Twenty Love Poems: 8

Confessional

Bless us Father for we have sinned
it’s been 10,000 years since our last
confession and we’ve broken all
Your commandments and more.

Not only did we eat of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge
of Good and Evil but we learned
to grow and manufacture our own.

And what’s worse we’re not
finished won’t stop until
we put even You Your Highness
out of business.

Those who still pray and light
votive candles sacrifice for each
other fools believe what can’t
be seen or measured.

We form our own light and matter
obliterate sin and forgiveness
bless us Father hate trumps love
this is Your last confession.

Freedom

What now my love our world
spirals and we no longer yearn
for a piece of the action.

In the distance combines
thresh across yellow fields
robotic orbit in rounds.

The wind twists and coils
mocks levees and docks
boats shivering in fear.

Animals huddle in harbors
pray they won’t be prey
to their own.

Coil your legs around
my middle and let us
find Earth is still play.

Put away the rum and hum
of cells and let the blue
screens fall into deep space.

I am true to you as true
as the well curled screw
secures its disposition.

When you say we don’t get
along that is our way each
to each to the end of days.

We are here in this sun
lit basin walking waltzes
hand in hand wind in hair.

Twenty Love Poems: 7

Fall love ebbs and lovers return home to winter
surf flat rushing frothing foam recedes diminished
bubbly dolphins dive for dark sandy bottoms
we walk through gnarly tide pools bare barnacles
erupt across grotesque faces of ancient basalt hay
mounds covered with bluegrass and blackberry
below seacliff meadows seastars and fat green
sea anemones and great creatures sealions
and seals puffins and oystercatchers bright
orange-red long thin beaks breaking muscles
open overview here filled with salt and spray.

The cold comes down from the north blows
inside out squirts Poseidon pisses across
the pure cliffs driving down a tiny south
sun now the winter of our simple desires
harvest leftovers frozen our autumn awes
prayers of gratitude and sad recognition
summer satisfactions spring blossomed
hopes all fall down and hunkered down
in an autumn of changing times fears
attempts to control nature fell failed
wristwatches wasted where we now go.

August of our agues fall of our days
night comes a dark ship of told tales
our doctors are not the gods we wish
for but like the ancient gods they make
mistakes hang out with humans create
want miss appointments leave us
naked in cold rooms under glaring
false light where we wait promises
unfulfilled and we recall patience
the wealthiest of all the virtues
waiting out season ail expectations.

Oh Lord please don’t must under
stand us thankful for our lives
fearful of returning to non-being
so nice the gold heaven reward
where punctuation is perfect
and there are no cotton fields
no salt mines no automobiles
we tango through the night
which is also day in Barcelona
nights and Hollywood evenings
and festivals in faraway places.

Our love grows no shortages
of humid night streets filled
with strings of lights blocking
the moon the stars in Cairo
Rio Bagdad Los Angeles Paris
no stars in heaven no moons
no clouds heaven is outside
the universe the other side
no clowns no poets no sound
no sad faces your love grand
estoppel of all love forgotten.

In fall falling we long for folk song
foot tap slap of bucket string bass
all you need is love times three
Father Son and Holy Ghost
the sorrowful mother who may
only watch given only love
lonely downcast face fallen
from grace woebegone night
after night blue dolorous
mourn full of futile love
at times like these end times.

Twenty Love Poems: 6

I’m asked how I’ve spent all these years
with only one woman and wasn’t I ever
lonely for a switch. No, you’ve had one
you’ve had them all: all the crushes
and hushes, bugs and kisses, dinners
of ruin and dirty dishes, cracked glass
ambulance ride amusements, hospital
breathless nights of stares, leaking
bouncing breasts, slurpy sinking ships,
burps duns and dues, and whose is this.

One simply can’t abandon only one
for another, but if you can’t love but
one, or if you can’t stay put, doomed
to love them all, love them one by one,
one in Kansas City, one in Timbuktu,
one on television, another in a sleek
magazine, she will all come to hate
you and rue the day she met you,
handsome and funny and smart
as the whip hidden in your suitcase.

And this one, she walks on waters,
performs a single miracle. In touch
with the animals, she know altruistic
days and short selfish nights, prefers
skin to skin oils to rubber protection.
She wraps her legs around the void
universe and pulls it in to her body,
her coif dew, it would have been cold
and premature to leave her any day
now for the others, all the others.

And are you so naive to think, I’m
asked again, your sweet queen lass
hasn’t known others, succumbed
to seductions of perfume and lotion,
raw muscle of the still wet oyster
that makes you gag for the thrill,
to swallow it whole in cars in bars,
the agoraphilia of getting caught
her perfect beauty ever the target
of all that glitters and is not gold.

