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1983-2015
tearing the rag off the bush again
Corpse Music E-mail
THE FIFTHS
SCHERZO FOR A ROAD MOVIE
(for two voices, his in roman characters, hers in italics)


It's a matter, mostly, of mountains--
vermillion at dusk and boulder-pocked,
as if unshaven, cleaving the sky's
last-stand blueness, melting their haloes
together like some child's swirled lollipop--

as you stand, adjusting your sunglasses,
on the doorsill of the Lincoln-logged
tourism booth.  Don't take along your
Stradivarius; don't, with your socks off,
run down the pebbly slope to the
air pump, where little is lost to
the niggling urge for exactness--
tongue tense, stuck out one's mouth's corner,
the pencil lead breaking on the page.
                     
No; it's a matter mostly of mountains,
the invisible plumb line disappearing
into the vertical heavens, paralleled
by the tape whose end we're holding
against the roadway's hot asphalt.
For everything must have a measure.  Don't

let them catch you alive; or, at least,
dangle the unmarked millions into the
trout brook, in this waterproof case.
Last night, you beat me at billiards;
this morning, you washed your jeans in the sink,
then puttered about the motel room
in your black jogging bra.  Could we
drive off soon?  I'll explain everything:

the Santa Anas, my favorite among winds,
will get me a six-pack of Coke,
and the stale air over Topeka
will pay for my fill-up.  El Niño,
winding its way past Venice Beach,
will quiver to the sounds of my singing;
the swaying black spruces in Boulder
will buy me the $6.99 special.

So won't you come along?
We won't be starving, and there's plenty
of Kleenexes to go around.  Oh, all right:
It all started...  (but who's to know where's
the beginning?)  It all started over
filet-mignons.  It all started in the second
violin's seventy-seventh street flat.  
It all started when I met you
in that pool hall in Atlanta, Gee Ay.

It all started with the pick-axe,
with the frozen lemonade, with
the time I forgot my umbrella
at the St. Regis; it all started
when you sighted your strike down
your cue.  It all started with the pigeons
fluttering down Columbus.  It all started
in Key West;  it all started
over lobsters in Augusta.
It all started.  It all started.

Can I have a sip of your bloody?
It's nice here by the pool.  The bartender
barely understands English, but is quick
to figure out the exchange rate and
pay us back in local currency.  
Last night we saw the ruins illumined
by rainbow-colored spotlights;
this morning you went for a 5 a.m.
swim.  Days are slow here:  we survive
on grilled lamb and stuffed eggplants,
on parsley and bubblegum ice cream.

                         *

It's a matter, rather, of silence:
every night, the chained TV's blue waves
of porn and Fox inflect the sepia

wall of curtains, the polyester
bedspreads, the paneling's molded wood;
each cut modulates the muted buzz,

and counterpoints the chimney crackles
of my hair strands on the foam pillow,
the hiss of your breath rollercoasting

round my ear's grooves, your lips' warm progress
toward my open crotch.  Each morning
I watch your sleeping silhouette pant

through your nightmares, and drag my crimson
fingernails across your ridged ribcage.
We breakfast, in the alabaster light,

on pancakes and mock maple syrup,
at the marbled-concrete and plate-glass
all-night diner down the state highway.


                         *

It's a matter, today, of sycamores.
It's a matter of stressing
each open, italianate vowel
(A!  E!  I!  O!) like a fire
chief testing his engines.  

It's a matter--God, don't you look
radiant in that dress!  The sunset's
violet streaks, twined with gold,
tint the haze smothering the golf club
(Lift the bouquet higher!), your candy-
painted gaze, the wedding party sporting
all peach and assorted pastels.

The flashbulbs anoint us
with an otherworldly glaze as
we stand before the ivory railing,
rosebushes and yellow gardenias
above the fifteenth green.  In the photo
album, we'll seem pasted in.  Look:

I didn't choose to handle the money.
I didn't choose to have to tail you
that evening when you left the squad room.
I didn't choose the velour suit
or the furry dice, our raggedy
excuses for a conversation.  
Last night, after your AA meeting,
you wandered all the way to
Palisades Park; this morning I met you,
comatose with sleep, deep in the bowels
of Penn Station.  Not to worry:

there's a job lined up for Thursday;
then we'll make ourselves scarce.  
And why, now as you yawn and lean your
unwashed hair on the vinyl tabletop
at Roy Rogers' (fried chicken, and a cruller
from Krispy Kreme), has time stopped, or rather

each second's grown disconnected
from the others, on its own in
its beginner apartment (five-fifty
a month, in a “mixed” part of town)
bare but for a phone jack, a mattress,
and chinese-food cartons on the floor?

Why not?  Like the first movement of the Sunrise:
at the subconsul's, mothballed ladies
sank in their disparate chaises
as, with a nod, your sensible pumps
tapping out the quarter notes, you'd send
your bow chasing the cello's zigzag;
in between phrases, discreetly,
you'd close your eyes and breathe in, deeply.

