Poems from Travel Journal 2015


I’m trying to write about spaces
so difficult to distinguish
and encapsulate in words
just when in all my languages
words are slithering and absconding
pushing each other forward
in the wrong order
sending me to a thesaurus
where none of the exactitudes
properly fit.

Space is what I read,
but how can I recreate
a room or a sky
its power to expand
contract take off the lid
or remodel the walls
of the space inside me,
to set the boundaries for a life
of sentiments and gestures
that pushes to be recognized
and may last a second.

Arum lilies and geraniums
sustain the sphere of bitter sweetness
over an old peasant woman’s garden;
a desert hillside is a cube
for the withered phallic roots
that punctuate it.

Let all the inhabitants
of flesh or mineral
in my imagination
conjure their spaces.



Rarely I see
every banal small detail
and ugly fabricated mass
caught up into the light
of the creator’s gaze,
equal. It’s too hard
when my life has made a map,
my life, heart, body, bones
from what sense has devoured
and approved again and again,
and I pick out its markers,
the kernels in the general matter,
to constellate round me where I move.

The buried lights surface:
a chestnut horse, a dome,
an old wooden door, spread wings,
bronze torso, breaking wave,
tall tree trunks, fresh bread,
a mountain path inviting,
a large number, not infinite.

With none of them in sight
I lose solidity.



The map of what I recognize as real
grew out of my childhood gardens,
materials: stones, wet grass,
flesh of tomatoes and raspberries,
the house’s square stucco facade,
cast off feathers;

and colors: blue in the sky
and the upswing of space
perfection behind the eyes,
red competing with shadow,
yellow buttercups foundation
of joy in heart and voice.



Lifelines used to draw circles
over familiar fields,
zigzag a few blocks of streets;
parabolas matching the globe’s curve
were the privileged few.

Now half the world can fly,
stay a night or a year,
mark trajectories by orgasms,
deals, certified satoris.

Lines cross at cyber speeds,
coil, branch, deflect, keep on
increasing, accelerating till the web
has no more shape or pattern,
destiny reduced to a blot,
and the earth trapped below.



Composition is based
on horizontals and verticals.
In our oldest brain it might be
a tree on a plateau.

Never mind the Cross.

Figures swarming over wooden scaffolding
carrying loads up ladders
inching along planks
revive an ancient pattern
like the masts and yards of sail boats,
geometry blooming as beauty.



My head contains a swarm of vowels
insects in sizes and shapes
for different languages
and color coded
deep and shrill, light and dark.

Speaking they often evade me
slipping in to mistake a gender
or put a question out of tune.
On the page I control them better
but still they clash and wriggle,
avalanches of ‘e’s,
the refusal of a wanted ‘au’,
the interference of a cloud
of interesting foreign vowels
that have nothing at all to do
with what I want to say.



Trees can’t lie;
in the wood along Windermere
there are minutes of ancient splendor
vegetable elevation.

But we visit historic houses
to sample the articulate grace
of the life lived there
and it’s missing,
the profusion of objects
a fraction alive
and that much depends on ourselves.

Then there are the tearooms;
cups and saucers are  real
and what’s served on them.
We forget our disappointment,
the suspicion of past betrayed.
There’s safety in cake.



The eyes that see these woods
and quiet water
and the window overlooking them
in the house full of objects
from the finest hands
are not in my head,
they’re in my stomach
and time and ownership
are abolished there.

PS        Not only Wordsworth and Coleridge
taught me this appetite;
I discovered later
these were family places.



The stones spell a long drawn out sentence
of fear and domination,
an inside and outside
the subdued world’s fringe.

Sheep graze now
on both sides of the wall
and hikers thank it
for spanning the landscape.



The eyes that chose the site
flat in an immense theatre
of austere hills,
the hands that raised the stones
– were they hairy? brown? –
come back to life in the visitors
who linger in the circle
attempting gestures,
measuring steps to the centre.
Someone has left flowers.



