FROM LIVERPOOL - EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2008 ___________________________________________________________________________

Guest Editor - Dan Masterson

William Heyen

your voice the last time I heard you
     Buffalo winter years ago reprised
the vowel sound that lamented
         the makers of song you’d needed
skipping the Creeley party afterward
     driving home through driving snow I had
books you’d inscribed for me wondering
         our sudden mortality

From To William Merwin


Introduction by Jim Bennett

Hello.  Welcome to CITN 29. In this edition we present a further selection from the work of William Heyen.

We are privileged to be given permission to publish William Heyen’s epic poem “To William Merwin”.   This is a first publication for what we consider to be a very important poem. 


Dan Masterson is currently sitting in as guest editor.  In addition to his academic work Dan runs a professional critiquing service which many poets both new and established have benefited from over the years.  I have no reservations in recommending it.  Details can be found at Dan's website  - http://www.poetrymaster.com            

Poetry Kit Magazine, this is a webzine which appears on the Poetry Kit site which can be found at -
http://www.poetrykit.org/  We are seeking submissions of poetry, reviews, essays, articles and illustrations for that magazine.  When submitting please ensure that the magazine title to which you are submitting is clearly marked in the subject line of any emails.

There are already over 2000 subscribers to CITN which is an email magazine so to keep this number growing please pass it on to your friends.

You can join the CITN at -
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To William Merwin – A Poem By William Heyen




You find a selection of  books by Willam Heyen on-line through Amazon at Poetry Kit's Bookshop - http://www.poetrykit.org/howto.htm



To William Merwin


A Poem





William Heyen











i.      the empyrean


ii.     letters


iii.    tenure


iv.     anthology


v.      dissonance


vi.     flame


vii.    time come when Time


viii.   vortex


ix.     beauty


x.      toward Maui


xi.     game


xii.    e


xiii.   fathers


xiv.    table

xv.     ‘the divine opening’





To William Merwin




William it’s winter here below Ontario     “carsicles

as the schoolkids call them

forming from aerials to wheels

every thaw & freeze


rereading The River Sound & The Rain in the Trees

     letters from you pressed in their leaves

remembering first meeting you 1968

         your reading at my Brockport


before the MFA production line

     before everything that got drafted

got rushed into publication you read

         a single revelation


I’d returned after the “terminal degree”

     your intoning in that voice-to-be

as I’ve come to know it over years

         I sensed indwelling power there


a long poem about your being son

     of many fathers I’ve looked for again

how many palm strophes written spoken

         once & then forgotten


light in the rain friends preceding

     into revivifying presence or nothingness

Bill Ewert fighting cancer three years

         long enough for light to bless


two New Hampshire grandsons     I’ve photos of him

     posing almost manic with them

his last production a sumptuous boxed quarter leather

         John Updike’s Bech: His Oeuvre


& twenty years of poetry holiday cards for me

     could letterpress no further

than you under Pacific starlight

can fathom Pennsylvania Princeton Majorca


your life on Maui all of-a-piece

     as you’ve translated it to be

we stood in Time in line for coffee

         in this continuum you told me


your poems lately sought the mystics

     I’d mentioned my dissertation on Roethke

who studied seminal Evelyn Underhill for his

         poem of union “The Abyss”


