David, December, Rehoboth Beach
How all occasions do evoke thee
My own Lord Hamlet. Here, beside the sea,
With only Philly Airport contrails for clouds,
I slip on icy boards and say your name aloud,
Because everything evokes thee. Those contrails:
Your father, who mapped the moon, regaled
Me with their chemistry and their meaning.
Your Swiss cousin, who never left off keening,
Sends text messages about your mysterious life.
After all these years I've heard from your wife
Who finally wants the books you left with me.
And there's my yearly visit to the tomb
Of your mad Ophelia. That keeps the ghost in the room.
Beyond all these, your famous sister is another thread
That keeps delaying your entry into truly dead
For every end of year my ritual is to read
Her widower's account of how he freed
Himself, a little, from the long pain of her dying.
When he said the Heart Sutra her soul went flying.
"I had a distinct feeling of a kind of expansion
Emanating from the furnace into the room
And beyond. Something was being released
From Eve's body and expanding into space."
For me, for your memory, no such amazing grace,
No closing mantra, no sense of you unrestless,
Over on the other shore, life and deathless.
Clear winter sunset now.
Ho! The horizon takes a roseate glow.
Pink's the sand where the whitelets flow.
Between the two, a table setting silver blue
Darkens to gray. Evoking you.
People are drawn to nothingness
Here on the coast at the end of the year
The horizon makes itself disappear
The banner planes are gone the gulls are gone
It's nothingness to which people are drawn
The sand is smooth the blue umbrellas went away
The noisy white boats that nose up and say
Ladies Night at the Bar and Grill are not missed
People are drawn to nothingness
The lifeguard stands are standing down
Calm waves make the only sound
Portugal Africa None wonder anymore
What lies along the other shore
Really all that's left is us
Drawn so hard to nothingness
Packs of winter scarves and coats
Black against the gray of the coast
Praising the sacred empty space
The misty mystic vacant place
People are drawn to nothingness
It's the old annual end-times go-round
When the revolution goes up in flames
And everyone flees to an assisted
Living facility. But not you. Yet.
Checks still go out to the truly needy
Which must mean that you yourself... You're young still
In some senile way and unprepared to
Abandon the ramparts and call the
Mainly involves mantras. Surreality
Of Everyday Life remains popular.
A far remove from Here at Senior Sylvan Retreat You Are
Never Alone. Alone is what I want!
Alone I can work out another New Year --
Reckon up lost ground, lost troops, morale issues.
My basic animal spirits are sound.
Born lucky, raised lucky, lucky in work
And love, I pause in the hallway, steady
My mug of tea, and undergo full-body gratitude.
The room is cold, the words in the books are cold; And the question of whether we get what we ask for Is absurd, unanswered by the sound of an unlatched door Rattling in wind, or the sound of snow on roofs, or glare Of the winter sun. What we have learned is not what we were told. I watch the snow, feel for the heartbeat that is not there.
Ancient Medieval Modern
The high-speed train site, a substation with an epic switchgear,
Also has triple-transformers: Ancient/Medieval/Modern.
Roman/Norman/New. Keep digging.
Further down, something neolithic will appear.
Piling on with every mood swing... Then, years later, turning over
Statues, witch-marks, scratch-dial.
And now we lay down our own dedicated tracks:
And no more turn aside and brood
Upon law's bitter cruelty;
For cash still rules the Ivy Leagues,
And rules the schools almost as good;
It rules the fate of our dim babes
And all rich dishevelled wandering spawn.
YOU LIKE TO THINK THE STARS ARE DRIPPING
You like to think the stars are dripping while
You sleep. You like to think you'll snap awake
And step out on the deck, and in a while,
Your eyes ready, clusters will constellate
And then start dripping, just over the oak:
A weathered black and white Jackson Pollock
Whose silvers slap the cosmic curtain.
Like to think? No - you're actually certain
That when you're not looking the universe
Loses its straight face and gets to mugging
Peeing its pants giggling and shrugging...
Stable? Who said stable? MetastableMaybe and that's only maybe. UnstableIs just as likely. Don't sleep too lightly.