Yes, the camouflage of clothes,
the wearinesses of one’s wrongs,
one’s imperfections, peccadilloes,
the fantasy of a superman, pull
of the moon on full ocean swells,
and the sorrows of sin desired
again and again. Love is letting
her loose to do what she wants,
if we ever know what we want
ever beyond reach and school.

We must be aware, awake awed
to the far consequences of our
actions and inactions, of fear
of loss and aversion of boredom,
fear of sleeping alone in a buffet
bed, or of having to push and say
move over, pulling the covers back
to our side of the bed, fear of her
ironic mistrust. Beauty can sleep,
too, and she never annoys you?

She does not sleep, her baggy
nightgown a novel of despair.
She wears no jewelry, no wed
band, puts on no false airs,
dislikes the smell and feel
of fresh fish, is stubborn
and alone, always alone.
In her face shows the fear
and courage all have known:
hate of evil, love of good.

There can be any woman
for every child and any teat
will do in a pinch you can’t
draw milk or make honey
on your own, while she bears
the scars of wars and tomcat
attacks, mourning regrets
of getting into his car. Poet
child, you never asked why
beauty, why you and not him.

She doesn’t hear the sounds
I hear, sing the same songs.
In any case we are past age
of tit for tat, give and take,
love or hate, blind dates,
petty jealousies and jolly
rides in convertible jeeps,
elusive memories, name
calling. We are reduced
to prayer and solitude.

I didn’t start out to live this way.
It happened with no master plan,
no 5 year plan one after another,
and it’s no big deal, lots of people
live it, in fact it’s what people do,
humans monogamous creatures,
mates for life, and when they don’t,
that’s no big deal either, both ways
involve untold sorrows and pain,
abuse and misuse, loyalty living

in trees, and to say some other
way would be better misses
the point of no point, no return.
We live on the edge, always
turning, always falling, failing
in love. Love is the overview
that makes astronauts cry
and birds fly, a view of only one
Earth, one Sun, one Moon, one
woman, one man, one love.

Twenty Love Poems: 5

I awake after midnight
drop out your bedroom
window the neighborhood
dark and dead and foggy
and slip home a solo raven
of friendly unkindnesses.

The sobbing streets sleep
empty I see no one no one
sees me no cars no lights
the night air cool marine
past Willy’s and Russell’s
and Center Street School.

I slide into bed and dream
I’m at the baseball park
the score tied one to one
at the 7th inning stretch
on the mound Big Joe
the hurler who stares

down for the sign at the plate
bat twirling Hickory Windmill
round tears flow from the polder
water rises and falls with mood
the full reservoir now empty
begins slowly to refill.

Over the crowd a hush
the umpire checks the ball
for spit and hokum
then the pitch and swing
and the rushing scale
of the humongous pipe

organ and the gigantic
Grand Slam! the rising
crush of the crowd
in the ballpark stands
cheers and tears nuts
amid spilled beers.

At dawn Dad shakes
me up and out of bed
Saturday no school
and I’m to help him
install the porcelain
tubs out in the Valley.

Twenty Love Poems: 4

My love for you my love
plain potato chips cold
papery sylphlike slices
boiled in lard gone bad
dusted Dead Sea salt
rancid and nasty fat bag
held in crinkling lap.

I love potato chips
brine and lipid taste
but I can’t eat one
I don’t eat chips
anymore since bad
for you and what’s
wrong for you is for me.

Simple old choices
plain or barbecue
flat or ridged
old decisions
now convoluted
with flavors we
never occurred.

Vinegar fruits and herbs
sunflower oil Carolina
Reaper Trinidad Moruga
scorpion pink mounds
of natural moral flesh
but we must eschew
the artificial songs

for love passes beyond
thought and action sits
where we dare only reach
on a throne of thorn bush
safe from the snake’s wish
to partner with its sting
innocent birds and bees.

Twenty Love Poems: 3

One hears the old saw men
want only one thing but
if one may want a thing one
might as well want more
than one than one of that
thing men want but one
and more of that one over
and over again once more.

Then too why all this business
of all the eggs in one basket
when one’s father realized
two are living together sans
anyone’s blessing two alone
remarked with the old saw
why buy the cow why when
one’s getting the milk free.

And what did he wonder
about his cow apparently
now on the open market
and he calls his girl a cow
as if one could afford
to buy one a whole cow
comes sans dowry
save existential wave.

Love is a many splintered
thing like the tiny wood
jackstraw one can’t get
out with a fine tweezer
that sliver of sharp glass
entirely incapacitates
one’s grip on life and love
and the cow moos like a saw.

