Screeds, Part 1.
By Stephen Wiest.
This roiling cloud, this consciousness…
I SAY YOU THIS poem but quietly
after all the silent confessions, and long
confrontations with an I, unstable as a top,
have spun their spasms from the green baby steps,
through the puffed importance of harassing times,
and the jelled humors from changeling peers; now,
I bend my legs cold mornings
before I try to walk again, and I embrace
this horde of doubts,
all icy here and pitiless,
in the shambles of my white city,
where dust seines the wind.
I wish it, without evocation, or appeal, this desire;
Sans a mutable sign turning this bright zodiac
miming obsession’s coiling serpent; only the simple question,
Will you listen, just listen?
Am I too abstract? They told me so. They still do.
As I sat thinking I knew, when I said
I would die tomorrow like the great ones,
escaping the withered muscles,
the flaccid limbs under dry skin,
the heart beat arrhythmic as an old blues tune,
but here I am, this cold wind blowing,
covered by a thin coat against a cold wind.
“Are you afraid of passion?”
They told me so, still.
I said, Yes, how I fear it, burning
Through these decades until only a guess
Might take one beyond meaning to sense there,
No, No. I am not running,
I am not hiding.
It may be I, dissolved
In the luminous mist of the now.
But no. Stand by me.
Each owns a topical wisdom
Held on a quivering balance, trying
To maintain the constant timing to a final silence.
There is no one else to speak for us,
Around this barrier island where
We unfold the vast horizons of our pride
Against the beast of oblivion, angel or demon,
And march along each night to mime the dead.
We reach out to touch the gnarled roots
deep in the deep clay of the headlands,
the chill in the deep clay
where the roots’ white tongues lick
to flash sap
to shocked buds lifting up
on the empty limbs this hesitant April.
Funny–wresting individual thoughts,
As inflorescence, the most elegant Distinction,
At last comes glowing from brown winter
In the woods behind the house, to believe ourselves?
(In the long lifeline, winding milleseconds
in the rowdy market-stall of words.)
If the Ace of Diamonds is cast as a fortuneteller’s chance
into the fragrance of bay leaves, if there are spells
other than the always exuberant hormones romping,
then perhaps, the consolation of our bodies
will be enough to lease our wills unkempt,
even lying among leaves of the old year, drifting,
shaping the new year. Find us there
among men, headstrong still, after sidelong glances,
among the women talking, the stories of life,
the association of change, the sickle and the bounty.
So, let the sibilance mean
more than the words could, but
only intermittently—where is your song
to host you through all weathers?
When clowns guess each others’ names
in the early evening show,
when the children wait the promised magic,
vain laughter and long processions will meld
in a compensation
of what we might shape trembling lips to name
in an expiation,
but is it of an absence we would put a color on?
This absence is our constant sibling,
carrying all our future losses in the now,
in the sweet daybreak or shameful nightsweats,
in a compensation, in an expiation:
all that is prophecy and punished probably
by the glibness and deceit in concepts falling
the grotesque dancing before triumphal arches
into art into slaughter and laughter.
Where one leads, the others follow
as horses crossing the windy highlands
to come down and drink from the pool
where one drowns in one’s own reflection
or scatters one’s reflection with a stone.
The ample beauty of it all says,
there is no simple absence.
Garlands of fruit on the laurel stake,
Embraced by the arc the finches make.
Thus, the precise finches of Darwin’s tale
accommodating strange weather in strange lands.
To see this birth with the precision of dream
who and what they were, how long how much
why they loved at all, our wild passion
a null sum slashing across rollicking empires,
quick violence, or the taste of rare fruits.
I can feel it all again
the indecision in the guide of dreams,
Artful, wide-legged and sublime,
when spring is only this moment green
and frost still webs dawn’s edges of a life.
When there is a birth precise as dreams
layered scenes depict ancient forms,
the makers there, man and woman,
become new again, and the dream is repeated
making each night the same.
Ah, taste this vast world
praise that privilege and the chance
which must not be lost to unconcern;
we are the remembered dreams,
the thoughts of the earth, desire
worth every cost and the only cost.
We live, multiply, die, pass
our several parts around this fierce
blue-green bauble among the stars,
so for us all, unique in each antique spring
there is no choice but the choosing.
Amid transformations endless as flowers
moving in the south wind,
always in the act of returning endless as boys
storming the porch with plastic rifles,
dying into cowboys and crusaders, variorum heroes
in this common world,
which we should never leave,
where all the story’s combinations may be lived,
where death is an early entrance to another story;
all possibilities occur within a cloudless after noon,
or under the awning on the porch in the rain
Praise—for these old ones of ancient cities.
Their reasons are loud and luxurious
and their lusts. Now, we too, bow with all the rest,
inheritors of these dusty or fecund spaces ruptured
all changed before we can remember
from each attempt at glory, over the rolling ages
we slowly spiral down to a day like today;
it may take a thousand years, but we arrive—
yet chance each time is our better hope—
chance, with its slime green
from the north side of dark forests,
staining the hands,
still on our heels, its broken
chromosomes miming flesh in shadow
the stone knife descending amid
the worked stone, layered in the empty meadow.
I would fall into sleep, if I could,
Leaving these pieces of dream
And the sharp rubble of the cloning days,
Yet it is early here
tentative days warm slowly
beside the woman
who has cried me a name
as I have given her a name—
my muse may be named
any of the names I have spoken smiling,
(it’s attitude which will be blamed)
or all those names clipped off with a sneer.
Be with me now
each to each we vow
these words gathering, seeds
still silent beneath the thick life
of the crusting soil.
O that there might be dancing for all of us
on these dim islands on the horizon.
A. Stephen Wiest was poet-in-residence at The Johns Hopkins University from 1970-1975. He lives on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. This is the first part of a poem-cycle. The entire cycle will be published in 2012. To be placed on a mailing list for an announcement, please click here.