your voice the last time I heard you

     Buffalo winter years ago reprised

the vowel sound that lamented

         the makers of song you’d needed


skipping the Creeley party afterward

     driving home through driving snow I had

books you’d inscribed for me wondering

         our sudden mortality


“You, sir, are trivial” caustic

     Berryman wrote of Creeley

“relentlessly mediocre” a critic

         wounds our memory of MacLeish


his decades devoted to responsibility

     his classics amber in our anthology

I hear Bill Ewert’s last words to me

         fervently he told me


Promise me keep writing poems,

     we’ve little else

against the abyss Time which no one

         should pronounce by name warned Warren


who kept writing though America sustains

     few poets into old age noted Snodgrass

most aspirants interrupted     deadened

         by comfort politics booze &/or family morass


RPW when I was young wrote me

     praise from the empyrean about my poems in Poetry

I kept his card in my shirt-pocket

         over my heart


where I have the last section of his Audubon

     after passages of violence & beauty

Red remembers himself a boy in Kentucky

         a dirt road at dusk     unable to see


the great geese overheading northward

     there being no moon

he hears them their sound

         thrilling him beyond the dark wood     the word






as when William Meredith stayed up with me

burning soft birch & hard oak in our fire

his home above the Connecticut River

when I was thirty he told me


stories of Frost whom he

     once served as apprentice-secretary

himself like Robert he said kept secrets

         from even his personae


beyond us under stairs in the flickering hallway

     file cabinets of letters maybe

some from you since Princeton but surely

         some from Archie


as the famous man insisted I call him

     who wrote for my Guggenheim

who believed in & befriended me

         who once said he’d awaited me


that Yale doughboy in the artillery

     lost his brother Ken to WWI

then son Ken to cancer

         beyond any ars poetica


I reached the boulder with his name

     in bronze at a Conway cemetery

steeped in New England autumn

         I’ve maybe sixty maple-missives from him


including how one season I’d awaken

     into yearned-for sound heard

as my own but not found sooner

         I hadn’t listened


he’d chosen Meredith’s first book

     news that reached that Navy flyer in the Pacific

my copy is inscribed by both

         whose truth still warms me from William’s hearth


where we drank scotch & then went out

     into his rimed yard

to piss on leaves & see stars

         over the valley until back inside


to the fire again John Berryman

     in our minds hurtling from us

during days of addicted incandescence

         who wrote me in Germany & sent me


his loneliest lyric he could think of his

     “Old Man Goes South Again Alone”

decades later on his bridge with Mariani & Levine

         we consoled we didn’t we Mr Bones


I’d dream-walked December Belsen dazed

     among crows & erika mounds

where Anne Frank died was maybe bulldozed

         iniquity’s victim thousands


I once listened near David Ignatow

     a student found his reading so good

but dark, dark, she said, & he asked her Feel better now?

         Yes, yes, she said


Berryman in my home saying no one

     had done the perfect as had Richard Wilbur

who wanted more “voltage” from later John

         who drank to his irreversible loss of power


in a late interview JB said in the future

     he’d look forward to cancer

or some other awful malady

         to which he could sacrifice his poetry


Saul Bellow answered me

     his friend died because he prayed

to the ruined drunken god of poets

         & don’t forget it


Etheridge Knight another shade

     through the bars of his addiction

his drum vibrates Mississippi mud

         the mud keeps hearing him


hears Fred Exley obsess football

     who wrote A Fan’s Notes as though for me

then wrested just two others from alcohol

         he inscribed all three soberly for me


acceptance & sorrow above those boulders

     William was sotto voce & Archie

in his Brockport interview asked who can say

         what killed Hart Crane or the dreamsonger


or Sylvia your friend whose blood-jet poems

     the perfect one described as “free,

helpless, and unjust”     they razed me

         how she had seized them


writ with quills of Ted Hughes’ feathers

     but childhood entwined with ether flowers

Robin Morgan said straight out he killed her

         but verity expires when & where


at the end for about six months

     as Ted eulogized her

Sylvia wrote “with the full power and music

         of her extraordinary nature”


& it’s coldflat London winter

     love fame poetry

conjoin speechlessly in Ted’s triple-entendre

         “It was her or me”


all this a gut- & mind-twister

     either for goddess of secrets Hecate

or Yankee catcher Yogi Berra who says he

         never answers anonymous letters


Wilbur’s young Sylvia seemed

     “immensely drowned”

after electro-shock therapy

         but crow’s eye-pupil cannot be burned


who senses his own sufficient inner resources

     against his soul’s abyss

while two wives treble his darkness

         garland themselves & a daughter in gas


I both drive & garage within me

     the car you loaned the young couple

for wherever they were going

         on love’s petrol with despair’s battery







with a Vesuvian novelist at dinner a colleague of mine

who’d had a few too many

said she must have been a clone

like the sheep Dolly


to have published so much     he’d had a dream

     explored a Victorian mansion

she quilled in every room

          ream after blackening ream


he said he’d worked ten years on one story

     to get it right & still didn’t have it

he asked if she would read it

         she told him to consort with Dolly


or something to that effect     I told him shit

     or get off that plot

he knocked his whiskey down & lurched out

         such dedication to his drinking art


the next day he didn’t remember much

     he chaired our tenure committee

apologized for leaving dinner in a rush

         said he’d been awfully busy


that was decades ago

     last month soused he ran a stop sign

struck & killed a woman friend of mine

         who left behind her husband & four children


I’ve truncated his story     maybe he’ll

     finish it in jail

or write a second one to let his victims

         drive a reaper over him


 revisiting all this now I remember

     a line in William Bradford’s Of Plymouth Plantation

“a weatherbeaten look lay upon the land”

