GROUND FLOOR OF THE BRAIN

This book of poems was published bilingual in English/Spanish by Dirección de Cultura, Universidad de Los Andes, in 2014.

It is in two parts, the first, Gods and Ashes, concerned with mythological, sacred themes, the second, Ground Floor of the Brain, with levels of perception.

I

GODS AND ASHES

 

 Pan

Propped on his hind legs
chewing tropical thorns
the billy goat looks aslant
his eye sensuous and cynical
the flute sounds subcutaneously
ashy desert shudders
bottles boxes plastic bags
beside the motorway

 

Matsya

The first shape of god
was a bottom-feeding fish
a blunt snout
and flesh half mud

He rose through dark layers
of danger and strain
to transparent waters
shimmered in shallow bays
gold platter fresh sun
lighting sponges and seaweed.

He wanted oxygen
peered at the shore
now he walks upright
among walls and cables
ruminating statistics

dreams of levitating
to a purer element.


Mother

She wears a blue cloak or green rays
travels through space and smiles when she comes
sweetness shining
in the heart’s almond

Shards of faith are still enough
to kindle sparks of her comfort
among wars plagues betrayals
she can’t pacify

 

The other mother

Constant on guard
against usurpers of her order
standing on the wheel of circumstance
mounted on a lion
with a lion’s jaws and scarlet tongue
she feeds on blood

she demands blood, it’s poured for her
from open wounds throats
hearts pierced by steel
served on the breast platter,
she’s grateful and fortifies the warrior

In sweat and flames her new servants
spin the threads of their lives
their neighbors’ cruel lives
into the boiling stream

they cut and prick themselves
to draw her opaque compassion

 

Gaia

The streaked blue orb
fixed her coordinates in space
regulated her oven and the spate of waters
conceived live cells starfish
sprouted furry limbs
spines blood vessels
and the eye
sphere like herself
to contemplate herself
her cloak her air her children
with a hunter’s precision
with love

Exact passionate outlines
of buffalo and horse in caves
conjugated killing and loving

Since then the eye
has become clouded
veiled hardened
its surface is brittle now
blackened by many deaths
outside the law

emptied of love
the gift of sight is withdrawn

 

Moon

Once many years ago
the moon was friend
distant high radiant
she cared for us and promised
loves round like her own full face

Now we don’t even look at her
she deceives and neglects us
the silver fount has dried
the sweat of coition doesn’t shine
on rough skin nor flow
like mercury to fusion
in another body

The moon inside a head
raves and puzzles
what is my sex where shall I put it
won’t light the passionate gaze
surrender that tears time

 

The Blacksmith

Buds of fire swell in the forge
the flowers temper the warrior’s sword
burnish his shield

Cowardly smart weapons
give the arm no fortitude
will not become ploughshares

Mutilations at a distance
bring no grace or pardon

 

Son of Man

Smoke-grey afternoon
threat of fire under my skin
leaves and oranges wrinkle
dust dims resisting flowers
filters among the brain’s folds

I’m angry start to shout
only the dogs hear me
I refuse it can’t end like this

In my head in my heart
a bright green velvet lining forms
in that grass eggs swell
from each one a little god emerges

One grows in my chest
feeding on my organs
taking strength from my bones
handsome and tall as a tree
he’s the Son of Man

and still he blandishes his sword
and still he promises justice

 

Bast

Daughter of the fanged sun
your scorching breath
created the desert
you ruled menstruation
and the king’s weapons

terrible assassin
you honor me with your affection
you wake me nose to nose at dawn
you stain my carpets
with the blood of your victims
you are wiping out the birds
in the garden

their song is silenced
but your grace remains intact

 

Feathers

The cat comes at twilight
carrying something dead a little head
hangs from her mouth,
that’s her right I think
her function

she lays it at my feet in the circle
of lamplight
I see the feathers of the little red bird
that for months was catching insects
at the study window
- a “bull’s blood” -

horror lacerates me
I shudder hate the cat
want to pray
for the bird’s soul

feathers become flames
huge wings of fire
erect an angel

 

Shadows in the garden

for Clide Eliche

Some days I bury myself
under the garden soil
only a hole left for my nose
catches the scent of flowers

My womb’s been sterile for centuries
but sprouts of gods germinate
borrow my bones’ calcium
my blood’s proteins,
the porous web levitates
takes on vegetable tints
acquires outlines

The men I never knew stroll by
sturdy and elegant,
haughty and proud they still approach
prepared for incest
for the garden to go on flowering
so the lineage won’t end

 

Daibhutsu

Inside the bronze concavity
sealed with joints and rough patches
stand below where the heart would be
on the secret chakra -
have you entered nobility?

In the dome above the neck seam
under the hollow orbs of curls
behind the hooded eyes
how could wisdom not gather
and drip?