By 3 a.m. you'd flipped those pumps off;
by 3 a.m. I'd eased your black skirt
down your thighs; that too, perhaps, is
how it all began.  And in the meantime?
In the meantime there's always
Burger King, and McDonald's.
There's always the psychics; there's always
the tango; there's always
the hope of crossing the border.

Otherwise, nothing changes:
last night, supposedly, the aurora
borealis shimmered outside our
windshield (we were sleeping); this morning
I watched you, ten feet away, crouch on
the toes of your leather-strapped sandals,
hike up your cotton dress, and pee
among the sunburnt corn stalks.

                         *

Just now it's a matter of white noise.  
Every night, your fingers' three-four beat
on the steering wheel's torn leatherette

mingles with a clanking loose hubcap's
staccato, the ground bass of still-lit
shopsigns, the AM only radio's

impatient voices fading out in
unruly syncopation:  until
the city's done, and the road's grey band,

flickering beneath us, severs the
dark hills' headless shoulders.  Each morning
I shiver in my stained silk blouse, stretch, clap

to warm my palms, push in the lighter,
raise to my lips the coffee cup's rim,
by now chewed to a pulp; the pale, thin

dawn slides across the truck stops where we
stop for cigarettes and Snowballs, for
tampons and for three-dollar showers.


                         *

Or else it's a matter of syntax--
a matter of grammar, precarious
like the cold import of your gestures,
precarious, as are the marina's
aluminum pontoons.  Allow me

some time to dawdle at the races;
allow me to finish your Long Island
iced tea (it's your third one); allow me
to gawk at the straw-hatted crowd,
the waved programs, the scarfs snaking
in the breeze.  Last night you sat on
the edge of the swim-deck and dangled
your feet through the seaweeds; this morning,
hung over, you wrapped yourself in
the sheets, and refused any breakfast.

Thank God we've made it so far.  I couldn't
take any more brambles, my freezing
Doc Martens or the needle-strewn dirt
beneath the surplus blanket:  hungry,
dreaming of veal in mushroom velouté
or Entenmann's, my fingers cupping,
inside your undershirt, your breast--
the only warm, or lukewarm, thing for
miles around.  The only one, that is,

until you spotted past the hillocks
the casino, its one-armed bandits
blinking and chattering and sinking
their metal toes in the pearl-speckled
carpeting.  Which evening ended with
Manhattans in the Rudolph Valentino suite,
all satin canopies, the lit steam cloud as
you stepped out the bathroom door
(“Ta-da!”) into the humming bedroom, 

4 a.m.  Back to civilization.
4 a.m.  Would you do that again
sometime?  Would you stop playing
with the umbrella atop your daiquiri,
its toothpick shaft all coated with
sea foam?  Would you put on a lei
and join the hula girls, or else, at least
stop wiggling your sand-caked toes?  Last night,

bare-backed and evening-gowned, you spilled
your highball all over my tuxedo;
this morning, unsuspecting, we wandered
the aisles of the bazaar.  Now new fruits
from the market cover the table's
unstained pine; now, from the veranda,
across the cactus valley, we watch the
marbled sunset straddle the volcano,
and exchange lovers' niceties.  
What can I say, but breathe a sigh of
temporary satisfaction?   

I do mean temporary.  This is,
of course, only a recess.  It is,
of course, only a matter of time
before the Crown Victorias screech to
a halt before our driveway; before
overweight men in soiled beige raincoats
propel themselves onto the gravel,
9-millimeter Glocks in hand, before
the cabin's French windows are blown
in a shower of bullets.  By then, of course,
we'll be long gone.  That is the plan, at least.


TIEPOLO IN ONEONTA

              after the “Scherzi”

I'm calling from the road.  
Bats dangle from the roofbeams' upturned crags.  
Half-man, half-goat,
he's hiding in the trellises.  He's left his tags

all over your Suburban.
Swathed in the hum
of power lines, magicians in untidy turbans
pore over your chrysanthemums.

Owls watch lest you might wake.
Bones burn atop the barbecue's half-sphere.
Fog crawls along the garden rake;
the light is queer--

it thrusts and pulsates in the air,
then dips toward the half-drained pool
and settles in the weeds.  A gaping tear
runs up the tool-

shed's northern wall.
Out on the tousled lawn
zig-zagged chaise-longues teeter to fall.
Squirrels play dead.  Long-shadowed fauns

trample the neighbors' tennis court,
their rackets, damp,
thudding against the gourds
they use for balls.  The kitchen lamp

picks out their tops.
Lethargic nymphs with nipple rings,
tan lines and jellied flip-flops
ignore their noontime flings

and, jaded, yawn.  Inebriated, Punch
lies snoring in the tulip beds
until a conch's
asthmatic call blurts out.  Well-fed

bacchantes scurry offstage.
Headlights draw near.
An engine cuts.  Canaries rustle in their cage.
The hour’s come:  nothing to fear.