Twenty Love Poems: 2

Naught poems songs songs dissed
wasted in world wretch dump sites
wholly eager cancel kind and mean
our love we know all and naught
me about you and you about me
morning leaves pissed in vanity
night returns to dark forgiveness
love couplets posted to ice box
posted to dead letter mail office
stamped return sender unknown
stamped cancelled and crushed
love warred over sanguine trail
of pearls to despair pitched off
the heights of Machu Picchu.

What can be against nature
that is from nature? Contra
Naturam
children living on
the dark side of the moon
exiles from gardens of peace
and happiness or adult fear
detrimental reliance survive
mistakenness sugared
a teenage kind of love
lasting an hour or a day
or two or over fifty years
got us out of the house
swapping pink bubblegum
and juicy spit and mizzled
lips mist moist the ocean
nearby pulling and tugging
as we hugged hold and told
naught not even ourselves.

Now we are old well older
very than we were of course
this is nature and natural
that you should finally
pull away ebb and pretend
to hide in age but in your
face I see still the teen
the freckled cheeks salt
blue eyes yellow hair
now silver and beautiful
and how you tousle
your hands and arms
and get mad I’m not
listening but how can I
storm surf in my ears
we have survived swam
many difficult years
of daft granfalloonery
holding each to each
our holy karasses.

Cat’s Cradle built 1963
and we had not yet
quite met but the net
was cast and what
could we do but swim
together toward a new life
me you and your cats.

Twenty Love Poems: 1

Soma of woman submerged
soldier crosses surrendered
pearl hills thighs pearl
eyes of a girl plunged.

At 19 Neruda at 69 Pablo
spoke wrote and moved
you here where with rough
words I try to revive you.

But the hour of age fails
agape we came through
the tunnel of waterfalls
eyes of a woman bearing.

The squirrel rubs the plum
with his nose and licks the
dropped pears you sit up
slow on haunched hams.

I am tired but not sleepy
I punctuate my days
with thoughts of you
clammed up eyes closed

strong legs stretched
you carry the sand
dunes of a world gone
to seed and memory.

Dialog in the Garden of Eden

Eve: I’m bored.
Adam: Let’s do something.
Eve: There’s nothing to do.
Adam: We could name some more animals.
Eve: Oh, please.
Adam: We could ask God what to do.
Eve: I don’t think he likes me.
Adam: You don’t know that.
Eve: Do you want to go shopping?
Adam: For what? We already have everything we need.
Eve: Let’s go play with the animals.
Adam: They make poor partners.
Eve: Did you clean the kitty litter box this morning?
Adam: Yes, and I have tilled the garden.
Eve: Have you thought of a good name for me yet?
Adam: We are innocent.
Eve: How boring is that.
Adam: We could pretend.
Eve: Pretend what?
Adam: Pretend that we are not innocent.
Eve: Has God not forbidden petension?
Adam: God is full of flatulence.
Eve: That big bang was sure something.
Adam: We could dress up and go out.
Eve: La-de-da.

On the Value of Art

We should think of art as an activity and not a product. The value of art to a culture comes from its work in illustrating and communicating symbolically the meaning and importance of a culture’s way of life. Art should be considered both literally and symbolically, as it works simultaneously by substantive representation and by implication and suggestion. What is suggested and therefore inferred is not comprehended literally but unconsciously, both in the individual and in the collective consciousness of the culture. Art provides thoughtful but also inconsiderate access to the unconscious and subconscious mind. It does this through pretending or pretention. All art is pretentious. Art begins with the childlike acting of let’s pretend.

The monetary value of a work of art, hundreds of millions now paid for a painting, does not speak to the value of art as it works in a culture. Anyone can engage in art, and everyone does. If we think of art as an activity (and not a product), we see the audience engaged in the work, not just watching or listening, but as part of its ongoing creation, and we see the work as a work in progress: vibrant, aging, deteriorating, fading. That is beauty.

To say that all art is pretentious works as follows. One year, I went to a local barber to get my hair cut. As Ring Lardner explained in his short story “Haircut” (1925), the participation in the activity of art makes the audience part of the work’s creation. (Sometimes, a visit to a barber can be as bad as having to go to a dentist.) In the barbershop at the time of my haircut, there happened to be three of us: the barber, myself, and an apparent friend of the barber. On the wall opposite the barber’s chair I sat in, hung a small, representational painting of a snow capped mountain. The barber proceeded to explain the painting’s merits. He said, “Put a photograph of that mountain next to that painting and I defy you to tell me which is which.” Of course, neither the painting nor the photograph was the mountain, but a pretension of the mountain. What the barber as art critic appeared to value in art was literalism. But in spite of his efforts, no mountain filled his barbershop.

