
out of the city tumult tumult,
into the convergence,
From the Notebooks
Wind, and a branch scrapes a tin roof,
an empty drawer waits,
water runs under a rotting pier,
darkness sucks at the mind.
So things become narratives of the soul,
so truth occurs.
A rusty machine also “reflects the real.”
Those were the days
when we could say,
temples thrown down.”
Now we say,
“Under the noon sun
asphalt is melting in empty
You ask for keys
but there are no doors
of things that open to keys
but to a verse of precise
and studied step,
accurate and not sweet.
he shouted as he
stepped into the surf,
that with which
the ocean smashes
whispers on a beach,
the way stillness
in the poem
moves against movement
its own movement.
I wanted no smooth
stone of artifice
but rough uncut rock
found by chance
to which I gave no other
shape than purpose.
Resurrection and Death of a Chair
The old lady has died
and it’s all going,
………every stick of furniture,
………………even the baby carriage,
………even the black-and-chrome gas-fired barbeque grill,
………………even the wheel chair.
Three men, four hours,
………the dreck of a lifetime
………………down three flights of stairs
into the truck.
………………………Here comes an armchair,
he has it on his head,
………he looks like a turtle,
it’s lime green,
………………………it’s made for giants.
They set it down on the sidewalk
and go on working.
………………Every stick of it
into the van.
………………They stand at the rear of the truck,
they drink water from paper cups,
………they crush the cups,
………………and toss them in the truck.
They climb into the cab,
………………they drive away.
The chair is on the sidewalk,
………how could they forget the chair?
It is lime green, it is huge,
………it takes up half the sidewalk,
………………people have to swerve around it.
All afternoon it sits on the sidewalk.
………the chair is strangely beautiful,
………………under the streetlight
it looks like a theater set,
………a chair for Willy Loman
to kick back and dream.
………two little boys stop to look.
What a sight!
………A gigantic armchair in the middle of the sidewalk!
They glance up and down the street,
………they throw themselves into the chair,
they sit side by side,
………they kick their legs,
………………they look at each other and laugh.
What pleasure on a bright spring morning
………to sit in an overstuffed lime-green easy chair
………………that stands in the middle of the sidewalk for no reason!
What a wonderful chair!
Another day goes by,
the chair is in exactly
………the spot where the movers left it.
On the third day,
………on the fourth floor of the building,
someone has left a window open.
A little girl
………is leaning out of it,
………she wants to see what is happening in the street below.
And I think how amazing it would be
………if she tumbled out the window
………………and landed safely in the chair.
That would be a true miracle,
………it would be on the news,
………………it would make people happy just to hear about it.
It doesn’t happen, though.
No miracle occurs.
………A young woman pulls the child back
………………………and shuts the window.
What occurs instead is garbage day,
………they pick up the chair,
………………they heave it into the bin
………………………and crush it,
so life can go on as before.
An Egyptian Statue
The shape of time,
the face of time,
is work, the mind’s work.
Live wood becomes stone,
stone leaves and branches,
the mind chips at the frame.
Multitude of shadows,
multitude of figures
over the sharp, the arched field.
Hardness beyond rock,
the musical thought, its
successive shapes are art.
Out of the cooling frenzy,
above the cries of impulse,
this is the light among us
drifting and springing.
Muscled body, body of dreaming,
its secret is not bogus.
A dirt clod fallen
back into dirt
made this stone statue
to stand a natural
stranger among us,
enemy of the normal day,
the dingy life, and light
upon us, though it cannot
save even one man.
Its mineral gaze turns everywhere,
always. And the actual
not broken by bitterness,
renders the eye able.
Yesterday a thousand imagined deer
stood drinking at the pond.
Today one unimagined drop
would slake our thirst.
The oaks are still wearing their promises
but the tree of words is bare.
The prophet has jumped from the tower
into the valley of the Interstate,
where we buried him like a sack of blood,
by a sagging fence, in the fold of the year.
We have lingered at the grassy mound
and raised two crossed sticks.
I speak of it without irony,
amazed that I can speak of it at all.
The sun, the moon, are two eyes
rolling in the skull of time.
The world began in the skull’s shadow
and ends at twilight in a trailer park.
