Archive for the ‘Poetry’ Category
My name is Kevin. I’m Kevin Mathew Haas.
My last name does not rhyme with moss.
It does not rhyme with floss.
To say so makes me cross.
Many regard me as the motherfucking boss.
I enjoy a little of the sauce.
In fact, my last name — Haas –
rhymes with gauze.
(This should give you pause.)
It also rhymes with laws.
I, Kevin Mathew Haas,
liked The Wizard of Oz
but did not particularly care for Jaws,
which I saw when I was seven.
My name is Kevin.
Editors note: the preceding was a poem I wrote about my co-worker Kevin — the Bob Ross of bartending, the Meatloaf of mixology, the sultan of sauce-slinging, the Kenny Chesney of the craft cocktail.
Man, I ate like a pig for Thanksgiving.
This was written by the late Ted Hughes, most famous, I think, for being the husband of Sylvia Plath:
The pig lay on a barrow dead.
It weighed, they said, as much as three men.
Its eyes closed, pink white eyelashes.
Its trotters stuck straight out.
Such weight and thick pink bulk
Set in death seemed not just dead.
It was less than lifeless, further off.
It was like a sack of wheat.
I thumped it without feeling remorse.
One feels guilty insulting the dead,
Walking on graves. But this pig
Did not seem able to accuse.
It was too dead. Just so much
A poundage of lard and pork.
Its last dignity had entirely gone.
It was not a figure of fun.
Too dead now to pity.
To remember its life, din, stronghold
Of earthly pleasure as it had been,
Seemed a false effort, and off the point.
Too deadly factual. Its weight
Oppressed me—how could it be moved?
And the trouble of cutting it up!
The gash in its throat was shocking, but not pathetic.
Once I ran at a fair in the noise
To catch a greased piglet
That was faster and nimbler than a cat,
Its squeal was the rending of metal.
Pigs must have hot blood, they feel like ovens.
Their bite is worse than a horse’s—
They chop a half-moon clean out.
They eat cinders, dead cats.
Distinctions and admirations such
As this one was long finished with.
I stared at it a long time. They were going to scald it,
Scald it and scour it like a doorstep.
Summer dies, the long days wane away.
The heat in the sky melts like lead to liquid pools.
The hills beyond are as white as clay.
Now creep in the gentle autumn ghouls,
Trailing behind their silken shawls of Lethe-
an mist. Shadows warp, gourds enlarge.
And now what is always there but not
Quite clear — that blot lurking on the vision’s marge –
Emerges with the year: unresting death,
The slow blood sloshing with every breath
Upon the bone-carved door. The senses clot.
Blue, blue days, windy days. The brittle clack of
Leaves and their soft collisions in the dust.
Dusty smells, leaf-fractured streets, the trees above
Hissing thinly, like a pit of snakes. Must
It all be quite so beautiful yet so hard to bear?
This softly killing air with its furnace blast
Of fume, its whispered currents of decay,
Must it seep into my bones? Must it come so fast?
One by one the rib cages of the leaves tear
From their stems like wax. Big trees go bare. The glare
Is great, extinction certain. Life won’t let life stay.
Now the morning grass lies flat, blanched and cold with frost.
The sickles swing in the apple trees
Whose limbs are stiff and leak like ink across
The voided sky. A chopper fleet of bees
Sack the throat of my friendly hollyhocks.
They sweetly sway, but at what cost? At what cost are
These people-sized flowers born? Why bloom
At all? To what end? There at the field’s far
Edge, where scarecrows spill their guts and the pale shocks
Of corn glow white, the thud of fruit sounds like rocks
On the hardened earth, and a goat coughs in the gloom.
Now the hunt sweeps out. Stag are bled, hung from their hocks
In the boughs: throat-gashed, reeking, with antlers chipped,
Disgorging chunked gallons into the groin-high stalks
Where late the grasshoppers arced and flipped.
Sweetly sour fall, with all your puffball that glow
Like alien skulls in the lemon-lime glades,
Glades choked with moss and mold. Yeasty earth, rains
Distilling punky tea as color fades
And hoof prints are raised intaglio
On the forest floor. Across the ground below,
Vapor hangs above the stubble plains.
