Sunday

  • The poem that follows has spilled blood. I’ve put just about everything else aside to write it these last few months. It’s a refutation. I won’t tell you of who or which poet but any reader familiar with poetry will recognize its inspiration. I didn’t want it to just be a pastiche. That is, though it hews closely in form and rhetoric to its inspiration and though I’ve adopted the original poet’s way of thought, imagery and elusive argument (even his liking of antiquated words and syntax)  I wanted the poem to be mine. That’s hard. Readers who remember my last poem will see that it still lingers with me in my final stanza. But. Done. You won’t find anything like this anywhere else. Enjoy. As for me: On to other poems that have waited patiently.

 

1

The apostasies of a woman’s lips
On an afternoon at the hotel.
The orange sun brings her colluding with
Persimmons on a Sunday beneath the palms
Of Santa Cruz. Upon a bed sheet lies
A dissolution of desires saying
There’s this and only this; and that if afterward
The waves confide in the brutal architecture
Of consummation there will still be evenings
Under the umbrellas of Capitola,
The large procession of its lighted buildings
Where women walk in splendor; evening colloquies
Of a green harbor and the dimming waves—
Dimmed for the contemplation of the women
And contemplating on the women walking.

2

Why should her beauty not be worldly?
What is to her the fixed divinity
Of the high, gold-enameled angel, wrought
In her own image, never rising nor
Descending? What to her her coterie
Of holy emblems? Shall she find no comfort
In earthly totems? Nothing is divine
And there is nothing that is not divine
Both in her and without her: autumn’s frail,
Confiding sky, the heart’s divide beholding
The sky; the uncharted snow’s descent, hers
Upon her lover’s bed. These are the measure—
Her soul creating and created by
The world: the pomegranate’s stain before
The blackbird’s consuetudinary cry.

3

Mary had her immaculate conception,
No lover bruised her thighs, nor any sweet
Soil lingered there; she moved with unstained feet
Among the winemakers—a miracle,
Walked among generations undisturbed,
In holy revelry, until our own
Discerning, unabashed, surmised descent—
The earth’s blood rendered with our own; where even
The priests discerned it in Galapagos.
Shall we be mute? When was it ever
Other but that a woman’s gait be broken
By the shapeful bounty of a man’s motion?
When was it ever other than that we
To each other are all the paradise
We’ll know, of love, of sorrow, consummation?

4

She says, “I am content he wakes me, questions
My sinews when the morning’s sun first salts
The odorous sheets. But in my lover’s absence
Shall swallows not contend?—the plum not taste
As sweet?—the berry?” Inasmuch as autumn
Exhausts the yielded fruits of summer,
The turmoil of the sun is unabated.
Even as lilacs cool beneath the moon
Desirous roots divide the earth, confound
And undermine. No edifice endures
As the body will endure—no cloister,
Cathedral, academe—as blood endures;
As the ecstatic foison of the sun
Abides within the lover and beloved,
Their impassioned breaths annealing their tongues.

5

“Becalmed,” she says, “and the body wearied,
I choose to contemplate the spiritual.”
From eros springs desire, being desire;
The mother of the sacred and profane—
She populates our dreams; proffers the apple
Flavoring lips and thighs, that although tasting
Of ecstasy, tastes too of bitterness,
And loss; yet nonetheless we eat: no fruit
Spits forth the seed until the flesh be parted;
Until the green calamity of April
Is reaped by August’s laboring sun. Late hour—
The women lie with men; eros spreads
The evening’s garment over them. If otherwise
The soul know no respite but this, though suffering,
Though weary, what more than to love—and be loved?

6

Is there desire in paradise? How else
Do lovers speak? How else if never thigh
To thigh; if mutual labor never dust
Their sun-regarded flanks? Is her apron
Forever burdened by the unbruised fruit
And his swagger never altered being
Perplexed by hers? What purpose to a man’s
Proportions or a woman’s where without death
They never need make love, give birth, or nurturance?—
Yet it was never us in paradise,
But paradise in us—in us the dreamt of
Elation of an ageless afternoon
Discovered in a kiss—nor the shores
Of an elysium but our perishing whispers
At midnight. Paradise is in desire.