Sunset on the Emerald Motel,
and footsteps scrunch on the gravel.
The ocean has dried to a scum-coated pond,
a nation died out to a village.
Everywhere chaos, and everywhere calmly
people are taking bicycles apart.
Without equipment to construe,
without a single bell to defend us,
we have entered a new earth,
of a different sort of dust.
I stand at the rimless edge and hear
distances falling on deserted roads
as quiet as writing.
A beggar by a vanished stream,
rattling a cup of names,
my mind is a box of memory held with tape.
All the ghosts are here.
Verlaine, tous tes amis sont ici!
And morning glories turning out along the fence,
a tree planting another like itself.
I keep track of such omens and emblems,
though I know my skills are not wisdom.
I work stones
and let them roll off into the creek bed.
And the fragrance of the old way
is an unbearable sweetness.
I remember a ship detained by veils
and the many-skirted waves
unfolding the wrinkled pages of an antique island
on which our fantasies were broken like lyricists.
Now the conversations about it
are too long even to begin.
The shadow of bread stirs
only the memory of hunger.
We’ll be reborn only as we are.
All answers dissolve into poundings at the gate.
Clouds of steps. Fire loose
and wind rising. Typewriters squeal and shit.
Libraries of empires sink
under highways darkened by blowing dust
rattling the metal hoops of wagons
crossing a prairie
past a secret concealed in a wall
and a deep pond lost in the suburbs
and Walt Whitman saying goodbye at the Exxon,
past a greenhouse floating above Saginaw
where the horticulturist of loneliness bred roses,
over asphalt intangible arches of longing
hung from the cables of a marvelous bridge
where a bedlamite still weeps on a parapet,
Emily Dickinson’s letters falling from his eyes.
To where a man steps down on another coast,
his memories around him like children,
aghast in the glare of arrival.
The waves that splash here
have come all the way from the beginning.
He picks up a stone: before the grass,
before the mountains.
Rustle of silence and rush of words;
eternity gleams along the rim of his losses.
A sentry at the border between an eon and an eon
and a viewer in the wind,
he rocks on his heels.
He is not mute but neither can he speak.
Though the materials are present.
In the lightness of one hand,
in the clarity of one string.
Far far a little sun more black expands,
the shivering bells caw.
Magicians, in whom brightest I still believe,
let down your ladders!
Spring, a headlong
but tender, green.
How strange again.
In the unearthed life
of plant and animal
wild and cunning
information and reflex.
In more than friendship
comes forth the Other,
a few steps
a different way together.
How it Is
The tumult of life, I suppose it is,
the throes and pangs
of enthusiasm and regret,
go on apace,
and might well continue
to go on apace,
interrupted by hours of oblivion,
by sleep, by moments
of distraction, by fun,
though that rarely now,
for years possibly, still,
but not by peace,
there is no peace.
The soul, for one thing,
never gets weary,
no matter how battered,
no matter how chock full
of misery and hunger,
it’s always ready for more.
The animal, on the other hand,
meaning the fleshy thing
the soul is buried in,
or burdened with,
wears down, wears out,
and dies, becomes dirt,
or gray ash and smoke.
There is a point,
a position in life,
where the fences have all come down,
the world rushes in
and everything hurts.
Lord, what shape
of animal will you
assume when we meet —
barnyard or zoo?
And how will I
know you? Fear
weighs my ways
down, and pain
will stain my last hours
most likely, most like
a lion stains
the lamb. Will it
A loud ruin, Lord,
is dying to love,
his heart hardened
to every sound
but the scratch
of tiny cruciform
at the door.
Shall I open it
and let the dark in
like a dog,
or go out
to greet it
by choosing night?
Night, you know,
is the wall I always
In it are the gates
I think I see
tossing pale lights.
Will it take a lot
of courage, Lord,
to go out and
sidle up to that
that struggles there?
At the Memorial
Mounds of boots, piles
of steel helmets,
dead wings over the waves;
a massive wheel,
a coat leaning against nothing.
Ribbons and medals
thrown over a fence,
mist in envelopes.
Men on the damp
ground at perpendiculars
and words like “country” and “hero,”
the shoddy merchandise.
A van cruising the streets,
mouth to my mouth.
