What Vachel Lindsay said
in faithful song he shouted
until his evening fell
and music went out of the bone
in the blast of his furnace moon.
Its widening flame emboldened
his delight in death
and all night
the forest watched the silver skull
move toward his hand,
borne on winged spirits
until he took it and drank,
then read the inscription upon it:
Time is a moon is a field is a street
is a thorn is a flagon is a daisy
is a wreath is a handcar is a heaven
In which heaven, amaranth lamps
lit with incense, show the railroad its way,
and windmill angels lash out,
where kings in bloodied crowns
lie back on dewy grass to listen.
The hateful drums of war
beat in the village,
the withering village, still alight
with abandoned braziers
foaming with fire.
Its book-lined halls were once
the natal sod of dreaming lions
and one traveling poet
in the mulberries and thorns,
a stranger turned beggar turned
minstrel turned wizard turned forester
then hyena, then toad,
still scribbling in his grubby book.
Nothing, in a thousand words,
This Will End Abruptly
Rotcod is a decent poet with a book
or two describing trees in winter.
Some bits of poetic riff that capture
the unnatural reach of black branches,
spidery in the blowing snow,
how they crack under the ice
or seem to feign death along
the over-crusted rush of the river.
But he is no taller because he has
made up such wintry death scenes,
nor does he live any more austerely
in the dooryard of his villa or the hovel
where Time sits at her spinning wheel.
She knows she is all the old poet has.
She has seen Rotcod scribble her name
in his dog-eared last will and testament.
He spends most of every day
sitting at his Formica kitchen table
because it is too far by bus to go in to
the tiny cubicle the Poetry Department
reserves for him in an upper room.
He prefers to ponder the trees
while looking out on the park
outside his kitchen window.
One morning he came to the table
to find an envelope waiting there,
his name was written across the front
in blue ink: ROTCOD, DOCTOR OF POETRY.
How did it get here? Who was it from?
His eyes immediately shot to the clock:
She was not there spinning her wheel.
Rotcod saw that living was about
to become an impossible luxury.
He opened the letter and read:
Dear Professor Rotcod: About the trees.
Stop writing them dead. Please,
go now. It is time to leaf.
My heart is a mason jar
filled with sugar water
No. 2 yellow pencil
across the mouth and
cotton twine hanging
That old love of mine
that never was mine
She has eaten up
my rock candy, homemade,
From earliest days–
it sweetened me,
All I have left
is the pencil
for a poem
The jar, gone dusty,
Where Pain Stays
Every morning she remakes herself
like a hotel maid remakes a bed,
only to be torn open again that night
and occupied by the filthy guest.
The weight of him squeezes the air
from her and she becomes a sack
of fragile bones that have lost their spring.
He tosses in her sleep, she groans.
Whatever indignity he brings
beneath her bed sheets, she can do nothing.
The morphine helps, but he won’t leave
until, in the end, she can no more hold him.
Why Live on the Prairie
because it swells up and surprises me with visions
because the horizon runs along the edge, a cold river
because flowers are more beautiful in tall grass
because ice packs have polished the ground with stones
because it is too far to go to leave it behind
because nothing stands between here and there
except distance and the effort to it takes to leave
because it sweeps into my eye every day
because I raised my children here like corn
because they have left blood and tears in the fields
because my body will be laid down here
because its birds are so busy with their lives
because my people have passed through
with nothing to hold them here against the wind
because I can taste its open wounds
because I have no other place
because the sun arrives on time