         spring would come but human devastation


against humans cannot be undone no lilac

     can loose the hold of Thanatos

when dead drunken years are driven

         by a widower-maker




a long poem about your being son

of many fathers I’ve looked for again

how many palm strophes written spoken

once & then forgotten


Sylvia lay her head down

     in her posthumous oven

as did Anne Sexton in carbon monoxide

         Plath’s I-have-been-her-kind-of-suicide


who maybe had lived half so long

     if poetry hadn’t been Circe for her

who binged on transforming song

         which for a while she could hear


all afternoon in a Brockport bar

     martinis & straight shots before her reading

we got out of there half snockered

         she sobered as she read she asked


why can’t we have some fun?”

inscribed a book for Al Poulin

“Dear Al, this book has been between

my legs / Love, desperate Anne”


her friend John Brinnin had known her kind

     before with Dylan Thomas who

in his Laugharne shack copied

         hundreds of others’ poems in longhand


William you’ve no doubt seen them

     where I doubt I’ll ever be

I’d like to see especially

         Wordsworth in Dylan’s hand


to feel how nature’s intoning voice

     chars or greens into sounded meaning

Brinnin gave me a book Dylan inscribed to him

         after the death of  Norman Cameron


almost forgotten now as almost all will be

     as the decades devolve

into that one necessary anthology

         forged from reluctant love


to those few we can’t get rid of

     as Robert said with Archie there

to hear that contrary farmer’s

         off-the-cuff planned riffs & patter


I slept an hour or two in William’s guestroom

     where I’d opened several Frosts

in which the master had holographed poems

         how did I not steal those rare editions


hide A Boy’s Will & North of Boston in my suitcase

     get them home & fondle them

guilty & in shackles from them

         I’d have had to destroy them


I’d memorized “Stopping By Woods” “Dust of Snow”

     “To Earthward” “After Apple-Picking”

“Fire and Ice” in awe of him but sensing also

         something missing


if only as Louis Simpson said Frost

     had caught fire     broken through

but the west-running pragmatist

         knew he hadn’t been invited to


as Louis had when traversing fields

     at the Battle of the Bulge the dead

festering to clarity in his mind

         through bedlam & the zen beyond


at my local mall chemically-

     preserved palm fronds

sprout from thirty-foot trunk amalgams

          of fiberglass & urethane


I sometimes write in my journal there

the Food Court coffee’s good

sparrows nest on I-beams overhead

     they seem happy trapped


in the same weather Christmas or Easter

     once one alit on my table

my visitor two feet from my eye

          chirped its sparrow satori


I had some apple fritter crumbs for it

     could it remember how a boy sent

BBs into it so often

         I pretend myself forgiven


but Emerson says nature remains hidden

     this has & has not been my experience

the sparrow stayed/stays with me

         no more no less transparently


Yeats passed fifty when alone suddenly

     in a crowded London shop

 his body blazed beyond his empty cup

         he’d been gazing at the street


in the mall doo-dad voices gleam chrome

     in the money of time

maybe heaven’s no longer Eden

         I try to write refraction down


Simpson warns us from separation

     the poet’s tribe shops here I’ll

sip caffeine communion in this mall temple

         my journal feeds on vacillation






in William’s office that New Britain afternoon

I’d taken down The Walks Near Athens

inscribed with praise to William “only

whose minimizings I do not believe”


by Hollis Summers my teacher Goedicke’s Plumly’s

     Piccione’s at Ohio U so humble himself always

shy & helpful but never enough Kentucky

         passion to inspire me he’d


leaf through Yeats haphazardly it seemed to me

     remarking on this & that maybe

Cuchulain or swans or Major Robert Gregory

         while skewered rhymes drove Jane crazy


at my defense he’d asked me characterize

     rhyme in the “North American Sequence”

what did I know except that in Roethke’s ear dissonance

         gave way eventually


to a wall of sound like Phil Spector’s

     to josh with you here guffaw

I’ve since slept in Ted’s childhood bed in Saginaw

         heard the same oak clock he heard


the same one when the brokedown professor

     returned from the academy to himself

to bathe in the country of the Tittebawasee

         where minnows sang on his kitchen shelf


I stayed there that one overnight alone     prowled

     from cellar to attic only

a pecker-high rail outside

         his upstairs bedroom could keep


that son from plunging into nightmare

     “The Abyss” opens “Is the stair here?”