An event so small
among the great events,
A machine following the one
out on the Interstate
painting the dividing lines,
a machines spreading its yellow wings.
Two for the Morning
1. 6 AM
as a wren levers
the sun up,
2. 8 AM
And now it
all over the city’s
intermeshing teeth of gears.
The sky’s a gray
the streets imagined.
hysteria held down
by the weight
of truck tires.
aridity. A hard
edge like a metal
flange in the air.
Who wants to say love
says stone. Existence
against the obduracy.
An angry sea,
A Village Was
A village was, besides
a few huts and streets,
the return of what they knew,
an actuality of belief.
Then town, then city
crowded the banks of the river,
an event that has happened,
frozen at the end.
Stairways in office buildings,
scarred doors, baffled
Not the earth’s slow heaves and cyclical
exchanges but powerful engines
mark the progress of our motionings.
We have come from: What is separate is wrong,
to: Everything beautiful is separate.
And the emptiness is everyone’s.
In this decaying light we are free.
Towards us slouch in attitudes of sloth
the gods of the periphery, the lesser ones.
Over all, everywhere, rolls the rock of history,
the moving rock,
a thicket moving itself. We can’t
find our residence there.
For it is necessary to see
whatever happens as an answer,
though we know this civilization
had been better not built.
So we achieve bewilderment.
Don’t bicker with death.
Invite it in
as guest, as teacher,
your friend, your enemy.
and mind fabulating,
you’re at the end
of a long corridor,
barefoot on a cold floor.
Step easy, as off a curb,
through the mud gate
into the racing void.
Though still by human fire,
though still in need of touch,
embrace the dark embracing you,
don’t bicker with it.
Fair Evening, Charleston County
Behind a filling station at the edge of town
cattle drink from a ditch,
swing their heads down, their horns.
Across the field a kitchen light
goes on: fidelity and shelter.
A gun lies in pieces
on a table covered with newspaper,
a child studies it.
A man in baggy trousers beside the highway
thumbing a ride, gropes for the dream.
Yellow light floods the pine tops
above the dense stillness of the horses.
I run my hands along the sad edges,
the wings of the day,
and the stars up there after,
and the tired feet of the animals
walking forever onto the ark
and the water moving in the rushes
and the coon creeping on the quail clutch
and the cat pausing in the rifle sight
and the fat convict crawling frantically in mist.
I think the only real failure is the failure to be brave,
and to cringe like an animal driven over.
The end with all
A stairless man
bone by bone
and loss by loss
and hand to mouth,
the words die
as we say them,
the gate bangs.
to the dirt roads.
is a deaf color
we cannot hear
any farther than ourselves
from the trees.
The seasons turn
on the cylinders
of our faces,
spreads its numbers
across the garden
and kills the flowers.
Hands that had
drawn back, touch.
Voices fallen silent
Till Death Do us Thunder
These flesh-masked bones
are my disguise.
Next year will bring
your summer stripped of my parks.
Our life was this chain
with its links,
with their rhythms,
you’ll start back
these steps with your feet
in those shoes without laces.
From my mask
you’ll save face,
from my prints
you’ll make tracks,
from my words
you’ll take flight.
Rivers Avenue, North Charleston
We move among
the constant numerous
the abstract calming
Bits of news
bits of dirt and rivets
cars in ranks
of repetition, of structure.
that the forest “history”
and beneath our feet
the solid pavement.
The moth circling
the lamp is trapped
in the moth-system
and the blossoming twig
by the all but gone
In masses, in multitudes,
we move restlessly, relentlessly
across the vast republic of indifference,
over the bare ground of horror,
what the traffic rolls on.
It is motion, it is process,
In the phantasmal, the toxic
cities of the plain, the spectacle
thickens and clots.
Frozen gantries, vacant shop floors,
black rags stuffed in the drain holes.
We are harmful, we are
acid to each other,
though no one ever died of tenderness
and emptiness was no one’s choice.
Isolated by our velocity,
we are ajar, adrift
in the wash of empire.
What scales will we use to weigh,
who were weighed and found wanting?
How can we exhaust the bitterness?
on the current of history,
at the frontier of the times we live in,
that we’ve been tossed up out of,
we put out more flags.
We came here by error
and the error holds us.