And scuffed-up apples, so supple and convex,
Come raining down with coldly muted
Clops. The cottonwoods are spending gold. Complex
Odors — woodsmoke, crushed grass, denuded
Bark — cast a pall. The sun is warm, the water cold,
Streams die quiet in their empty beds.
Stout-chested robins with their wind-mussed
Hair, like shabby Halloween décor, jerk their heads,
Leer. Last gnats everywhere ignite gold
In the long last rays of the sun. Old
Flies fall off. The summer moths have turned to dust.
We live a little while, a little while
And we die. Our wings are mutable. This blown-
Up shadow of me, hinged across a pile
Of bone-white rocks, and once so small, is now grown
Tall and unclear, in danger (I fear)
Of slipping into nothingness. It’s slouched
And leaning toward the extreme sea wall.
The eternal surf is booming. Insects crouched
On wobbly knees stare into the sere
And melon vault. And do they, too, sense an ending near,
Or care? Like me, both love and hate this lovely fall?
The year grows old. A wan crepuscular light.
Time now for thought, time for bloody autumnal wine.
Time for walking into the complicated night
Beneath molten skies and moaning trees that line
Like sentries the heaved-up, humpbacked, clicking walks.
Pretty warts of lichen are tattooed all about.
The squash exudes an oily musk. Gaudy gourds
Bloat fast, tubers weird and curved like trout
Beside these utterly lifeless rocks.
Among a murder of crows, one groks
From the deathless firs, where crickets strum their chords.
Is this my soul, then, expiring whitely
Into the unanimous dusk? The clouds beyond
Look similar. Harvest moon is lifting lightly
Within — gorged and pocked, a lobeshaped flaxen-blond
Or a skull of ice, soaring up new at the dying
Edge of day, while simultaneously streaks
Of a burgundy-and-purple sunset slaughter
Bloom like flowers over the western peaks.
Snows to come will come soundless, hushing the crying
World. Full season’s here. The geese are flying
Like arrows across the icy water.
The cat eats the praying mantis
By punching it to death,
Pushing it with her paws,
Playing soccer with it,
Tossing it in the air,
Carrying it around in her jaws
And finally, when the insect
Has no more motion or flutter,
Chewing its green head off.
— Karl Shapiro
Watching the wind unwind off the river’s face
Creates in him a feeling he can’t quite name.
Intently he stared into a corrugated
Pool of jade, hearing (but not) its musical
Slop and heave, the sousing waves. On either side
Of him, a corridor of cottonwoods flank the river
Into its bight: like lime-green giants gnashing
In slo-mo. Stripped to the waist, sun-burnished,
Levis slack about the rear, a face
So serious, so sad … There comes a frozen
Moment when time hangs motionless on this
Particular shore. The reeds go slack. Then
Silver clouds scud in like a fleet of blimps. Colossal
Shadows invade. He sees the trees invert on the
Swollen depths that mirror his face against the knife-
White heavens. He remembers that this is his life.
Far off, the fat sun drips, like a bloody egg yolk
Above the sea. Southward, huge thunderheads
Hang their indigo slants of rain.
The west wind quivers. From the bridge
He’d stared for hours, watching below him
The sunset’s raspberry leak, the gray water swirl.
Behind, the asphalt stunk and gleamed.
Foreign insects teemed. Long he stared, as one transfixed,
By light or shadow or the silent depths below
That inexorably flowed from his vision’s range,
Carrying as they went the heavy half-green leaves
Which fell dying but, he saw, made occasional
Ripples on this old wrinkled surface
Before see-sawing into the cold.
Then darkness came. Still he stood. He stood scowling
Into the churning depths, yearning, alone.
Among Robert Graves’s best and most famous poems, “Dead Cow Farm” is in essence a war poem (Robert Graves served in WWI) wherein his gentle cow symbolizes peace and calm.
It is a strange and lovely poem.
He trudged into the desert, taking almost
nothing with him but water and a ghost-
ly old photo
of a lady beside the ocean.
That first night,
he lay above a dry creek bed. Below,
he heard vipers moving through the sand
with a side-winding motion,
he did not sleep.
He’d grown obsessed with the notion
of walking deep
and deeper into the wilderness. By
the third day, his lips were swollen and dry.
Now he was completely isolated,
surrounded by a desert that dominated
with its glittering sand
not high above, a sky so huge and blue
that it scared him to look too long upon.
There was nothing new
now under his sun. By now, his water was gone.