even as a lumbering high-schooler

         he must have trembled there


for girls’ perfume & orchids

     the way they reached for him

bulbs & fingers in his dream

         a misstep he’d be dead


will the real Roethke please stand up

     chided Creeley of the Collected     should we

say like Housman usurp

         just one voice of Psyche


no matter Creeley has a point I hear

     more often than not if I’m eclectic among

too many stars & raptors

         writers can swoon thus Stevens


kept reading himself his own harmonium

     not distracted into Archie’s early Eliot

or Roethke’s dominant Yeats

         whole decades of formal aphorism


“but what has this to do with spring?” asked

     James Wright quoting E.A. Robinson

a singer’s catbird infusion

         means to praise not mockingbird the dead


Annie & Jim stood overnight with Han & me

     slept downstairs it was summer

milk had soured in their creamer

         for early crucial coffee     he was sorry


to have to wake us his trajectory

     edged with hysteria his later AA years

the four of us picked high-bush blackberries

         rain glistened in his beard


Bill Ewert published Jim’s This Journey

     the only Ewert never signed

the country boy lost tongue before

         colophons reached his city door


his best poems are pipes above the river

     in Ohio whose effluent poured down

with phrases of song & shit

         he had his own Ohioan for it


in what passed for a Scots accent

     Jim often recited William Dunbar’s “Lament”

when I am feeble with infirmity

         may fear of death not confound me


he translated Trakl’s “blind hands

     against midnight”

for him as for Frost Time

         neither wrong nor right


twenty-five I wrote John Ciardi asking him

     about death in his poetry     I was thinking

of my master’s thesis     he replied

         death was everything & nothing


in a love poem he said why bother

     the flies about me     let them buzz & do

when I marry you

         a great door swings shut against fear


I have Ciardi’s own copy of Nikos Kazantzakis’s

     The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel inscribed twice

by translator Kimon Friar first

         in Greece & then in New York City


& filled with Ciardi’s voluminous gists & queries

     underlinings in four colors

a friend found this treasure

         for six bucks on a bookstore floor


I was nine in fourth grade I remember that classroom

     our single bookcase for free reading time

I found a green-covered book of illustrated stories

         out of the olden Time


the wooden horse & the wanderer

     the one-eyed cave-dwelling ogre

who ate men but some fooled him

         he couldn’t throw rocks accurately to sink them


on rainy days I ran home to keep company

     with Heidi or Swiss Family Robinson or Black Beauty

I remember trying to read Hawthorne

         The House of the Seven Gables too difficult for me


later one book cost me weeks of sleep

     I was maybe thirteen

a paperback I bought     no illustrations

         my mind filled with blood & semen


the Scottsboro boys railroaded

     they didn’t rape white women

terror by graphic description

         I could not bike from it


day & night an Alzheimer’s poet

travels his nursing home’s corridors

shines a dead flashlight

     raps from door to door


Gerald Stern asks us “Does anyone

     still love Diogenes?”

light from that classic lantern

         these days half-crazy





my staring into Meredith’s fire

may rhythm flame as this grows older

beyond memory here

into the well of William Stafford’s ear


who said the four words five syllables to me

     that defined him maybe limited him

that pestered & beguiled me alternately

         “I love feeble poems”


who heard what trees hear & stones

     a dead deer’s unborn fawn

plain words sighed breathed spoken

         over Great Plains telephones


the past his Kansas boyhood his

     mother’s primal influence her voice

sustained him in the camps he served in

         against conscription


Dorothy in his heart & at his side

     their holiday cards were sprigs of cedar

& yew glued to construction paper

         photos of family together


who told me that as he died

     he expected he’d be afraid

but meanwhile planned to live alive

         (son Bret became a suicide)


who told me he’d just then understood

     Frost’s preference for inner weather

he wanted both but preferred outdoor

         as did Robinson Jeffers


who needed to touch things & things

     & no more thoughts

toward which & against the poet

          masons granite with every instinct


Jeffers sees a concrete dam far off

     in the future far off

in the mountains when humans are

         gone like the dead stars


Brinnin called Jeffers “gloomy Gus”