The epoch is everywhere,
it is all there is,
and we are crazed by it.
Pressure of memory against the mobility of life,
forgetfulness bricking the mind.
An indifference shrouding us from within,
the metal fences spreading,
blunt fingers attaching
to steel posts.
An old man who is again a child
stirs the dust that was the child.
No future, and no idea how to live as a “last man,”
he walks alone by the river
through crowds of others walking by their rivers,
the hard, the masculine and feminine others.
Time has given to each a depth of world
impossible to renounce or rectify,
the uncanny, the unique person.
Circles of isolation interlocked to form a chain.
Out in California my Brother is Dying
August, and he can already feel
the failing of the vegetable impulse.
The materials of summer are all around him
but he can see what the trees are planning
when the leaves have fallen
the birds have flown
the branches rattle bare empty cages
meadow grass collapses under wind and frost
chirr chirp babble and drone pitch into silence.
Seated on a sagging porch he watches the clouds
turn their pages complaining and sighing.
Sometimes on a still-warm evening
he drags a chair out into the orchard.
There among the velvet shadows of the apple trees
the mind empties its crowds
the once so emphatic present grows thin
as the kingdom of bright days crumbles.
Above the mountains to the west
a steep and frantic shape
hauls at the cables of the sun,
and the air is frail with flight.
Part Three: The Kiffler Poems
1. Kiffler Fails to Fly
Today Kiffler is learning to fly.
He has developed a technique.
He does it in the kitchen first for his family.
Fists in armpits,
he flaps the mighty stubs.
Wugh wugh wugh
The sound of wingbeats
strum the air.
Once around the room,
he soars above the refrigerator.
Kiffler is flying the Hump.
He is sailing above it all.
They are the size of fleas.
Now he is going to do a barrel roll.
(Impressive, but irrelevant.)
He is just fluttering up there to avoid his responsibilities.
He crumples once more upon a chair.
‘You don’t have anything it takes,’
Does she mean wings?
From Molly’s box of Jungle Crunch
a tiger recommends that Kiffler crunch life.
He would, he would.
‘I leap up to my God, who pulls we down?’
said Dr. Faustus in that play.
And who is Dr. Kiffler leaping up to?
Then what drags him down?
His heavy heart.
2. Kiffler Sets to Work
Six long weeks he strove to cut it.
Thirty mornings at the awful hour
Kiffler stood panting at the door.
Climb aboard, they said.
He climbed aboard. He hauled,
They called him Kiff.
His heart warmed.
Six weeks he did it.
At the end of each
lay money. Kiffler
was bringing home the bacon.
That was on the surface.
upon a barren piece of windblown prairie,
Kiffler was recoiling.
From ladder tops he surveyed
the passages of clouds.
Under houses in the cool
he contemplated joists.
He was happy there.
The word “deadbeat” fluttered in the air.
It lit on Kiffler’s head,
He let his mind drift.
Day by day the name Kiffler
grew synonym with slacker.
Six weeks he strove to cut it.
To what avail?
Down the street by Jimmy’s Bar and Grill
flies the answer.
That rakish figure of springing step
is Kiffler fired.
Home again, he creeps
into the warm familiar lair.
With Thelma, though, that does not cut it.
I put up with shit, she says,
why can’t you put up with shit?
Why can’t Kiffler put up with shit?
A flaw within.
3. Kiffler Takes a Walk
The young ones are everywhere. They are
falling from the trees. They are leaping
They are not doing anything. They do it
The park is full of them.
Overhead the vastness reverberates.
A huge orb is loose in space.
Someone has let Spring out
and the dogs are at it.
Alarmed, Kiffler roams.
Tiny leaves on the willows.
Tulips and daffodils.
Gnats vibrate in columns.
A mallard, green aglitter,
pursues a drab wife,
all dignity undone by the waddle.
See Kiffler smile.
His teeth are quite yellow now.
At the lake’s rim he sits,
knees drawn up to his chin.
(The body hinges,
the mind unhinges.)
He read this morning,
“Poet Alan Ginsberg Dead.”
That news is now writ large
in Kiffler’s head.
Once, hunkered in Asia
Kiffler heard a temple
gong so loud the whiskey
frolicked in his glass.
Now he looks to windward.
