War

- 1881-1968

Fools, fools, fools,
Your blood is hot to-day.
       It cools
When you are clay.
It joins the very clod
Wherein you look at God,
Wherein at last you see
       The living God
       The loving God,
Which was your enemy.

At the Touch of You

 
At the touch of you,	
As if you were an archer with your swift hand at the bow,	
The arrows of delight shot through my body.	
 
You were spring,	
And I the edge of a cliff,
And a shining waterfall rushed over me. 

Undressing You

Fiercely I remove from you
All the little vestiges—
Garments that confine you,
Things that touch the flesh,
The wool and the silk
And the linen that entwine you,
Tear them all away from you,
Bare you from the mesh.
And now I have you as you are,
Nothing to encumber you—
But now I see, caressing you,
Colder hands than mine.
They take away your flesh and bone,
And, utterly undressing you,
They tear you from your beauty
And they leave no sign. 

Train-Mates

Outside hove Shasta, snowy height on height,
A glory; but a negligible sight,
For you had often seen a mountain-peak
But not my paper. So we came to speak...
  
A smoke, a smile,—a good way to commence
The comfortable exchange of difference!
You a young engineer, five feet eleven,
Forty-five chest, with football in your heaven,
Liking a road-bed newly built and clean,
Your fingers hot to cut away the green
Of brush and flowers that bring beside a track
The kind of beauty steel lines ought to lack,—
And I a poet, wistful of my betters,
Reading George Meredith's high-hearted letters,
Joining betweenwhile in the mingled speech
Of a drummer, circus-man, and parson, each
Absorbing to himself—as I to me
And you to you—a glad identity!
  
After a time, when others went away,
A curious kinship made us choose to stay,
Which I could tell you now; but at the time
You thought of baseball teams and I of rhyme,
Until we found that we were college men
And smoked more easily and smiled again;
And I from Cambridge cried, the poet still:
"I know your fine Greek theatre on the hill
At Berkeley!" With your happy Grecian head
Upraised, "I never saw the place," you said—
"Once I was free of class, I always went
Out to the field."
  
Young engineer, you meant
As fair a tribute to the better part
As ever I did. Beauty of the heart
Is evident in temples. But it breathes
Alive where athletes quicken curly wreaths,
Which are the lovelier because they die.
You are a poet quite as much as I,
Though differences appear in what we do,
And I an athlete quite as much as you.
Because you half-surmise my quarter-mile
And I your quatrain, we could greet and smile.
Who knows but we shall look again and find
The circus-man and drummer, not behind
But leading in our visible estate—
As discus-thrower and as laureate?

Related Poems

from "1915: The Trenches"

II.

All night long we lie
Stupidly watching the smoke puff over the sky,
Stupidly watching the interminable stars
Come out again, peaceful and cold and high,
Swim into the smoke again, or melt in a flare of red…
All night long, all night long,
Hearing the terrible battle of guns,
We smoke our pipes, we think we shall soon be dead,
We sleep for a second, and wake again,
We dream we are filling pans and baking bread,
Or hoeing the witch-grass out of the wheat,
We dream we are turning lathes,
Or open our shops, in the early morning,
And look for a moment along the quiet street…
And we do not laugh, though it is strange
In a harrowing second of time
To traverse so many worlds, so many ages,
And come to this chaos again,
This vast symphonic dance of death,
This incoherent dust.

Answers

They ask what I believe in—
Sour milk: the curdle & butter of it
Baby’s breath ragged with phlegm
The green sheen clinging to her skin like algae
The bone & teeth of us mossy and alive with DNA

But what’s your religion, they’re after—
What gods do you pray to?
The frilly curtains of her laughter
remodeling alla my pain
Oh, how she adorns this house of mine

So god’s a woman? (hands on they hips)
How water ain’t a woman
the way she make your thirst
her temperamental breasts
& everywhere everything everyone everywhichway—water

Well, who your altars honor?
The ghosts that inhabit us
& all the evidence of them:
double vision—floaters flecking
our periphery when we look away

from the light—all the mouths
at the bottom of our stomach—
Ever wonder why we eat two plates
& still hungry?        Or how our anger
multiplies in seconds like a kitchen

of negro roaches?         Yes, even the roaches
have melanin      black/brown with the spirits
of wayward witches        I burn candles
& pour brown liquor out for my bitches
& they glorious golden auras

To what churches do you tithe?
Our Lady of Ladled Magnificence
God of Ghetto Grace Incorporated
Our Mother Who Art in Harlem
House of Regurgitated Resurrections

Have you ever been possessed?
We ain’t never not been owned
not with all that restless bone
sediment at the bottom of the Atlantic
wonder why we frantic with personalities

How we sing with three throats
bending notes weeping willow
What are trees if not spirits
weeping & dancing simultaneous?
How we dipped our nooses in gold

& hung crosses from them
& wore them like shiny portable altars
How is there not a church in our chests?
How our breasts leak gospel truth
How our teeth ache with the blood of Jesus

Who, then, is your muse?
(pointing) ain’t she a muse        amusing     
a  maze           amazing      amazon
of our dreams         prisms that fracture
into auras & auras that fragment dimensions

Isn’t mourning a religion, then?
Like how all these feelings grow
muscles & flex & jerk inside of me
Like how they can’t kill us even when
they hands scream bloody murder

Like how we show up wearing white
just to spite them—spit at the pulpit
of bullshit & Babylon        How we eat
bibles for breakfast      Leviticus & grits   
Our souls sizzling in the skillet like gizzards

What is the geography of your grief?
Everywhere they are        & ain’t
painting the block milk white & sickly
a tricky bluish tint    (think: veins under skin)    
a sticky blues     a blush       blood—bluing the block       black

The Poem as Epiphyte

All this talk through a tunnel 
of kid gloves and landmines went underground.

You were catching my limbs
in sequels and spoofs, commemoration my organs

with friends lost, whose names like patients’ names.
Our clumped desire stirs and how

when unwound, as with DNA, it sweetly wounds us.
Hope in the right place, you said, is hope misplaced

or no hope at all. But I say, in my dreams I dream, 
in my dreams I do not hope.

Where were you when was I? Counting down
the decades for the prize as victim of our previous war.

Were you my cactus heart and kelp forest,
a gluttonous hunger I ate myself famished,

an app, a tower or two, and flew 
as a swan flies into a sand file that said, 

“No more monkeys dead on the bed”?
In my dreams the universe anneals for tents 

that fall like mamas from heaven.
And you were tablet and me pill,

surgery and me drone, firefly
and me shooting star, where

when my clone was made interminable 
no illness could.

And the space between raindrops a shelter,
the mountaintop a lake,

the gecko an oriole, the athel a bulbul,
and I was seagrass and you 

the banyan.