Day five, he quit moving altogether
and sat instead for hours, with his photo and leather
flask, coughing in the cool valley of a dune,
watching the daytime moon,
gibbous and gorged, roll by like an eroded stone.
The sky was biblical. The sun was white as bone.
Finally, on the evening of his sixth day,
when his strength had all but slipped away,
a willowy woman in a white dress appeared.
She had long black hair, which stirred in the xeric
air, and though his eyes were watery and bleared,
he knew for certain who it was. And so
it was that she beckoned him. He rose, sure but slow,
up from the ferric
and rust-colored sand,
as if this is what he’d been waiting for all
leaving his shoes and other belongings
behind, he followed her into
the drifted dunes, beneath a sky of melting blue.
And that was it. Days later when they found his things,
they saw the photo half-buried in the sand.
It was a black-and-white of a black-
haired woman, very elegant, tall,
whose short life,
two years back,
had been eaten away in a strange
Patagonian land, below a mountain range.
That woman was his wife.
(This raggedy poem is an excerpt from Chapter 16 of More and More unto the Perfect Day)
He was one of the soft-spoken, the strong, the sandy-haired — one who always preferred to be alone.
His name was Markus, a dishwasher at age 45.
He was a drifter, a loner, and he valued his freedom above all. Dishwashing jobs he could always find.
Our paths crossed and re-crossed at the Café Claire, where I was tending the bar. The Café Claire stood on the outskirts of an industrial town, near the railroad tracks, beside his temporary home. Sometimes he’d sit at the end of the bar, before his shift or after, and drink black coffee. Sometimes he’d speak to me, and sometimes he would not.
He was a tidy man, and orderly. He organized things in an oddly geometrical way. He did not drink, he did not smoke, he did not use drugs. He was clean-living and in good shape, neither depressed nor its opposite.
He was single, without children. And he was free.
He read a lot — novels and non-fiction — to endure, perhaps, those knives of lust that can so suddenly strike. He had the quietude of one who has gone a long time without sex.
His home was an efficiency apartment — a “hutch,” he called it — with good plumbing. (This mattered to him.) He dealt only in cash and he was good with his money. He saved, he moved on. Sometimes he worked on farms, sometimes he loaded and unloaded freight, sometimes he carried hod. But when I first met him and asked him what he did, he said “I’m a sudsbuster.”
So in the way of things, he would come behind my bar at times, when I was busy, and without asking me, he’d wash my glassware. I loved him for that. He was fast on his feet and knew how to work around people, so that nobody was in anybody’s way. Buried in Bloody Marys and margaritas, I’d glance over and see him plunged up to his elbows in suds, his gold-rim spectacles, which somehow endeared him to me, filled with the burning bar light, his neat goatee damp with perspiration and pied with skeins of gray. Working with someone in this way creates a kind of bond.
Two or three times, I saw him outside work while I was in my car. Each of those times, he was walking alone along the railroad tracks, at dusk like some solitary figure carved from the coming dark. This was a grizzled landscape, a prairie desert of Euclidian perfection, full of rings and radii, vast yet traversed by a single road: an isolate highway humming day or night with Mack truck tires. The wind ferried tumbleweeds across the lion’s pelt land, and deadwood everywhere stood silvery-gray, like the moon above, and invariably whenever I saw him, a feeling of melancholy came over me, a melancholy for him, I am not sure why. This, though, is not about pity or pathos, and Markus was not a person to be pitied.
This, rather, is about one man out of many millions making his way
in the land of the free, the USA.
My father laid-out flat on the mortician’s slab
Looks purple and peaceless. He’s buried
To the chin in starchy sheets. A small frown
Is stitched into the middle of his brow
And his eyeballs are contoured roundly on each
Eyelid. The floor crunches under shifting feet,
As if the ground is eating, as if it’s chomping
Bones. A thin window high above gives to tons
Of cracked concrete. And there, in a fertile plot,
A crowd of flowers that have vermillion flecks
Stand on slender stalks, with broken necks.
Viewing him later in his cherry coffin
Whorled with involuted knots and bird-eye dots,
We see his moon-colored hair hanging frozen and waved.
Two vertical grooves bracket the parted lips.
He’s gaunt and shrunken, a shrunken man, waxy
Now and fully fleshed. He’s beyond empty:
He’s the case of a huge spirit gone cold.