From across the lake
towards him and towards him
tiny ripples race.
If tomorrow Kiffler
woke up as a duck
that would be all right with him.
4. Kiffler Takes a Sort of Stand
Beached upon a sofa, mighty Kiffler rests.
His eyes are shuttered against a sea of troubles
even as trouble creeps upon him.
Into a quiet-breathing nostril
Molly jabs a note from school.
Kiffler unfolds, and reads.
Molly has (it is written there)
refused to pledge allegiance to the flag.
She has alleged “parental strictures.”
She has quoted Kiffler to the class:
“You will not kiss their fucking rag.”
Here Kiffler beams.
She has his vent verbatim.
Though he knows it’s a skirmish only
(a footnote merely)
in the Kiffler Wars,
he swells with pride.
Propelled by wrath
he hauls himself erect.
Up from the well of resentment
he lifts a bucketful
and spews a bilious stream
down on Molly’s hapless dome:
the misery of his schooldays.
the shame of his nation.
the stupidity of power.
the fragility of justice. . .
Here Molly weeps
and Kiffler tumbles back.
Time tumbles forward,
carves Kiffler a narrow space
in which to rue and mend.
With ice cream in cones
and her small hand in his,
father and daughter amble now
beneath the flowering trees.
has made his escape again.
He bears a cone before him like a torch.
He’s back where he belongs at last.
He never should have left.
He has his feet on the dog again.
His eyes are closed.
He is waiting for Armageddon
to be announced on the news.
He can hear Thelma singing in the kitchen.
The days are very long.
After a while, he rolls a joint
and wanders out to the yard.
He stands among the things of April,
the tiny leaves that swarm the ash,
sudsy clouds bouncing in the sky,
daffodils, of course.
He takes a long toke,
coughs once, and pledges.
5. Kiffler’s Nice Day
A nice day again.
flowers, and so forth.
Kiffler can’t get over it.
An amazing coincidence,
himself and the world
Amazing just to shirk. If he had anything
to shirk from. Or off.
There’s an itchy buzzing
sort of bounce to the atmosphere.
Kiffler takes Vachel to scope it out.
A slow turn around the neighborhood
and then amble on to the park,
and the lake, and ducks probably.
People have planted all sorts of flowers
between the house fronts and the sidewalk.
Thelma does that. Kiffler himself would not,
though he is grateful.
He doesn’t know even the names of many.
Zinnias, roses. But what are those
yellow spotted ones
like tiny shoes hanging from strings?
Vachel meets others of his kind
on the way. He wags and means it.
And Kiffler meets others of his.
Does he wag? He does.
The doggy virtues do not elude him.
He bobs and nods.
He flashes a ragged grin.
That is just Kiffler being devious.
The sign says
NO DOGS ALLOWED IN THIS PARK.
But there goes Kiffler.
He’s walking Vachel right past it.
At the leafy shore, eager
paddlers gather round.
They know their man.
Deliberately adjacent a sign that says, in effect,
DON’T FEED THE FUCKING DUCKS, KIFFLER,
scofflaw Kiffler tosses bread.
Minor crime is Kiffler’s crutch.
Leaning on it he hobbles home
with head held high, high-domed
forehead slicing the soft air,
a man of backbone and gall,
unlulled by weather.
6. A Laborious Story
This is Kiffler as a large fat beaver.
Fat flat tail. Nice sturdy teeth. Incredible house.
Underwater entrance and other defenses.
Nice airy rooms. Roof deck with retractable awning.
Never a wasted moment, that’s Kiffler.
Works hard. Strong as a mule. Never touches sugar.
Here he is singing “Down at the Pond”
while stripping off some fresh bark for the winter.
“There’s no such thing as too soon,”
he likes to say, “and the busy bee has no sorrow”
Naturally, the other good-for-nothing beavers don’t like him much.
They spend a lot of time just lying around chewing twigs and sunning themselves
and they don’t feel good about it.
So they organize a meeting to throw Kiffler out.
They accuse him of being an Eager Beaver.
“Yea, I’d call him that.”
“Some kind of militant self-starter probably.”
“Well, I did peek inside his lodge once, and lemme tell ya, it was neat as a pin.”