7

Sinuous and orgiastic, the women
Wheel and cant devotion to the Earth
Not in dominion but as Earth might be,
Its curling waters thrumming in the heart,
Its seasons churning in the blood of hips
And groin. The moon descends among them, fierce,
Unveiled. They voice the cunning of the river
That kneads the dour root and rubs against
The skin of April’s melting, women not
As goddesses might be, but goddesses
Themselves in whom the summer’s revelations
Are consummated. Even afterward
Though autumn breaks the year end’s faltering gait
Their own describes the memory of the dew
That slaked their feet; the lilt of the summer’s liquor.

8.

She hears, among the startled flight of thrushes,
Girls cry: ‘The porch of Ithaca is not
Our resting place, but ours are voices rising
From every shore.” The chaos of our being
Is all the world we know: not the sun,
Or dinted summer fields, a midday’s rainfall
Or skimming swallows, not the course of autumn
Altering the braided grasses; but they take
Their drink from us; berries their sweetness from
Our mouths; the wind that scuffs the evening’s waters
Our breath and longing. Where the starlings flock
Above a dangling moon—where black as words
They slip the knotted cords of verse, arising
Out of the discourse of desire—the mind
Arises and, containing them, is made whole.

Sunday
February 2nd, 2019 by me, Patrick Gillespie

Ithaca

  • The following was inspired by Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey. Specifically, read the closing paragraph in my previous post: Emily Wilson’s Odyssey. I did a few things differently with this poem. I roughed it out first, something I rarely do; then the blank verse revision. I’ve also been reading Shakespeare’s late plays, the romances, especially with a mind to his late style; and in combination with a book by Russ McDonald called Shakespeare’s Late Style. Historically, Shakespeare’s later verse has been considered problematic and was, by later poets like Pope, revised if not excised. Not to me. The syntactic “incoherence” of Shakespeare’s late verse is unmatchably beautiful. So, by writing the following, I wanted to learn from it. I combined the epithets found in Homer with the syntactic addition, divagation, delay, elision and suspension typical of Shakespeare’s late style. I know this isn’t any way to write in the 21st century, but me and my poetry have gone our own way.

Odysseus, wily navigator, you
Who have endured a thousand harborless sorrows,
I too have suffered.
••••••••••••I, being sent to launder
Your mistress’s apparel in the river
Or often, by myself, to bring from orchards
A desired olive, fig or grape, was also
Betrayed by those you’ve slain—made by them
A slave to slaves—my vessel desecrated
My lading mired and diminished, sorted
With weeds and brackish waters—yet for that
Condemned.
••••••••••••Odysseus, ingenious King—
Tell him, your minstrel with the wine stained fingers
Who sings of wayward tides, of witches, Gods
And far-flung isles, that I was also lost
Longing for home who had no home to search for;
And tell your songster in your rage you snared
My sisters by one rope between a pillar
And dome; and that we were together lifted,
Each beside the other, nooses round
Our necks until our feet no longer touched
The earth—the knots tight as a luthier’s string.
Tell your songster, though he sings of you
To tell of the twelve girls who were like
Thrushes that spread their wings to fly at last
But could not. Though struggling, we only breathed
To take another dying breath—our agony
Your pleasure.
••••••••••••Tell him: ‘Sing of girls, of slaves
To slaves, who twitched a little while but not
For long; whose rags were left behind, bone broken
And creaking in the winds of Ithaca.”
Tell him that we waited to be lain
Among the corpses we ourselves had carried
From the blood-soaked hall.
••••••••••••So long as sings your minstrel,
Odysseus, so long will fly from us
The last syllable of our breath: that far
From Ithaca, cries of murder, bloodshed
And vengeance—where the grass at evening shivers
In sea-spray and the noiseless spider sifts
The wind—was seen a startled thrush that cried out,
Took flight above the drumming waters, even
Above the dissolution of the air,
Into the spreading fingers of the Milky Way.

Ithaca
March 12th 2018 by me, Patrick Gillespie

 

November

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There’s nothing left but overall
Remnants of what had once been fall;
Even where a week before
A leaf or two blew through the door
The dwindling days have turned to soot
The little traveling underfoot.
·
Snow will follow soon enough
Careening through the unmown scruff
Of jimson weed and bush clover,
Nothing apt to be covered over
With just a midday’s squall—but soon
Winter will stay the afternoon.
·
Then who will afterward remember
The few days readied since September?—
The ghostly sighs of thimbleweed,
The bony knuckles of the reed,
Whole fields of startled hair turned white
Before the year end’s stricken flight.
·
I wouldn’t ask but that I know
It’s not just seasons come and go.
When ice gives way to watercress
And all of April’s loveliness,
Remember, though the days are few,
November has its flowers too.
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Pussy Willow Branch (Reduced)·
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by me | January 8 2018

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    This is my first audio recording using my new YETI microphone. My reading of the poem is just okay, but then I’m never satisfied that way. Best that I never hear myself. The poem itself is one I started not in November of last year but the year before, with a haiku. I finally devoted the time to finishing it.