“It doesn’t look like him,” the widow says, transfixed.
I agree: the rouged-up cheeks, the claret-stained lips,
The evangelist’s hair, and a piece of tongue
Just glimpsed, the spongy texture of raw lung.
So significantly changed from one year before
In the lilac-scented spring following
That brutal winter, when everything was crystal
Gardens and suddenly lifeless upon the ground:
A bloody climax to a bloody life,
The eldest son dead—dead by his own hand.
My father crawled to his bed then
And like a fallen tree lay himself down
And waited to die. He said he carried
A sadness too terrible to bear or beat.
The planet wobbled beneath my feet.
Flowers and incense. He moves to my mind now
In context of these. A masculine man,
So vital and lithe, that is how I remember
Him. I remember my father in his
Faded jean-jacket, with his military
Posture that the famous General
Once complimented him on. My father
Kissing my mother. My lean-hipped father standing
Alone beside the sea, watercolor-green eyes—
Hunter’s eyes—thin as saber slashes;
Big knuckles, bony wrists, hair the hue of ashes.
But overnight his face went slack, the flesh
About the bones, a padding, melting
Like candle wax. Both temples grew indrawn, clustered
With greenish veins. He breathed for a while through
A snaky tube—fat, ecru, quickly rejected—
His eyes wilting like grapes inside his massive gourd;
The eczema-encrusted hands moved lobster-like
Upon the sheets. A gothic silence locked him up,
As if he watched weird images flickering
Across the bone concavity of his skull,
Something horrible mixed, by turns, with something dull.
Late that summer, in the denouement of
The August storms, we watched his Sweet William,
Planted the spring before, rock back and forth beneath
His windowpane. They stood on slenderness,
All fresh and fair, like the storms, like him, beautiful
And dying. They were his favorite flowers,
I believe, those fume-packed lovelies quilled so deeply
With red. The blankets, meanwhile, stirred not
At all with the rise and fall of his tiny breath.
And each night the rain came down in a garish flood.
The Sweet William looked spoked with blood.
It was in this watery gloom beyond his room
That was sunk so far from light, that he slipped away.
Rain that night came slow at first, with a sound like
The whisper of wind in the grass. Street lamps hung
Like lunar globes caught in suspended flight.
Softly you slept, softly you died. I thought for some
Reason then how much you hated your name—Firman—
How authoring your first child you said:
“Name him William, call him Bill.” Simplify, of course.
Of course. Your sharp mind knew no other way.
I hope you found closure, that grainy day.
Black-eyed Bill, William Harvey, RIP, Bill
With his storied IQ. About him I recall
Everything: his long wild hair, his tumbling
Gait, the calm about the eyes—something strange there,
None of us ever knew for sure what—a smile
So soft, so rare; wormy veins, azure and long;
Thin wrists, strong; how he used to eat his eggs blackened
With pepper and spice; calloused fingers; smart at math,
A fierce impatient brain that never forgot;
All-pupil eyes that rolled like eightballs
Inside his stormy skull. This and more I recall.
Often I’d watch him—did he know?—standing
At his window, cooling his forehead against the glass
And staring down at the breakneck rocks below.
This was right after he’d dropped out of high school
And was working in the mines. Knifey light slanted
Down outside onto the endless fields of snow.
Bill in his undershirt and black slacks, flat-stomached
And lean. Often he’d be reading some German
Philosopher or the Gospel of John, which he,
An atheist, always thought profound.
(He loved chapter seven with its Gnostic sound.)
I like to remember this now,
Bill reading philosophy in his room.
I like to remember how he’d pause
Mid-sentence and stare up at the ceiling
With a frown — as if trying to recall
Something similar he’d once read — and of course
That frown, that frown. You thought so much, brother,
It was as if your brain would explode.
And what were you always thinking about?
I wondered then; I wonder now. Did you,
As it seemed, really know things nobody else knew?
There was all this, yes, and other things as well.
The nights as a child that I woke and went
To you (eschatological terror was my cross
To bear). Over icy kitchen floors where the big square
Appliances loomed ominous, mute, and into
The predawn dark so pure and absolute that for
A moment the entire universe seemed struck
Dumb. Belted vaults above, glowing fields below,
Star-heavy skies, infundibular and vast, which
You watched as if secrets prowled out there,
Though nothing stirred; only meteors slipping everywhere.