THE AFTERNOON OF A FAUN
              ECLOGUE

                    After Stéphane Mallarmé


                     THE FAUN:

I would perpetuate those nymphs.  
                          So clear,
Their light carnation flutters on the sheer
Air dazed in leafy sleeps.

                   Loved I a dream?
Amassed off former night, my doubt's redeemed
Across each sprig discrete which, once the grass
Remains, now proves that quite alone, alas!  
I'd conquered the ideal fault of roses--

Reflect..
        or if those women's startled pose is
But figured in your fabled senses' wish!
Faun, the illusion's flowing from the fish-                    
Cold blue, like bawling springs, eyes of the chaster:
Yet, full of sighs, the other, can you taste her
Like warm day's breeze throughout your fur?  No; rather,
Unmoved, this tired swooning lately smothers
With heat the once-fresh morning grown too ripe;
No waters hum but poured forth from my pipe
Onto chord-sprinkled bushes; sole the wind,
So quick to wind its way beyond the twinned
Oat reeds, then strew their sound in arid rain,
Becomes, on the unmarred horizon's plane,                
My inspiration's artful breath, as seen
Returning to the heavens and serene.

Oh you, Sicilian morass's calm shores
That, vain and jealous of the sun, I tore
Apart, mute under daffodils, RETELL
"That hereabouts the hollow reeds I felled
To tame with art; when, on the glaucous gold
Of distant greens that into founts unfold
Their vine, a beastly paleness stirred aground:
That once my prelude-sired flutes bore sound                
This cloud of swans, no! cloud of naiads fled
Or dove.."

          Stilled in the ochre hour's dead
All burns, and veils what art helped rush away
The hymen hoped by him who'd sought the A:
Then to the first day's fervor I'll awake,
Standing alone in an archaic lake
Of light, and lily-like for lack of guile.

Beside that trifle sounded by their smile,
The kiss, soft warrant of their prideful flight,
My breast, virgin of proof, attests a bite,                    
Mysterious scion of some noble tooth;
Enough! such riddle to confide its truth
The double reeds chose, played beneath the azure;
Which, stealing for their own the cheek's displeasure,
Dream how, in drawn-out solos, the intact
And scattered beauty round us we'd distract,
Confusing it for our too-trustful song;
And pipe so purely love would weave along,
Distill from common reveries of thighs
Or spines, ideal, traced with lidded eyes,                    
An idle, monotone, and vibrant line.

Go, instrument of flights, syrinx unkind,
Try to rebloom by ponds we met along;
While, of my murmur proud, I'll lecture long
On goddesses; idolatrous, I'll feign
Unlacing girdles in their shadows' wane;
Thus, when I'd sucked the grape's bright clearness out,
To banish, through my feint, regretful pouts,
I'd raise the bare bunch to the summer sun
And blow on its translucent skins, then, drunk                
And laughing, gaze through them till evening fell.  

Nymphs, let's, with sundry MEMORIES, reswell.
"My eyes, piercing the growth, spied every fringe
Off deathless napes drown in the surge its singe
With cries of rage aimed at the forest's skies;
The floods of tresses dematerialize,
Oh diamond glow! into the sparks and shudders;
I chase; when, by my feet, I chance on (huddled
In, langorous, the hurt of being twain)
Sleepers enlaced in sole their arms' domain;                    
Not disentwining them, I steal them, bound
Into this bed, whereon wild shadows frown,
Of roses, parching in the sun their scents,
Where might our battle be like noontide spent."

I love you, virgins' wrath, oh scared delight
Of bare my sacred freight trying to slide
Far from my fired lips that, solemn goal!
Sipped flesh's secret fright, up from the soles
Of the uncaring to the timid's breast,
By innocence forsaken, yet caressed                    
In seething tears or else less heartless spells.
"My crime is, glad of vanquishing those fell
False fears, to have apart, in kissing, wrangled
The tussled tuft the gods kept so well tangled;
For, barely had I hid a burning grin
Beneath one's happy folds (reveling in
How I held on, one-fingered, so the rush
Her sister lit would make her candor blush,
Onto the young, whose cheeks would not be hued:)
That from my arms, by dim near-deaths subdued,        
My prey, ever ungrateful, struggle free
And, careless of my drunken moanings, flee."


So what! to bliss by others I'll be borne,
Their strands of hair tied to my forehead's horns;
You know, my lust, that, red and ripeness-cursed,
Each pomegranate hums with bees and bursts;
Just so our blood, by its enthraller warmed,
Still gushes for desire's ageless swarm.
Now as the forest's dyed in gold and ash
Among the snuffed-out bushes swells a bash:                
Etna! on you, traveled by Venus, laying
Her artless heels across your spewed-out clay, when
Sad slumber roars or else the flame grows low.
I have the queen!
              Sure punishment..
                              But no,
The soul, word-barren, and this heavy frame
Give in belatedly to noon’s hushed claim:
No more; forget blaspheming, I must sleep,
Lying athirst down on the sand and reap
The dark, gape-mouthed, from wine's efficient star!

Couple, farewell; I'll join the shade you are.
 
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