“With him it’s always go go go. I say, when’s it gonna’ stop?
He hasn’t a chance. The case
is stacked against him from the outset.
They are out for Kiffler’s pelt.
When his turn comes, he stands to speak.
He invokes the Beaver Way.
Industry, Self-reliance. The ideals
of the bluff plain dealer.
The sturdy yeomanry of yore.
He goes on, and on. His speech is extremely boring.
They drive him out with sticks.
Now here he is out in the big world.
It is a thinner, sadder Kiffler,
scrounging nickels in the street.
He is selling little wooden carvings of beavers
and singing “Down at the Pond.”
He is in constant danger from dogs.
He has certainly travelled a long way from the old oomph and pizzazz days.
At night he drags himself home
to a hovel of planks and tarpaper.
The only light is from a flickering screen.
Hunched over the keyboard,
He is composing the story of his life
and an indictment of his times.
(Beaver or no beaver, it’s the same old Kiffler.)
7. Kiffler Has Mechanical Problems
Here is Kiffler hard at work.
Today he is an automatic high velocity envelope stuffing machine with bulk feeder.
He is amazingly efficient.
He is making up for gazillions of hours he has twiddled away.
He likes being a machine.
Effortless labor. Respect.
Buoyed by the warm chatter of office girls
he is humming along.
Envelopes are piling up.
Thanks to Kiffler thousands of deserving Americans
will have a shot at a free lawn tractor.
Just mail back the coupon.
Who does he think he’s kidding?
Already he is losing his concentration,
he is drifting into orbit.
He is orbiting 1978.
Uh oh. Something’s not right.
Looks like a paper jam.
Here comes Janine to the rescue.
What a babe. She is fooling around inside
his very delicate mechanism
(long red nails like talons).
Hey, girl, not so rough.
Kiffler grabs, holds on.
Her shrieks merely excite him.
Oops! There goes the fabric.
“You’ve done it this time.
Out you go, buddy.”
Here is Kiffler being unceremoniously tossed.
He lies in the alley on his side.
He breathes. He hears the unpleasant
clatter of some loose parts.
He rolls over, studies how blue the sky.
Soon the bars will open.
Hands in pockets, he strolls to one.
“Hey, Kiffy, what’s up, man?
Sly Mona Lisa smile.
He must be hatching another goofy idea.
When Kiffler was younger
he was troubled by the meaning of life.
He felt there ought to be one.
He has gotten used to things as they are.
If one day they start to make sense
he will be completely bewildered.
8. Kiffler Tries to Sleep it off
Kiffler is back on the sofa.
What a deadbeat.
is retreating from something bigger than Russia.
He does it with his eyes closed.
Outside lurks the work world.
(One more thing to be baffled by)
It’s a busy business out there,
he thinks, even the birds sound busy,
and Kiffler Doolittle hears it all.
He does not want to.
He turns, snuffling, to snout the pillow.
Deep in feathered folds he grubs for sleep.
Eyes shut tight, it is dark in Kiffler’s head,
but sounds leak in.
From high in some leafy top
a small bright bird is shouting
phoo-ee phoo-ee phoo-ee.
He wishes he had earlids.
It’s a busy busy world
and Kiffler Bumstead is tired of listening to it.
He is tired of traffic and the busy buzz of people going places
He hates business
and business people
and the phrase ‘travel allowance.’
He hates the words ‘busy’ and ‘buzz.’
He hates the reliable industrious
steps of the mailman
and the racket made by the painters across the street
ratchetting their eternal ladders up and down.
Their names are Ken and Laura.
When they first started
he strolled over to find out.
Ken, Laura, and yellow.
Ken, thin and balding,
Laura, short and pudgy.
Laura does not actually paint.
She works as ballast. When Ken
is up high on the ladder
Laura sits on the bottom rung
and keeps him from falling.
All day she sits, eating potato chips
and smoking. That’s her job
and she’s good at it.
Kiffler thinks of slim Thelma
sitting on the bottom rung of his ladder.
She has kept him from falling
all these years.
But what is he doing up there anyway?
He ponders. His shield is down.
Wormish thoughts, tentacled and fanged,
wiggle into his half-sleeping head.
He wishes he had a mindlid.
And now another familiar tread.