Always I found you, cross-legged on your leprous
Couch. A strange vigil you kept there in the arrant
Dark, smoking Camel straights and sipping your
Sour German beer. Brother, you never seemed
To sleep; it was as if it didn’t apply. Your
Long hair hung lank about your face – laced
Already with skeins of gray – the foam of your beer
Flashing like suds in the night, your cigarette
A hot-pink eye where your mouth would be,
Shins chalky-white, like a sylvan dream,
The stars outside pulsing with a synecdochic gleam.
Never once unkind to me burrowing into
Your pit (while one of your hands still judiciously
Smoked), though you spoke not at all. Your caved face
Emerged and faded with each pull from the cigarette,
Like a jack-o-lantern in the room. Sometimes, frankly,
I still smell that tobacco, mixed with the flannel
Of your shirt, oil and musk, and the odor
Of the mine where you worked (and worked); gas from
The mongrel bike you built and loved. I still sometimes
See your wet cow eyes shining like jewels in the hall.
But your warmth – this more than all I chiefly recall.
Not long ago, in the innocuous bar,
An acquaintance of yours said you played Russian
Roulette every night. “One game before bed,”
He said, tilting his glass in the mahogany light.
“Didn’t you know? Also, he never smoked Camel
Unfiltereds but without lighting up the label end first.
That way, he said, when you’re robbing banks they won’t know
What brand you smoke. Born to lose, that guy. A smart
Motherfucker, though. Cool as shit.” Above us,
A painted lady with a dimpled rear
Stretches lewdly. I stare into my amber beer.
So was it that? And why? That’s what we all wished
To know. You were in your prime then, thirty-four,
So serious and sedate. You’d grown very thin –
Everyone spoke of this, and of how hard you worked.
It was a Rocky Mountain winter night,
The air outside hanging cold and brittle
As the little claws of ice which now, as I write,
Crawl up my windowpane, and you shot yourself
In the back of the throat, indeed one bullet
In your gun. Outside, the gorgeous snowflakes hurled
Down, hushing, hushing the entire world.
Now outdoors, same day after the funeral train,
Under a broken sky, spates of rain,
And after staring into the clean-sliced pit,
Which at last has my father in it,
Why, now, am I not at all surprised to find
The one image in my mind: his lined
Brow, the questioning glare now stitched forever there.
I’m in the same garden-plot I watched him stare
Across for days after Bill’s death, from his desk
Scanning this scene that’s so picturesque.
The desk is still there, split with its fibrous gash,
His worn books whereon his half-moon glasses flash.
Through the door, I once heard him say “Lumbering Bill”
(His voice soft and unbelievably real)
“Is gone.” Now so are you. But I? I am not dead.
Around me, Sweet William are disgorging red.
That man behind the golden specs may not be the man you think.
He is not yours. He is not God’s or State’s. Not postmodernistic,
as those the colleges pump out like seed, he’s anachronistic,
in his love of laissez-faire and the huge high sunset sky of pink.
Lecturing on Lorca in Lima or the Physiocrats
in France, he’s seen it all, from here to the Ivory Coast.
He’s so amped, with such indefatigability, that he almost
never sleeps. He haunts the city streets and all-night laundromats.
Possesses memory to burn, can be argumentative.
Loathes all progressive, egalitarian, socialistic thought.
Blue-collar to the bone, knows a little about a lot:
Autodidactic worker, polyphiloprogenitive.
For years he’s lived on books, black coffee, the breathing bell above.
Nothing gets to him like the so-called hypothetical.
An American thinker, he’s inherently ascetical –
atheist, yes, but versed in Christ, whose symbol is the dove.
Self-mortification was once his vessel against the living flesh.
His soul, then, seemed to him stretched across those empty skies at night
that drain behind the city blocks and tangerine city light.
The ship of his body pierced the sucking waves that beat and thresh.
Still, he always lights the puma lady’s cigarette.
Manners (like goodness, which is absolute) never go out of date.
And yet when the October night comes crashing down like a metal gate,
sadness invariably strikes. The feline makes him sweat.
As the body without the spirit is dead because the two enmesh
(when has something born not died? what lives? and when will you exist?),
so the human brain thinks, that the body might also persist.
You are physical in the end. It is the way of all flesh.