Melancholia

- 1969-

The whirring internal machine, its gears
grinding not to a halt but to a pace that emits
a low hum, a steady and almost imperceptible
hum: the Greeks would not have seen it this way.

Simply put, it was a result of black bile,
the small fruit of the gall bladder perched
under the liver somehow over-ripened
and then becoming fetid. So the ancients

would have us believe. But the overly-emotional
and contrarian Romans saw it as a kind of mourning
for one’s self. I trust the ancients but I have never 
given any of this credence because I cannot understand

how one does this, mourn one’s self.
Down by the shoreline—the Pacific 
wrestling with far more important 
philosophical issues—I recall the English notion

of it being a wistfulness, something John Donne
wore successfully as a fashion statement.
But how does one wear wistfulness well
unless one is a true believer? 

The humors within me are unbalanced, 
and I doubt they were ever really in balance
to begin with, ever in that rare but beautiful
thing the scientists call equilibrium.

My gall bladder squeezes and wrenches, 
or so I imagine. I am wistful and morose
and I am certain black bile is streaming 
through my body as I walk beside this seashore.

The small birds scrambling away from the advancing 
surf; the sun climbing overhead shortening shadows; 
the sound of the waves hushing the cries of gulls: 
I have no idea where any of this ends up.

To be balanced, to be without either
peaks or troughs: do tell me what that is like…
This contemplating, this mulling over, often leads 
to a moment a few weeks from now,

the one in which everything suddenly shines
with clarity, where my fingers race to put down 
the words, my fingers so quick on the keyboard 
it will seem like a god-damned miracle.

The Philosopher in Florida

Midsummer lies on this town 
like a plague: locusts now replaced 
by humidity, the bloodied Nile

now an algae-covered rivulet 
struggling to find its terminus. 
Our choice is a simple one:

to leave or to remain, to render 
the Spanish moss a memory 
or to pull it from trees, repeatedly.

And this must be what the young 
philosopher felt, the pull of a dialectic so basic 
the mind refuses, normally,

to take much notice of it. 
Outside, beyond a palm-tree fence, 
a flock of ibis mounts the air,

our concerns ignored 
by their quick white wings.
Feathered flashes reflected in water,

the bending necks of the cattails:
the landscape feels nothing—
it repeats itself with or without us.

Night Air

"If God is Art, then what do we make
of Jasper Johns?"  One never knows
what sort of question a patient will pose,

or how exactly one should answer.
Outside the window, snow on snow 
began to answer the ground below

with nothing more than foolish questions.
We were no different.  I asked again:
"Professor, have we eased the pain?"

Eventually, he’d answer me with: 
"Tell me, young man, whom do you love?"
"E," I’d say, "None of the Above,"

and laugh for lack of something more
to add.  For days he had played that game,
and day after day I avoided your name

by instinct.  I never told him how
we often wear each other’s clothes—
we aren’t what many presuppose.

Call it an act of omission, my love.
Tonight, while walking to the car,
I said your name to the evening star,

clearly pronouncing the syllables
to see your name dissipate
in the air, evaporate.

Only the night air carries your words
up to the dead (the ancients wrote):
I watched them rise, become remote.

Blood

Someone has already pulled a knife
across my chest, and the rope has already
gripped our wrists drawing blood.

I am naked, and I cannot be sure
if you are as well. In the room, the men
come and go, yelling blood bath, half-blood,

blood-bitch. We never hear the word trueblood.
In my dreams I am dying all the time.
We are bound and gagged, blindfolded,

but still I know you must be the one
lying there, the cool anodized steel table
beneath us, the two of us side by side.

Lying there, my shoulder blades ache,
and there is blood collecting in
the corners of my mouth. But then it happens,

just as it always happens: your fingers
suddenly twist into tiny shoots, your arms
break free as you accept the shape

of a tree, the leaves sprouting, the delicate
bark rising up from your skin's surface.
Try as I might, I never seem able.

On the telephone this morning, I again
keep the dream to myself. Half-blood
becomes half-breed. Blood-bitch

becomes blood-sister. But blood never lies,
does it? Blood carries so many secrets
one can only hear its murmurs in our arteries,

its incessant monologue, in the quiet
night's bed just before sleep. Blood says
You are more and, sometimes, You are less.

Related Poems

Relapsing / Remitting

The lord doctor sits on the other side
of health from me. It’s a wall come between
flat & white &
spackled in places—

I was a student of ELOQUENCE.
I’d shape my mouth into a fountain
& out the names cascaded in June—

My brain is described in slow sentences
in similes like: grapefruit, telephones,
the medieval district of a city.

In ELOQUENCE though I couldn't fit
the madness in—no icy jackhammer
pneumatics, no I-can’t-hear-myself-think

Progress: the loss of neuron & synapse
Progress: tall lights of a stadium shut
one by one until the ballpark is left
in darkness. Then degeneration of
the temporal. Then furrows will close
the furrows the cheering voices carved
in the air will close. This is what happens—

cerebellum, the beautifulest sound
in the room

I rested my length in its green meadows.

future somatics to-do list

a love letter to traci akemi kato-kiriyama

does a voice have to be auditory to be a voice?

where in the body does hearing take place?

which are the questions that cannot be addressed in language?

which are the questions where promises lodge?

how do we hear what is outside our earshot?

when does distance look like closeness, feel like velvet sunrise cheek to cheek?

what are the objects, ideas, or experiences we drop beneath the more evident surfaces of our lives to the air or water or ground beneath? do we drop them purposefully? are they forgotten?

what word makes the body?

what body defies the word?

which figures, shapes, presences, haunts, methods, media, modes, ephemera, gestures, abandonments, models, anti-models, breaths, harmonics? which soil? which fields?

what does beginning sound like? what body does continuing form? what note does perseverance hum?

is a word a body?

which apertures? which hinges?

where does a body stand without settling?

through which holes does history break into our day?

where in the past does the future excavate?

where in the future does the past propel?

what are the distinctions between proximity and simultaneity?

where does a body resist without refusal?

can borders be exceeded? can borders be disintegrated?

where in the body does hearing take place?

where in the body does loving take place?

how do we make family with someone we do not know?

what do we carry with us and where in the body do we carry it?

might we be permitted a we this evening?

may I hold your hand? to feel your hand as its actual shape, clothed in its papery useful unequivocal skin, bones stacked like tiny branches, the balancing act of a bird, joints unlocking, span from thumb to pinky octaving out toward unfamiliar harmonics?

what space does the body occupy despite everything?

what does despitesound like? what does withsound like?

where does attake place? where does respite take place?

 

Disciplines [This is how much fortuitiveness weighs]

This is how much fortuitiveness weighs. Measure in dirt. Of vices and other habits. Of leaving a house at 3 am and drawn as would any tether and here is your lock, my dear. I want to say this plainly: it is only when I am in a woman’s arms that my body is not a threat. Neither crosses nor damnation. Fix nor flutter. Hangs here, this balance, and one opens the car door and drives along the river where it said a crossing might happen. Had happened. Many times. Sticklers will say, not here. There are no crossings here. But, there the I is, reflection and delivered, on the other side. Like hams, I think,
holding on to what was.