No baleful mailman this.
The lighter brighter steps of Thelma
are at the door, and through,
and across the room to him.
She looms above.
His eyes will open to behold.
Has she brought bread?
Once she lavished
sex and praise upon him.
Now she returns
bearing, he hopes, money.
Kiffler needs some.
To sit with coffee,
pastry, perhaps a book
on a café terrace
and so stalk the world in spring.
That a need so small
should loom so huge
amazes Kiffler. Amazes also
that gentle lovely Thelma
should labor so for such as he.
Baffled Kiffler doesn’t get it.
When, Thelma asks, as she peels
away two lovely green ones,
will he face up to his responsibilities.
He ought to cry out, ‘Never, never, never, will I,’
but answers instead, ‘Tomorrow.’
(And means it.)
9. Kiffler Treed
Bent beneath a long metal ladder,
there is Kiffler trudging across the lawn,
an ant bearing a wasp wing.
The summer trees are full of leaves.
Kiffler, below, has seen a better world up there,
a tranquil peace house afloat in the treetops.
He wants to go live in it.
Though he does not like ladders
he scurries up.
The vast maple waves its leaves gently to him
as he climbs.
His ant-heart thumps.
Now that he is in the branches
he starts to feel better.
Looking down, he is feeling high.
He climbs from limb to limb.
He is really way up there.
He perches near the peak.
Nevermind how it sways,
he is going to make a roost of it.
But what’s happening now?
Looks like his arms have gone furry.
Chest and face too.
Perplexed, he scratches a hairy ear.
His hand is huge.
Poor hopeful Kiff,
he imagines he’s beginning a new life-story.
He wants to call it From Ant to Ape.
When he left, the news of the earth was grim.
High above the demented present
Kiffler is cutting loose from his species.
What will he miss?
Thelma and Molly, his sofa,
movies, his dog Vachel,
cigarettes, wearing a hat when it’s cold,
cappuccinoen on Cafe Zoma’s terrace.
Kiffler is getting ready to rough it.
Now Thelma and Molly are standing beneath him in the yard.
They are quite low and stubby.
Kiffler is so high he can’t tell if they are pointing or waving.
From within his greeny nook
he peers out over the rooftops.
He has never seen the neighborhood
from this angle before. He likes it better.
below him on the lawn
dwarfs are multiplying. They are wearing
their faces on top of their heads.
Friends and relations, all the neighbors,
his brother Bill, his sister Maud.
That’s too much of many for Kiffler.
They are moving into a huddle.
Uh oh. It might be a family council.
Put a cork in that!
Kiffler hurls his shoes down,
first one, then the other.
The dwarfs unbunch and scatter,
then regroup out of range.
They are hatching plans to get him down.
Kiffler studies his new feet.
He is up there
because it looked so nice from below
and he couldn’t think where else.
Now he discovers
that sitting on branches is not comfortable.
The life of an ape man,
has turned out to be uncomfortable and boring.
………. … .(There goes another illusion.
…….. ……How many more can Kiffler have?
The sirens arrive, trailing red trucks,
to die away at the curb. At the end
they give off a deep very final moan.
If Kiffler could open his mouth and say that
everyone would understand.
Firemen swarm below.
Big hatted, short legged, barrel chested,
they are running around with their fireman equipment.
DWARF ARMY RESCUES ORANGOUTANG.
But why aren’t they setting up any ladders?
The fire captain is explaining to Thelma:
when she called, they thought “Kiffler” was a cat.
They don’t rescue lunatics.
They have a special team for that.
“Evening Sun”: Southern Poetry Review
“A Simple Mechanism, Zero Gravity, Think of Night”: Ambit (in England)
“Lexicon,” “Pawleys Island,” “For Emily Hope,” “In Luxembourg Gardens”: 45/96 (an anthology of South Carolina poets)
“Goodbye, 1972”: Chattahoochee Review
“Climbing in Teotihuacan”: Moth (in Ireland)
Sam Savage is the best-selling author of Firmin: Adventures of a Metropolitan Lowlife, The Cry of the Sloth, Glass, The Way of the Dog, and It Will End with Us. A native of South Carolina, Savage holds a PhD in philosophy from Yale University. He lives in Madison, Wisconsin.