… a set of thoughts on the British poet laureate’s poem about Prince Philip. As in: It is the responsibility of laureate-induced poems to be forgotten. Compelled into existence by one’s acceptance of a public position, compelled to praise the high-born to a large audience, these are so unlikely to be non-piffle. Yet – as with Philip’s surprisingly moving brief funeral – this particular poem is surprisingly good. I’m not going to argue it’s all that good, but as an example of its type, it’s way better than it should have been.
The tone throughout is non-heroic, casually musing; the poet avoids grandiosity for a man who, while physically imposing and genetically way royal (his DNA was used to verify that remains found in a Russian forest belonged to the slaughtered Romanovs), seems in fact to have had a spartan and self-effacing disposition. The poem will feature little direct reference to Philip; rather, in a series of natural metaphors, it will evoke his wartime generation.
The weather in the window this morning is snow, unseasonal singular flakes, a slow winter’s final shiver.
He has died in April, and his singularity as the sovereign’s husband will, as the poem begins, be evoked through the singularity of the unseasonal snow. His long life and long physical decline is nicely captured in a slow winter’s final shiver.
On such an occasion to presume to eulogise one man is to pipe up for a whole generation – that crew whose survival was always the stuff of minor miracle, who came ashore in orange-crate coracles, fought ingenious wars, finagled triumphs at sea with flaming decoy boats, and side-stepped torpedoes.
Unusually self-referential, this official eulogy will ask questions about eulogies for the sort of person Philip was. So marked for life was he by his wartime experience, it makes more sense to remember him in his collective military identity than in his singularity. His funeral ritual (designed by Philip himself) was overwhelmingly a military affair.
Indeed looked at in its entirety, Philip’s survival, much less his longevity, does seem a minor miracle – smuggled out of Greece (in an orange crate!) during the Greco-Turkish War when he was eighteen months old, he went on to “finagle” (to use the poet’s wonderfully non-heroic word) modes of survival under punishing battle conditions.
Husbands to duty, they unrolled their plans across billiard tables and vehicle bonnets, regrouped at breakfast. What their secrets were was everyone’s guess and nobody’s business. Great-grandfathers from birth, in time they became both inner core and outer case in a family heirloom of nesting dolls. Like evidence of early man their boot-prints stand in the hardened earth of rose-beds and borders.
There’s a nice subtle evocation here of the soft touchy feely world we’ve become, in which only faint ancient traces of “hardened” boot-prints indicate the bygone, born old (great-grandfathers from birth), men among whom Philip belonged; the patriarchs (this is the poem’s title) who kept their thoughts and feelings to themselves and (in the phrase everyone attaches to Philip) just got on with it.
They were sons of a zodiac out of sync with the solar year, but turned their minds to the day’s big science and heavy questions. To study their hands at rest was to picture maps showing hachured valleys and indigo streams, schemes of old campaigns and reconnaissance missions. Last of the great avuncular magicians they kept their best tricks for the grand finale: Disproving Immortality and Disappearing Entirely.
Relentlessly and ingeniously pragmatic, men like Philip spent their post-crate lives fashioning further escapes, further solutions to a world always perilously out of sync, until the very veins in their hands became strategic maps of (to use Graham Greene’s title) ways of escape. Their final Houdini maneuver, of course, was the whole slipping the surly bonds of earth thing.
The major oaks in the wood start tuning up and skies to come will deliver their tributes. But for now, a cold April’s closing moments parachute slowly home, so by mid-afternoon snow is recast as seed heads and thistledown.
The poem concludes with a return to the present, to a continued observation of a singular April day in which enormous sturdy old trees (this one in particular) whistle their elegy, to be joined in time by tears of rain. Enormous sturdy old Philip, Duke of Edinburgh (thus the poet’s thistle-homage – thistle being the Scottish national emblem) has done his final magic trick, leaving a world “recast” for the better by his having been here — winter turns to spring, the world regenerates itself, and the prickly thistle (Philip was notoriously prickly) is now thistledown, the feathery white top of the thistle, which will disperse in the wind and scatter its seeds.
Really, take whatever position you want on patriarchs, royalty, Philip, blahblah – this is on its own terms a more than respectable poem, a clever finagled triumph.
Found it! The rule for the dead is that they should be forgotten.Ravelstein.