February 20th 2016

I continued tweaking last night’s haiku this morning, afternoon and evening. I liked the sense switching—the coywolf’s cry being the frost in the window. I liked the imagery of the frostlit moon. But all these seemed too forced. I think I might be satisfied with something much simpler—a quality that I like in Basho’s haiku. They evoke complexity through a simplicity of  observation.
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winds
····in February—the comforter drifting over
········her hips
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The sun begins to wake me, rising a little earlier every morning, but is still cold.
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106 February 20th 2016 | bottlecap

February 17th 2016

Tonight is my one hundredth haiku. I imagine my hundredth as the best so far, but my abilities aren’t equal to my ambitions. That got me thinking about a passage by R.H. Blythe, in A History of Haiku:
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Saikaku, 1643-1693, had a position of importance in the haikai world of his time, but as a novelist he eclipsed himself. Once, when studying under Soin, he made one thousand six hundred verses in a day. hearing of this, another poet made two thousand eight hundred. Not to be outdone Saikaku made four thousand verses during the day-time only…. His style of haiku-writing was criticized not only by the Teimon School but also by the School of Basho as being wretched and dissolute. He wrote very few good hokku… [p. 86]
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Four thousand! Supposing a 12 hour day, that’s one hokku/haiku every 10 seconds or so. But I take some comfort in only having written a hundred haiku in a hundred days. Perhaps not all of them are wretched and dissolute.
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after
····the icy wind—the teakettle’s
········whistle
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Tonight I drank raspberry tea with a spoonful of honey and lemon rinds. I lay my favorite complete Shakespeare to my left. As I work on my longer blank verse poem I occasionally open Shakespeare for the beauty of the language. I also keep a collection of Basho, Issa and Buson close by. Last night I finished a book of haiku by western writers, a collection covering the last hundred years.
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And then I ask myself why I write? As an Indian sage once remarked: The miracle is that despite knowing we must die, we nevertheless choose to live as if we didn’t.
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103 February 17th 2016 | bottlecap

February 16th 2016

The day started with fresh snow, several inches, but by late morning snow turned to rain and the rain lasted for the rest of the day. I went out for a walk and was almost too warm in my raincoat. There’s something appealing in this bleak landscape. There’s nothing makes noise but wind in the cold weeds and the black trees.
as
····snow turns into rain—the crow
········shrugs

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102 February 16th 2016 | bottlecap

February 15th 2016

This morning I brought my daughters to school. I traveled over Sharon hill, then Northwest along the White River. The temperature was – 11 F and the deadly waters steamed with a deceptive warmth. Then driving back I saw one of the most spectacular deep-winter visions I’ve ever seen. If only I’d had a camera. With the sun behind it, I saw a ‘steamdevil’ rising from the River’s middle like the barely visible shadow of a towering wraith. Imagine a water funnel made from a river’s icy vapors—a vision out of Dante. It towered two to three hundred feet, slowly twisting but stationary. I’ve never seen anything like it.
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behind
····the wood-stove—the cat’s yellow eyes and then
········the cat
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My cat threads the early shadows of a winter’s evening, the tiger’s yellow still in her eyes. She pauses, motionless, sensing my gaze. Then inscrutably remembers her dark intent. She vanishes in the unlit rumors of another room. What she does and where she goes—unsuspected.
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101 February 15th 2016 | bottlecap

February 13th 2016

Tonight is so far the coldest night of the winter: -14 F as I write this. It’s also a beautifully clear night. I wear my heaviest winter coat, good to 60 below, pull the hood over my head, already wearing a wool cap, and go outside.
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bitter
····cold—stars crackling in the wandering
········trees
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When it becomes this cold, the trees, birches, maples and ash, pop and whine like the hulls of wooden boats. The iron and wooden bridge crossing the brook behind my house pops like a fire cracker. And the snow squeaks underfoot.
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who
····lives there? — looking into my own
········house
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Returning home, the light from inside looks especially warm. There’s steam on the kitchen windows and my own books are on the shelves. My own life, for a little while, is being lived there.
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99 February 13th 2016 | bottlecap