     who overwhelms with galaxies

in compensation for beauty’s

         broken wing against the cosmos


Czeslaw Milosz writes in blood that the poet

     must not speak an inhuman thing

his Jeffers hangs from this cross

         the stars coursing


critic Hyatt Waggoner sensed

     Jeffers’ “desperate effort

to teach the heart not to love”

         this insight a gift


& Frost demanding real grief

     not just grievances

& Philip Young on Bartleby

         who had “the courage not-to-be”


countered by mourner Jack Gilbert

     who studies eastern sages who advise us

not to love     it’s too empty tragic dangerous

         Jack swears “what a bargain it is”


William so help me years ago

     a voice in my dream told me

not to pine but to mourn

         I heard this audition clearly


in western terms on the same theme

     Dick Hugo called one day to claim

nothing was new although he’d had

         a lung excised & had gotten married


he said that obsession

     is art’s virtual Ursprung

he’d helped bomb Germany toward submission

         & later crafted bombers for Boeing


I like to hear him watch old Missoula sluggers

     spit on their hands & dig in

with the ritualistic ghostly mien

         of big-league dreamers they’d once been


Dick loved ice cream & fishing

     for decades Walt Pavlich kept Hugo-trout

in his freezer sorrowing

         he had to move & throw them out


to form the compost our other Walt

     revered with two-thirds his saintly heart

& shrank from with the rest

         welcoming soothing Death


unless whistling in fear     but poetry

     convinces us while we’re breathing it

who step away & disbelieve it

         believe again when we grow old with it


though old Karl Shapiro could not remember

     his name on anything he’d written

the same with Emerson

         whose mind once branched with fire


Karl stood up for my Erika poems

     as has the Concord incendiary

who almost creamed to hear an old lady

         define the new Transcendentalism


as something a little bit more & beyond than here

     she twirled her finger above her

may Karl & Waldo reconvene

         in brahmin bourgeois inclusive heaven


where Hugo has his work by heart     snide

     Snodgrass said he was surprised

Hugo memorized such bad poems

         & said of Sexton’s there’s a flaw inside


every one & it’s a major one

     William in one of Roethke’s notebooks archived

in Seattle there’s a crass pun

         on your name I could have erased


but smirked when I saw it there

     & noted it down for gossip

& maybe to confess me to myself

         forty years later here


I pity me when I take up residence

     in the mad poorhouse of envy

as when Frost refers to his

         “rising contemptuaries


I studied Ted’s greenhouse forcing room

     a half-lifetime ago     in one

acid-free carton

         a pair of swollen black shoes


worn at heels & soles

     the university must have kept them

for scholars to lift to nose

         I could smell him


a letter there from Robert Lowell

     “There’s nothing wrong with your brain—

you could write a brilliant book on poetry

         if you thought it worth your time”


special delivery from a businessman

     after Roethke won the Pulitzer

“Dear Sir, You are presently successful

         in a field I wish to enter”


he wanted details

     how to write to win his own prize

his sensitive soul somewhat in a hurry

         he dictated this to his secretary


while Roethke survived the edge to count

     himself among the happy poets

Ordnung fertilized the bathtub grout

         he almost drowned in it


student Jim Wright in a workbook

     “I have a feeling for what Bogan has done …

my study of her is going to save me

          about fifteen years of frustration”


for just a moment in the only

film of Roethke In a Dark Time his eyes

keep meeting mine where he

         stockstill in a black glade ramifies


who when a new poem “The Dance” appeared

     fell to his knees

as he said of Yeats “He, they—the poets dead

         were with me”


