Work in Progress



In Scotland walking one time

I came up a ridge thick with dark trees

and sauntered among them

a hint of snow in the air

but mild enough in here


soon there was a smallish man

sitting on a fallen tree

who looked up at me.

A thousand year old tweed jacket was on him

like poets and professors used to wear

but his chest was bare, scant grey hairs

curling here and there.  Around his neck

a bright green silky cloth was knotted

everything old.

                          Words seemed called for

but what did I know worth telling a stranger?

Always a problem. He helped by asking

what I thought of all these trees.

I liked them, the dark of them, how they held

the crest of the ridge and seemed to guide

the landscape of the eye north

out of valley of the Annan

towards the far highlands. He spat.

These are not trees, just interlopers,

spruces from Alaska, grow fast

and have no character, the government

plants them because they’re cheap.



But they have nothing to do with us,

picturesque yes, but the wrong picture,

the wrong ecology you’d call it

and when I say  they have no character

I mean they have none yet, he said.

Ah weary me, he said, we have to work

so hard to make them fit the place

and give off the balsam and the dreams

such trees are made for, trees

are the sources of our dreams, I assume

a traveler like you knows that?


I didn’t or hadn’t but did now, thanked him

for it but wondered what the Arabs do

who have no trees, or red deserts of Rajasthan

where also I once walked.  He guessed

what I was doubting.  Listen, and look,

not all trees are shaped like trees, some

are invisible and made of air, some curl

snakewise beneath the desert sands but all

 fuel the preposterous gospel of the night 

you woke from to find this place.  Find me.


And who might you be, I felt bold

enough to ask.  I am one of them

and I wear green, I have seen

the likes of you climb up this hill

more years than I need specify.


Sometimes there were trees

and sometimes not, sometimes stags

clambered up to rouse the shyling doe,

sometimes birds were my good company,

hoodies and small sparrows and the dawn.

Now you come along to pass

the time of day with, and that’s not wrong.

If you linger somewhere long enough

someone’s bound to come along and speak.

That’s the only kind of talk makes any sense.





Happy Solstice

as the light increases,

Happy Christmas

& a joyous 2012 to come




 (On a painting newly ascribed to Leonard of Vinci)



This is she of whom we spoke

whose character doth alter

in proportion with our closeness to her


unlike an image: which is fixèd

certainly, and changeth not

if we come near or stand afar


This one is she who changeth

as we change, who is all hurry

towards us when we approach


yet turneth chill when from her

we strive for our souls’ sake

to move a little off.  She knoweth


all things we ponder, all wishes

we endure within our hearts

she knoweth well, and from us


turneth only a little bit aside—

still close—and peereth calmly

at quiet distances she alone can see.



                                                          22 January 2010



                                                                        And the Bishop of Manila

                                                                        Saffron blind and poor

                                                                        Says mass with two chisels

                                                                        For women and for men.

                                                                                    —Lorca, “San Miguel”


It is Good Friday and why.

I am waiting for something

to tell me something

about why I am waiting


and for whom.  It is not

the Bishop with the files

in his hands to saw down

the cross that has seen


so much pain in its name.

O when the cross

was just wood!

O when the bishop


was just a man and I was a man

like you and a woman

like you and the saffron

in the waterbowls


made their own daylight

in the shimmer of the butterlamps,

o when light

was only light, when the world


was enough of a mass to say.



 = = =

 The Divine Anxiety:

The high tension of reading a poem is such that any reader is somehow, somewhere, secretly or otherwise anxious for The End, for the poem to end.   That anxiety for conclusion is built into the nature of the lyric poem, the short poem, and we can't escape it.  Poetry seems like a clash of Gertrude Stein's "writing wants to go on" with a kind of Aristotelian "the form wants closure" -- it may be the very tension that makes us love the delicate discomfort of the poem.




= = =

 (A Page from Dream:)




the page looked like this, in the sense that a sentence was continuing from an earlier page, but what is the earlier page of a dream?  Is the answer any clearer than if I asked: what is the earliest dream?  But it looked like this, the way a page in a book looks,  a page in a slim English book of a few decades back, a book about the poet Louis MacNeice and his book or long poem Ten Burnt Offerings which I’d read once on the old B&O train one spring afternoon on my way to Baltimore and we kept stopping by sidings near Havre de Grace, fields full of Queen Anne’s lace.  So when the page I was reading got about this far, it quoted some lines from MacNeice:


                        You’re in God’s

                        wee hands now and the world away


                        and who can say

                        this is how it looked,

                        the words go on to make a shape

                        elegant and lean against the dream,

                                    white of the last page


and then the page went on again, elucidating as I cannot hope to do the few lines I actually saw and retained in dream (the first two verses above, and then just the shape of the rest) and I woke up thinking about MacNeice’s voice when I heard him read once, that dry intelligent voice with what I would come to know as the Belfast upbeat in the last word of every poem, like the trope we heard a decade back in the talk of Valley girls, uptalk, and I thought about girls from the valley, and MacNeice and all the dead, dead railroads, dead cities, dead friends and pages that are always virgin, ready for new life, fields of space open just like this