 

Kencho-ji

An astonished wind
twists itself to form
the hall’s pillars

blue threads of it
weave Buddha’s eyes
splash the roof beams
with birds

 

Tara

The distance between you and the ground
is simple, no veils or ciphers

Your star touches the earth
plants come up to meet it
mothers are hatched in the grass
they have no names yet
‘lovely’ is gathering its syllables

 

Gulf Coast dancers

Behind the parted lips in their clay faces
life and death revolve as twin planets
in the vessel of their desire
the gasp that escapes assent to both
the price of each
in the order before words

They dance
perfectly poised till they fall
in their own glittering blood

scattering germs of their ecstasy
across centuries

 

Dream of revolution

Blocking off a sunken street
a tall church
brick pillars and arches
from the same dun earth

empty of icons
barren womb

In a side chamber
crucible regained
watched over by silent children
garbage seethes
transmutes into clothes glittering
with stones and sequins

 

II

 

GROUND FLOOR OF THE BRAIN

 

When is a haiku not a haiku?

Millions of them
scattered over the internet
and magazines in all the western languages
haven’t understood the rules

this is not about me

the haiku sea is not in my head
or my heart nor represents
depths of consciousness
or multitudinous boundlessness

it’s before metalanguage
where senses meet the world’s surface
and names are born
blue deep
new and always
in a flaring of assent

the sea is the sea is the sea

 

Lament for words

They have no silence to rest in
picked at and pummeled endlessly
discarded for severity
(who likes “dead” or “old”)
replaced with arbitrary counters

Roots of whole families wither
buried diamonds fall off into darkness
coal loses shine and combustion
potatoes will not be digested
nasty fat beetles and grubs
ooze out of the soil and crawl away
leaving brown stains on the page
when pressed into service

 

Floating bodies

I’ve read warnings
about old age, lies
(inside we’re always young)
and truths (knees give out first)
but no one mentions the worst
floating bodies
that cloud vision
spiders in the middle of the eye
limbs that invade
the serenity of space
bodies in memory that stayed
out of reach
still present in the heavens
of desire

 

Chaos theory

Is there somewhere a butterfly
with two different wings
a variant in markings
bar across one owl eye
chaos cutting through
the mirror symmetry
of the body’s sides

like veins in my hands and forearms
two distinct landscapes
purple swollen cordilleras
knots spurs forking
singular and unrepeatable
islands in arid skin
announce their crumbling

 

I cut my finger

blood wells drips on the floor
my blood is a beautiful color
blood color
and it has not got old

 

My journey to Mictlán

After the bullet in the brain
no one hears my objections
to how they arrange my limbs
my attempts to say goodbye
only my little dog wants to stay with me

The descent is shadowy and scares us
but we set out groping at first
then more fluently

I didn’t know what to expect for my turn
monsters with a thousand arms
claws and live coals for eyes
musician angels stomachs on legs

none of that, a scattered ark of creatures
salute politely along a thicketed path
articulated people live ordered lives
in dwellings more and more rudimentary
that start to shrink till hominids
scuttle in and out of grubby burrows
and the dog and I shrivel
and slide into chilly darkness

But the little dog wakes me
asking is this really it
and I shake myself and say No
this is what those bloody Aztecs want
and people who say beyond thought
is only grey miasma and horror and madness

We’ll have Asia instead   Look at me friend
as I see you  We’re purged and blanched
whittled down to a film with holes in it
rags in the cosmic wind
crystal splinters in the light

 

The end of love

How close to death must I be
before the aching fissure can close
the first split in the all

heart wrinkled and withered
from crossing the long salt desert
alone

Even the empty silhouette
absence that detained a him
is fading

No words of love left,
from the void a rain of gods
surrounds me

splendid with wings or horns
serene and indifferent
beautiful and male

 

Heatstroke

Opened suddenly to sun
eyes lose consistency
only a thin film wavering
on the abyss of all the rest
bog with crawling lights
defends presence

Another hour of day
the surface holds all existence
dense as chocolate
inescapable as radiation

 

Reading Paniker in Margarita

All my dead gods
are stuck like concrete posts
in my baking brain

I sweat ambivalence
and it smells of crime
plurality litters the beaches

I aspired to lucidity in another life
separated from this by cubic fathoms
of unsymbolic sea

 

Things

The tyranny of things
toothbrush washing-up soap car keys
sends me to climb ladders
of contingent meaning
on to planes of understanding
where truth is pure

The rarefied air
of symbolic discourse
chokes me into dissolving
the hierarchies of vision
into comb flower-pot wooden spoon
for company on the ground floor
of my brain

Then there are the other times
the grackle hopping on the roof
at daybreak
the rough waves where the storm
lashed its tail
require no elevation
no deconstruction
they only sing

 

Scream

Options diminish
cancel each other

expectations crash
against a wall of carelessness
backfire leaving a smatter
of small raw wounds

the last plan wobbles
good reasons bring it down
the whole web unravels
short strings tug neurons

scream

What’s left is a day
an island

 

An idea for a poem

It came to me days ago
I welcomed it told it to wait
till I’m not so busy
and now it’s sealed

I knead it to make it rise
secrete words in its pores

it’s matted and won’t unravel
it says keep on pummeling and pulling

it stays a stone

 

