The Hunger For Getting Things Right

Sound investments panic and fail.

Cars grow winter mold and must be cared for.

Witnesses misremember.

Countries hallucinate.

In Zen, the fervent desire
and the stone footbridge are interchangeable.

In poetry, the sound
finds the echo canyon before you do.

In navigating the old way,
the shape of surface waves is everything.

Strange Fish

I saw schools
of articulated fish
sailing through
serrated oceans

making monstrous alliances
like promiscuous molecules
of sharp-finned molybdenum
and stickle-backed mercury.

They formed
flying sea scarves
and inside them
grew constellations,
with deeply
creased brains
and the hint
of a downcast smile.

An Egyptian blue nude
reclined on a painted chair
appearing and dissolving
in leafy splendor
while a tiger and a gibbon
peered out behind her
through the fronded sunlight
with their fishy faces.

I gathered up some
of the strange chum fish
we eat every day,
and sat down on the shore
to bait my hooks
while blue heron
and achingly white egrets
easily speared their dinner
in the outer marshes.

The Old and New Letters of William Persons

( Wm. Persons was the brother of my great grandmother. This poem includes excerpts from his letters home during the American Civil War. )

dear pa and ma i take my pen and bid you goodbye
tomorrow i leave this camp and regiment forever
and go aboard a gunboat for the Mississippi river
so don’t feel bad there is not as much danger
on a vessel as in the field
i have a nice new Enfield rifle
it is a great honor to join a Mann. o war
and i am determined to have a brush with the rebbles
the company cast lots to see who would go

dear ma, I cannot write what is on my heart
so I will write you in my head
I am sick with the grip and can barely stand
I don’t know how I will do aboard a gunboat
the regiment drills day and night
we are brave in outward appearance
but all lose weight and gain creases around the eyes
sleep comes dear when it comes
my socks are worn through as am I
I lost a tooth in a soldier’s fight
do you remember the Palmer’s oldest boy Grayson?
he and I are constant companions now, even more
though we must be careful

we left rikers island on the 28th of february
took a steamboat to Amboy and then by rail to Philadelphia
the train running like destruction
with heavy report of cannon when we arrived

the train shook so hard I almost broke my elbow
we quartered in an abandoned mill
with rats running over us all night
I have an open sore on my leg that won’t heal
I sometimes think I can hear you playing the spinnet at night
and hear the frogs out by the lake

we left Philadelphia for Baltimore
most of the inhabitants were nigers and wenches that i saw
we left at dusk and as the cars moved off we were stoned
one man spit on Lt. Van Dyke but took leg
when he drew his sword to smite him
Baltimore is a rotten city all that keeps them from rebellion
is two regiments in their midst and the guns of fort henry

Baltimore is full of scoundrels
a man who said he knew you and pa
said he could arrange a leave for me
if I would sign some papers
I was sore tempted but told him no
Grayson said he was a bounty hunter
with the home guard and was trying to make me run

we arrived in washington and are all laid in one room
thicker than hair on a cat
we lay one night on the ground in the snow
it was a tough time but its all over now

we were poisoned this week by rebble infiltrators
I was sick to perdition but made it through
Grayson and I were beaten
by men from another regiment
after an argument over a package from home
though that wasn’t the real reason
he is my only real friend here
but will stay with the regiment
when I go on the gunboat
I am bound up with fear
but determined not to let everyone down

we have had some splendid victorys this week.
the capture of Fort Henry, which was a snug fight,
the rebbles fought desperately and our men
had the worst of it, but they took it.

the country near the Mississippi is splendid
I watched a hawk catch a snake in a cornfield and I was near back home
our gunboat is the USS Mound City
she is covered with 2 1/2 inches of iron, the boys call her Pook’s turtle
she is a fine affair though she floats low at the stern
and her boiler sits up high and unarmored God knows why
it gets so hot inside and the coal dust is so thick
I cannot think that Hell itself could be much worse
we never stop coughing and there is little sleep
under the deck tarpaulins at night

the reports [from Shiloh] are so various
i know that our army came near being destroyed
and all that saved us was two wooden gunboats
which Providentially were there
our men went down to the river
and then boats opened fire [over them]
and mowed the rebbles down
they winned the day in our favor…