Visitors flock from the parking ground
filling the streets.
The abbey is out of focus
beyond houses and shops.

For a moment, from the sky
through the ruined rose window
the pure light that wrapped the monks
even in their cold cells

stares down.



I boarded a train
with an exact destination.
I don’t know when it veered off;
for some time I haven’t recognized the names
of the stations,
weeds are growing between the rails.



An hour over rough sea
and fifty years in time
back to my youth:
an unspoilt Greek island
(forbidden to developers).

Fierce sun, jade and turquoise sea,
vibrato of bare rock,
the white box of a church
where valiant St.George
and austere St.Analepsis
free the heart of dragons
and promise ascent to purity,
here within reach.

Then fish cooked on an open fire,
the boat crew and their country’s pain.



Below, beyond, inside,
in an uncountable sphere,
not unreachable – the senses
alert at a mountain precipice
or crocodile-infested shore
can clear the way there –
below guilt and chances wasted,
dissolving present desire,
pervasive like taste or smell,
is a place, the first place, the floor
stretching all ways to shadowed infinity,
Plants can grow there, pillars stand,
gestures become hieratic.

Tonight time’s folds have opened,
cypresses and olives stand in a dark clarity,
the hillside slopes beautifully
as it did when I was young, but my youth
is now and my old age and always
and the night space is timeless,
If I could speak, if I could say
something true, it would have the seal
of Lucifer and Shiva,
sowers of seeds of light
in fertile darkness.



These necklaces
their crosses, circles, dull gems,
are gates to another world
where the sun may be called Usil
and rivers run for horned Acheloo
and earth and sky are in love
like the married pairs on tombs.



for Daniela

Rome. The tourist mobs
smother intuition, leave me blind
to all but the firmest shapes:
the Colosseum, a Baroque dome.

At dawn with a kind friend
– the sun rising dull red behind the city –
we go down into the empty streets.

Narrow courses of stone
tall cliffs lining them
studded with ledges and cornices
lead into wide squares,
space expands and swells,
stone bodies play on a fountain,
a facade plays with the laws of sight,
an imp in a recess
declaims his age.

My eyes are open from living root
in emerging substance to surface,
see everything, affirm everything.



“Like any small town in Italy”,
Gianfranco said.

A Roman arch
to a road of fine stone buildings
a walled baronial palace
a fervent church
a light grey spacious air
friendly to sunlight
room to walk and look and breathe

what more does Fano need
to be special?



for Dalmina

Small sweet pears are dropping in the parking lot
at the top of the hill.

A formal path leads to the church door
between symmetrical blocks of cells
and walls that hide gardens.

A view of hills and sea,
and the monks’ shop:
essences of flowers
pine cough drops.



for Carmen

Four hundred people live
in a village with good stone houses
for a thousand.
On a steep winding street
one sleeping dog
and an abandoned car.

Where are they unraveling,
the gestures that belonged here?
Who can fill the rooms?
The walls are burdened with voices
to be silenced not in death
but in exile.



A diet of ancient stones
has built in my stomach a stage
from which to spy on the gods
and the work of their tentacles.



You, stone monster
have sown your columns
in my whole expanse,
folded my wings in your secret cell.
With you I breathe and ascend
to the ceiling of your golden sphere.



These pillars stand
in a field of ruins
where tourists stroll dazzled
by the Mediterranean sun.

These pillar stand on a bedrock
of irreducible vision:
tourists and ruins dissolve
in the haze of ephemerality.

These pillars have roots and grow
in the nascent brain.



Vast empty square
below the modulated masses
of the cathedral,
it must be walked leisurely
stopping at each fine pillar
that tells its figured drama
or mystery of faith,
animation in simplicity
compressed into each capital.

In the northwest corner
a columned off court has gone Moorish
for a festive fountain.



On entering
eyes leap
to the astonishing roof,

plaits and arabesques,
plaster become rope.