acting faster than any other

     he once put out an office fire

I forget with coffee or water

         the poet’s strophe & instinct there


not let it go too far the writing flame

     god knows it could kill him

Wordsworth’s excitation then calm

         breathed into flammable form


later as an honored man Ted asked his editor

     why not court the Swedes

I see him swaying before the King

         doing his papa’s waltzing


a long poem about your being son

     of many fathers I’ve looked for again

how many palm strophes written spoken

         once & then forgotten





Lucien Stryk says there’s a writing hour

when he’s always happy     even

ready to be taken

at dusk-light fully aware


so far I am not ready at any hour

     may the time come when Time is in me

to pass through to the stars

         I would take love with me


but that may not come to be but

     love can be left behind

I have sometimes felt your folded Time

         of being both & both being the same


Underhill poses that all mystics anywhere ever

     Buddhist Christian Jew somehow

by fire scourge water faith know

         eternity is now


those three words are hers as Roethke uses them

     exactly in “The Abyss” where

the stair is circular near Emerson’s doctrine

         of perpetual revelation


I mind how I still hear Lucien’s voice

     from half a lifetime ago

I’ll sound it always against the abyss

         eternity is now




under stars above the river

Meredith’s fire from over the years

may memory ripple from it here

clear to the stones on Walden’s shore


Thoreau says the emerald pickerel

     under Concord thoroughfares

if caught would shiver & be translated

         (the King James word he uses)


into pure spirit into being

                      the essence of what we are

the pickerel if caught shimmering

         lose color but Henry’s landholder


insisted on finding “sufficient perspective”

     his cavernous monster phrase

when everything would come to please

         hate holocaust extinction love


this Henry’s artist of Kouroo entered Time

     being disposed toward perfection

by making a wondrous staff

                 just choosing the limb took him


past hours when his friends deserted him

     then while he peeled & polished it

Kouroo itself fell slowly to ruin

         dynasties ended & the pole-star reconfigured


he adorned the head with precious stones

     while Brahma slept & woke countless times

but the artist found Time to be illusion

         a single scintillation of Brahma’s brain


he made no compromise with perfection

could not be overcome

I wonder if when he woke

those friends hoped to be friends again


maker William Dunbar assumes

     “This fals world is bot transitory”

twenty-five times his poignant refrain

         Timor mortis conturbat me


Emerson concludes his lecture “Experience”

     “up again, old heart!”

he’d lost a wife & son

         to despised natural evanescence


he wanted grief where he could keep it

     but grief had its own Concord will

he jangled in his new estate

         remorseless robins & daffodils


his translucent quartz boulder

     at Sleepy Hollow     Miss Peabody

thought it too singular

         “It does not explain itself”    I


stared into it for a singular hour

     toward its New Hampshire quarry

nothing in nature to explain her

         said the translucent boulder


Marquis de Lafayette sailed through Brockport

     on his way to Mount Vernon

to kiss an old comrade’s lead coffin

         in Brooklyn he caressed a boy lifted


from the crowd into his arms

     from then on Walt thought himself chosen

each summer I remember

         this story the scent of towpath blossoms


& remember the poet’s upstairs Camden bedroom

     where he died I once stood

alone there wanting to welcome him

         in myself mirrored


many of his belongings still there but none

     at his West Hills trafficked birthplace

I dreamed his mother in their kitchen

         boiling a snapper’s carapace


I’ve inherited this gift a memory

     from when I first read there

Aaron Kramer had to stand on stairs

         outside the room with chairs for maybe twenty


he later told me he heard & saw me

     reflected in Walt’s portrait

on an angle from me

                          we read together after that


twice in Manhattan

     his loyal audience from the Thirties & Forties

dying away from him he

         was never Emerson’s  poet before man


his Denmark Vesey dreams that slavers

     bake young captives to the bone

“their fountain of wine was a Negro vein”

         Kramer’s passion his unwavering offertory


I’ve kept in heart Thoreau’s couplet

     “Man, man is the devil,

the world’s only evil”

         my mind’s template


Henry painted his desk green

     tympanum revision flickered in lampflame

twenty-two months two weeks two days there

         become Time Walden’s archetypal year


his hermitage moved     sold twice     became

     a corn storage shed

I dreamed a green lucite hexagram

         suspending pencils of cabin wood



while Robert Lowell’s Boston slides by in servile grease

     past St. Gauden’s monument

to Robert Gould Shaw’s black regiment

         the Massachusetts 54th Infantry


bronze horses men a central spiral of blanket

     toward vortex at Charleston

above them a winged death-muse spirit

     Gould & half his men bivouac under brine


in the second verse of her inspired “Battle Hymn”

     Howe sees God in watchfires

of a thousand circling camps

         may God burn through the brine






in for me the darkest sentence in our literature

Goodman Brown rushes on “with the instinct

that guides mortal man to evil”

guides being Hawthorne’s dagger


this gospel wherein such knowledge

     forfeits forgiveness Eliot said

I spent a book of hours with Martin Booth at Little Gidding

         where prayer is valid


Martin enduring chemo as I write I see us

     in Cambridge among strict rows

of Allied crosses so numerous

         they cadenced Time for us


we breathed the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner

     Eliot’s redolent granite rose

for one moment could we hear color

         & Time in our closed eyes


Martin wrote novels  poetry  biographies

     of Doyle & the white hunter Corbett & opium

published Stafford Stryk Bly at Sceptre Press

         by which I found him


his refrain of material America

     wielded like a sceptre

This is the land of milk, & honey.