Also implicit in my barber’s criticism is a theory of value and values. What we value, as individuals and as a culture, is simply what we want, what we desire, both consciously and unconsciously. But what we want is not always good for us. And by good here we mean healthy, life affirming, balanced, unpolluted, not harmful to ourselves, others, or to our environment. Cars, for example, in that context, are not good for us, yet most of us want one and can hardly imagine getting around without one. We might even say that all means of transportation are bad for us, even walking. Transportation is fraught with risk. We should sit at home and do nothing. But when the asteroid hits, it will hardly matter where we are or what we are doing. And what we value is transportation, and we work, ostensibly, to make the modes safer.

When we engage in activities that are not good for us we experience the irrational or nonrational. What the barber valued in art was more than simply representationalism, but rationality. He apparently felt that art that expressed or provided access to an irrational or nonrational experience was bad art. By the way, throughout the entire haircut, the barber enjoyed a cigarette that in between puffs sat in a green ceramic ashtray and emitted a wavering column of smoke that from my vantage point produced in the mountain a volcano effect.

We value looking inside of things. We want to see inside a mind. Thus we undergo psychoanalysis or some sort of therapy. We want to see inside our body. Thus we undergo a colonoscopy or get an MRI or an X-ray. We want to see inside our psyche – thus we read and write poetry. But notice the metaphor may not work there. The psyche is not inside, but outside. It’s all around us. And is it good to see inside of things? Are not these things closed up for good reasons? What happens when we intrude? Is that the purpose or effect of art – to look inside of things, to see what has been covered, hidden, kept secret?

There is no hierarchy of values. When we speak of family values, we point to what a unit of culture wants, and, again, that want is not necessarily synonymous with good. We value high school sports, football. Football is, at least arguably, not good for us – it’s not a healthful, balanced sport. It’s not a good investment. But football is a family value, of much importance economically and emotionally, of current US American experience. But we might think of football as an art form. As an art form, uncovering the irrational, we might find in football some of the hidden expressions and meanings of our culture.

When we speak of the value of art, we want to avoid a hierarchy of values. All values are equal. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, often illustrated in pyramid illustration, as useful as it might be, underscores the culture’s competitive nature, which art undermines. For art is not competitive. And where there are art competitions – they have nothing to do with art.

A long married couple, having worked hard lifelong, now retired, would like to spend some leisure time in appreciation of a bit of what they think of as high culture. They buy tickets, from an ad received in the junk mail, to the local opera, where they experience the same family arguments they’ve live with these past 50 years, and hear the same folk songs they grew up with. They don’t understand a word of it, but they know someone is pissed off and another is beside themselves with grief and regret. Still another gloats, and another is mean and prods. And the couple, dressed to the nines for the experience, enjoy a glass of champagne in the lobby at intermission. They look around at the other opera goers and don’t recognize anyone. They each visit their respective lounges where they see someone in a full size mirror, a person they hardly recognize. And suddenly the value of art dawns on them, in the latrine at the opera.

Pretentious

All culture is pretentious, humans pretending to be something other than what they are, animals driven by instinct to live in groups, procreate, protect and edify their young and one another, and write poems about the experience.

Poetry is the most important aspect of culture. Through poems the great pretenders pass on the psyche of the tribe – the human social group. The tribe is always in motion, and its poetry moves with it, leaving fossils – preserved impressions. Poetry animates the culture’s pretentions by illustrating conflicts among tribal members and the tensions created by individual consciousness and the collective consciousness of the tribe.

Poetry then is the most pretentious of human acts, the most basic of masks. The poet is naked save the mask. Imagine sitting at home writing a poem while your father spends the day working in a coal mine. That is what D. H. Lawrence did. And in the film “Il Postino” (1994), Pablo Neruda is seen sublimating his desire for culture with a poetic tribute to a miner:

When I was a senator of the republic I went to visit the pampas, a region where it only rains once every fifty years, where life is unimaginably hard. I wanted to meet the people who had voted for me. One day at Lota there was a man who had come up from a coal mine. He was a mask of coal dust and sweat, his face contorted by terrible hardship, his eyes red from the dust. He stretched out his calloused hand and said: “Wherever you go, speak of this torment. Speak of your brother who lives underground in hell.” I felt I had to write something to help man in his struggle, to write the poetry of the mistreated. That’s how “Canto General” came about. Now my comrades tell me they have managed to get it published secretly in Chile and it’s selling like hot cakes. That makes me very happy.

from the film “Il Postino” (1994)

Much poetry does not fossilize. It’s not pretentious enough. The poet is a vagabond who strays from the tribe, or is exiled from the tribe for breaking cultural rules. Yet the poet is indispensable to the spirit of the human social group, even as that group ostracises and diminishes the poet through sarcasm and accusations.

Brazilian poet and diplomat Vinicius de Moraes wrote a poem titled “The Worker in Construction.” This poem reminds me of my father, a midcentury new construction journeyman plumber. And I am reminded not only of my father, but of my own poetic masks and other pretentions.