today we fought a rebble boat toe to toe
their vessel only a few boat lengths away
I was on deck as our boat moved terrible slow
trying to get into position against the current
I could see some of their faces as we came about
they looked ragged and near starving
one boy maybe fifteen stared at me for the longest time
and I had a strong feeling that I knew him
I heard last week that cousin Jimmy, uncle David’s oldest
volunteered for a rebble and is serving on a gunboat like mine
I pray to God it wasn’t him. they fired first
I could not move, I just stood there
captain Reynolds had to almost knock me over

our gunboats run the rebel blockade
down to Pope’s army and so transported troops
of his across the river so we had them surrounded.
the enemy ran away at the time for it was at 10 o clock at night
but they were too late as Popes men
were ready to receive them.
they made up a line of battle but then stacked their arms.
their retreat was in such haste
that they left tables set with victuals on but “Alas to Feast”

we fired at the rebble boat for what seemed all eternity and they at us
until their boat lost steering and swung astern of us
we fired for her boiler and she took a direct hit
their boys flew in the air like cotton dolls
the fire was so hot we could not get close
we saved the few who could swim
many were scalded and blinded
when I close my eyes I still see them

as I write this a terrible knowing has come over me
that I will not survive this war and that I have seen my fate today
I cannot burden you or anyone with such thoughts
and will post my regular letter when we pass a northbound boat

now time hastens and i must go
your beloved son wm. Persons

Note: William H. Persons was killed aboard the USS Mound City in the Mississippi river June 19, 1862, along with 94 of his comrades and eight officers. The boat exploded from a direct hit to the boiler.

Origami Legend

The surrealist painters often took portions of each others paintings they liked and expanded on them, rearranged things, took ideas and ran with them. Basically, they riffed off of each other. My friend Alan, whose fine literary blog is here, took my Catacombs poem and did something similar. I love it as a response to the original, especially his use of much of the original language:

Origami legend!
take cape in hand,
sweep the dirt.
Bull horn,
Moon horn.
No jumping out of the way.
Filled with turpentine
and salt brine …
We are the skeletons in our closets.


entering into legend
like an origami bull
is much different
than entering into life


to leave a light behind
begin by sipping
little bits of moon brine


ham and oysters
and turpentine words
in a crayon miasma–
a matador makes a mistake


most house skeletons
become bone slides
in time

Glasses For the Middle Eye

Once I found grizzly bear scat
in the middle of a trail I was hiking alone
two days and a boat ride from anywhere

wading flooded creeks,
climbing through chest-high devil’s club
wet clothes for days
it all made sense at the time

I wasn’t the first lonesome word miner
in those mountains though
Jack Kerouac’s fire lookout cabin
was a few ridges over

decades later the original
Dharma bum and I still
talk across the pressure ridges
the years have folded up between us

hey Jack, if the world had wheels, would you ride or push?

the sea speaketh, remember why’m a wave?

written any poems on your side of the Dharma wheel?

no time for poetry, but exactly what is…work from the pithy middle eye out

no, I think of poetry as a merchant ship, not a luxury liner

accept loss forever, man

I reach over and turn off the internal reading lamp
of visionary tics shivering in the chest
I am planning a trip to the Dharma bum’s fire lookout
I’ll let you know what my pithy middle eye
can see from there…promise

No Horizon

I have taken every third word
I heard today, gathered them up and dumped them in a pile.
Some I jammed in a pill bottle with other acid reminders-
a random chemical family. Maybe they will work things out.

Some I hung in a tree like a wishbone.
Pull one end to see if you are lucky or not.
Some I laid out like plastic trash above the tide line,
in between the clumps of seaweed.

Some I scratched on the side of the doorless outhouse
we set up to face the ocean to watch for returning boats.
Some went for new, inventive labels on the grape wine
we made when it was too rough to fish.

The rest is personal packing
to keep my insides from falling out,
wrapping them around the thing that made no sense–
Duncan’s body, or what was left of it, washed up in a tide pool.
The top all gone, just the legs up to the backbone.
He still had his white socks on. No boots though.

A freak sea, a big wave over the false bar
and the channel inshore of it, quick sandy on the inside.
His boat probably swamped coming in over the bar
and he fell in, got dragged under, numbed by the cold
and had no time to kick his boots off.

His Dad walked the shore everyday until he found him.
Some in the tide pool and farther on
some other parts of him, the head and one shoulder,
all chewed up by crabs and sand fleas.

Once, Duncan and I were fishing off of Port Hardy.
The sea got big and I got so seasick I passed out.
It was all Duncan could do to handle the boat.
I woke up with one eye swollen shut
and vomit and blood and fish scales everywhere.
These words, blank-eyed and staring back at me as I write them,
make me sick like that.