Mowing

Symphonic feelings sprout
stems of thoughts aspire

I mow them down
clear relentlessly
the field of expectation

Tiny green plants keep on coming up
a luminous moss
clothing the ground

the floor is not bleak

 

On a good day

I climb the ladder of sublimation
all the way to the top
survey the variegated world
its masses of sublime
- Buddha’s face, the Parthenon -
and shout my satisfaction

then I look back,
lapping round every step
the subliminal lies in wait

But today I’m strong
and the ladder is solid
acknowledged sacred history,
I won’t fall in just yet

Mozart whistles round the peaks

 

A change in the weather

Space swells upward
swarms with fresh light
wild flower sweet
inside me
ignoring my age

Earth’s childhood is now

 

Christmas

New is a property of the ground
as constant as old;
order is unraveling but
the world goes on breathing.

A child can still be born
slippery and compact
with all his little toes and fingers
and a crown.

 

Looking inward

Enclosing the stem where breath
is spliced to sky
stopping sight
blocking power
is a hollow trunk compacted
of parched flesh
punished
by defeats

watered it might soften
free the tender plant inside

Now honesty attacks
desire retires and withers,
the trunk shrinks and blackens,
space is cleared
inside is only a desiccated spine,
a thin milky light
dribbles in and curdles

A solstice falls behind
the ribs are sprouting
antler velvet
under the dome is space
for a soul to cartwheel

 

Obstacles

I want to walk on the ground
flat shaven smooth
expectant without object

but old furniture sticks up
boxes of faith and duty
splitting at the seams but solid

I dodge them
push ahead in dim light
stop short at the edge
of a bottomless pit

Stillness is yet to learn
before particles of light
join and overarch the field
and all its seeds quicken

 

Homage to Coleridge

The arrow and the albatross
are burned into my brain
like human outlines
on Hiroshima stone

by a steadier light
beyond survival
the neglected imperative

 

Nose to the ground

Sullen where I shouldn’t be
at tributes and concerts
even birthday parties

so much discourse spinning
affects and elevations
covering the lovely ground

the world’s body
a sunflower
a slice of aubergine
a rusted buckle

Do I want to be a dog?

 

On a Buddhist image

Can I say my shadow’s mine
can I say I own it
if through dull days and weeks
I go round without it
I don’t even miss it
until the sharp rays
of sun or temptation
manifest it sticking to my feet
inexorably familiar?

Where is it without me?

 

Inner space

It’s not nirvana
nor mental blank

it’s a field without boundaries
deserted by the players,
the walls and furniture of dreams
have vanished

it’s a condemnation
a conquest of detachment
a glimpse of purity

ecstatic desolation
desolate ecstasy

forecourt to extinction
unbearable for more than seconds
while life puts back its hindrances

 

Samsara

Nothing is happening
the cat puts out her paw
knocks down an enamel cup
it chips and rolls

we support occurrence
against inertia

anxious for a leading role
among objects

wielding a weapon
throwing a bomb

or modulating notes
a slight shift
in a raga

 

Company

A green jay perches awkwardly
on a thin branch
outside my window
real fleshed and feathered company
in this domestic space
pulls me away from nebulous figures
inverted absences
that walk the shadowy arena
of my old head

 

Dreams after traveling

Two or three times a night
the train is departing
from an echoing platform
I’m on it I’ve missed it I’ve just arrived
stand there with my pile of luggage
or the boat is coming to shore
the plane taking off or landing
huge girders arch over terminals
crowds scuttle
freeze into a bed of fresh lettuce

I’m anxious bored busy
assaulted over and over again
by the same images

Suddenly a different figure
imposing bright-colored blazes
across the muddle
down into the lower reaches
of my mind where devotion’s branches
wait to graft memories
polish them give them gods’ names
send them back up the brain stem
to tell me stories

 

Caracas

for Dennis

The morning unrolls
an endless concrete surface
in front of the walker

his eyes become multifaceted
like a fly’s
like the green panes of buildings
reflecting blurred motion

his ears don’t filter
they soak up and swallow sounds
into a blender

passers-by loom in on him
irradiating vital organs

trees and towers move along
against him or away
shapes on a mental grid

thoughts uncoil from objects, bodies
to the beat of his passage

The city is company enough

 

On a parent’s death

The air shudders and atoms
of furniture escape
as sheets become shroud

Without spider the web
of memory – tenderness
battles, falls –
slackens and slips
over time’s knife edge

threads from it extend
into my own tissue
drawn nearer the abyss

The will in the weaving now
belongs to me
I must own it

No stooping bulk ahead
no shadow to hide me

orphan
exposed
to the unforgiving light

 

To be or not to be

The difference depends
on minute margins
improbable balances

the trail of a meteorite
a failure of imagination
would be enough to erase us

ten degrees hotter
clouds of volcanic ash
an implacable virus

A little bit meaner
we’d destroy each other
a little bit more hopeless
we’d surrender to the void

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


× seven = 35

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>