TOO FAR ALONG
I must learn how to say the unsayable
to speak of a zone that has no mooring
Chaucer's tavern, the beermugfaced clergyman
shot through like dried biscuit O glare of broad noon!
We are not, properly speaking, floating
the way a seal floats or a bit of tissue
blown by the desk fan across your eyesight floats
set down or here or there on the carpet
next to us. We float conclusions
from sleeve, hat, desire, cold water, fear--
how successful we are is not the point.
The unsayable is that zone of no floating
a fantasy of drifting eagles or hilltop pines.
Later, exhausted, you slip into the other bed,
the one I know from hearsay, my Waterloo.
Do away with sabres
do away, now, with the organ-grinder's monkey
evenings--it is always twilight in Aix--and floating
chords from the last but one war
and do away with muscle
and leave bone its hungry dog to chew upon
wherever we don't know is best.
From here to the shuffling man
anything can happen it's so chock full of dust
that gad who rears up is soon beaten silly
to make room for better neighbors.
We have always been bored, this is certain,
even as children even at Christmas, especially then.
What were we if not old men and fox hunters
born to live backwards? We were skillful
figure eights on the sidewalk ice
in a hot zone to the south of Cancer
we were those-who-can-climb-trees before supper
and sleep fitfully, and yes beasts
lived in that darkness, and they were not domesticated.
Caravans pass infrequently, and I have seen her
dressed in all manner of skins. I love
what animals lie about her shoulders, and this
I take for granted: that she will come again.
Cherry Wood 30"x16"x12", 1998
see more of Michael Gessner's work
ELEGY FOR LOVE
We have passed through bodies
into a bright afternoon of elms
poured over the budding limbs
honey-eyed until blind from the sun
which stayed before us
and darkened the coming minutes.
"I'll have no more truck with that
when the last gong bawls it's all up with us
I'll be out of here by then you can
too." But consider the caning of that armchair
and consider the patio, how the cracks
make it more like home than any polish could.
I hear mosquitoes and read the lyrics
to the Dies Irae and give my body to be burnt
eventually, as we must. My father
saw me as a tracker of repute, in Alaska,
at the head of a dog-sled team
my mother agreed, but poor woman she passed
early out of human memory, god rest her.
"I am dying of malaria in this hole
I am sea sick on dry land..."
I have found the zero to be uncountable--a mere ruse--
but own no book worth squat or publication
and do I care? Sir, I don't. I have done watercolors
in the remote white pastures of Russia
of men who dwell upon wheeled wagons circling like birds,
and I have fed the gryphon of Scythia from a long pole.
It is not to be petted, and may seem tame,
but watch out.
.......................The buzzing grows with evening
have you noticed? Leave me doze to it
and come tomorrow, there'll be more yet.
THE NEAR SPEECH
Fingers over the hedge, you move around
the countryside like a breeze pushing a kite
or leaves rolling or grass spit back from
a mower's walk during the spring months.
Thus, in small glimpses, the phonemes
change over from mouth to exist, as I
listen to your talk in one shelter
and you receive words like a seed or a thread
the yard comes clear in which we stand
and meaning goes up goes down like a rumor
to give blood and sanctuary out of itself:
consubstantial face of speech and delivery
a nothing till it voices, nothing to decipher,
relatives of source taking over the country
under buds of the tongue at the inside of words
that issue in us, now recognized, now sent
obscurely to earth or under to the roots of pulse,
the beat of a drum making sense with the masks
of hair, oil paint, and wood, of the grimace
that means our shock. More to come in figures
elsewhere stored and brought up on charges
arranged to divide as one from another
the chapter begins with once upon a word
how you come to me from the coast
to the gap by using our speech like a wave
and what you say means just that signal
of a string drawn tight, erased to be reformed,
a place for me to breathe in the way
that I breathed from your mouth, and then again,
the rumor comes to an end, at the hedge.
Mark McMorris is the author of several books of poetry, including the just-released The Blaze of Poui (University of Georgia Press), The Black Reeds (University of Georgia Press), and Moth-Wings (Burning Deck Books). His work has appeared in anthologies such as Ancestral House: The Black Short Story in the Americas and Europe, and An Anthology of New (American) Poets. He teaches at Georgetown University and coordinates the Georgetown Poetry & Seminar Series.
Published in Volume 4, Number 2, Spring 2003.