What a passion for animals, these Romans:
variations on hunts,
sea monsters, fish in the waves,
exotic lion and elephant
landing from ships.

Was it their livelihood?
Are there emblems or sacred beasts?
Did images of ferocity
keep both sexes aroused,
or was it the eyes’ choice
for fields of pure decoration
in tiny stained glass cubes?



The dead don’t need space
or light,
only the people visiting
these warrens
pause in cleared circles to breathe
under the low ceiling.
How did they mark the slot
for each heap of bones?



Ascent by vertiginous bends
to a village with a history
as a hunting ground for pederasts.
The streets are shabby.
The taps on the restaurant basin
are a cock and balls.



Under the power of the churning wake
the view is a whole because
the eyes embrace it:
elegant, old, shoddy, impossible, new,
towers, domes, receding bridges,
a great white cruiser moored
beside battleships; gherkin, cheese-grater,
the magnificent shard
drawn into the river’s pulse.
Right now, this is earth’s greatest city.

The marvel left behind
the eye still seeks the towers
from point to compass point
as the river twists.



Cousin Emily said
“I want to show you an old barn.”
A barn? That’s nice, maybe
there’ll be ghosts of animals.

At the door: shock. A perfect
soaring ogival space
contained by a plaited wooden vault.
How can the trunks of trees have served so long
gnarled and robust in their places
in the pillars upholding the shell?

How can the monks’ store and counting house
speak so solemnly of faith?



It’s a theatre assembled by the hand
of a giant stone mason,
one wing a high brick wall
grimy and echoing with shouts
from slates grinding and workers’ bodies
soft against rock;
center stage masonry arms
to hold squat boats in a pool
as the sea rises and ebbs.

The full moon summons ghosts
and erases them.



The door to the modest stone church is on the latch,
it opens on to grey and white
like a plain nun’s habit
or a thrush, mimus gilvus;
box pews, three decker pulpit.

More sermon perhaps than worship
but at this distance
the fine severity is touching.



The view framed by this window
is a degree nearer heaven,
elevated, clarified by no effort but sight:
opposite, the town’s roofs
among trees and the towers
of church and castle grey
as the rocky crown above,
Carningli shape of myth.

Between, the estuary:
flocks of birds at low tide
on the sandbanks, or darting,
white threads weaving,
and the light pitched so intense
and blissful in all the elements
it hums across time.



Early morning on the cliffs:
light blows round me
is tossed by the sea
swells to escape
from every pore in my body.

Rocks below the plunging walls
are rampant dragons
then again rocks remade
essence of earth in labor
shapes of time.

My eyes and the rocks are welded
where infinity has touched
the surface of the day.




The shiny surface of this stone
is a mask
on the face of a god.

What features does it hide?
Will it bleed if I try to see them?


The river bed
is the rolling floor
of my head,
the water’s flow
its constant generation

and beautiful
unrepeatable sequence
of clarities and chains.


High snow cuts through eyes
blinds speech
raises heart to peak limits





How could I ever despise

This rooster
is as gorgeous as any pheasant:
his flame-colored cape
over a black opalescent body,
the flash of white at the base
of his sickle-plume tail.
He matches the sun he crows for
shine for shine.

And the hens,
sweet plump fussy cushions
embroidered in speckles and chevrons
on spindly legs.


Are chickens among the birds
that can shut down half the brain
and see with the other eye –
a two way lateral beam
piercing and mad through glass?


Hen Tai-chi

Head under wing from behind,
both sides several times,
lift and shake wings;
quick pecks all down breast
stretching neck;
scratch chin.



Two leaves whisper
behind my back,
in the distance I hear
the bull huff.

A menacing gurgle,
I turn to face his mask
but it’s only the stream.


Last night a bull roared
for a long time across the river,
he didn’t let me sleep.

In daylight I see the cliff
over there grow horns
and a cleft rock is the hoof
of a leg long enough
to jump the ravine.


The brindled bull
grunts and bellows awfully
and lowers his head
to graze.




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