         Give me the money.


we drove Ontario Parkway below the lake

     in the big white guzzler of a Cadillac

I’d won at poker     our tape

         Elvis’s Sun Sessions I forgot to remember to forget


in the Caribbean I saw through sunset mist afar

     Derek Walcott’s St. Lucia

his birthplace becomes that brush for me

         Tiepolo wrote with transluminously


Walcott says “The traveller cannot love,

     since love is stasis and travel is motion”

he defines being a native

         within memory & imagination


one day I found myself in a taxi

     with Elie Wiesel & others     he

in the front seat I     could only stare

         at night’s sacred watch & wrist hairs


the vision of the great One seen & heard

     as Ginsberg said in Wales

particular but myriad

         as smoke or a sheep’s revolving eyeballs


John Logan’s anonymous lovers

     Oates’ women whose lives are money

Randall Jarrell’s forsaken gunners

         Merwin’s e


that time you sent Han & me

     directions to your home on Maui

down to the last palm goddam

         we were too busy


with visitors where we lived that semester

     at Waikiki which sounds & means I heard

something like bubbling waters

         I was scarred by a moray there


I arrived the day after exhausted

     digging my car from Brockport ice

waded the warm shallows dazed far

         toward the shadow of Diamond Head


reached down into coral’s

     flower-hued beauty

under the spell of goddess Pele

         when beauty struck me


but could not hold me long enough

     or pull me under

I saw & felt its teeth

         redden the blue water


for weeks kept my palm

     reddened with iodine

puss oozed infection

         beauty’s mauve blossom


that long poem about your being son

     of many fathers I hear again

how many palm strophes written or read

         so often unforgotten heard


your Hawai’i valleys in the 18th century

     forty-four species

of land snails people hearing

         crickets’ silent singing


snail snail glister me forward

     Roethke’s lost son prayed

for this was his hard time

         bird soft-sigh him home


it came to pass I climbed Diamond Head

     thrice discovered angles of its profile wired

cemented Elvis’s Hollywood set

         or my haole’s head


but trespassing past ropes I found a cave

     whose whole mouth spoke bees

golden in the streaming light

         writing aura around me


they could easily have killed me

     where ancient kings were buried

that night I heard one chanting

         combed tongues of honey


Robert Hayden’s night-blooming cereus

     charging his poems with plangency

the night-blooming palm & cave abyss

         Merwin’s e


in his elegy for Dylan

     Logan sees the Welchman’s ghost in Laugharne

in the yellow leaves of autumn

         among funeral processions


vows to read him again

     for art’s solace & “singing light”

for me John’s lecherous death from alcohol

         mutes any dead-end singing school


Emerson said that the poet’s soul

     should be “tipsy” only with water

he didn’t think Satan was in him

         but wouldn’t tempt fate with demon rum


hopefully on this of all nights of the year

     Young Goodman Brown’s journey was drunken

when he heard his old teachers sing witches’ anthems

         but makers shiver where Brown molders





William winter continues     translucent vellum

I burn wood from my own acres

fallen ash & silver maple     the last elm

cut split stacked all summer


what’s a strophe but an echoed iamb

     a nurtured seed your palm

in “Temporary Facts” Bill Stafford rhymes

         the poignant home & elm


here on my remnant acres

     I watched a hundred die

one forester describes Dutch elm disease

         as a kind of suicide


a tree sensing one limb’s invasion

     shuts itself down in maybe one season

over a decade as the virus decimated them

         I wrote The Chestnut Rain


the journal I’ve kept obsessively

     recedes from me

I’ve begun typing it

         but not as fast as I’m writing it


in this way the present keeps progressing

     further & further from me

uncomfortable unfinished accompaniment

         but I know it’s healthy for me


lest fear of death shrive me William

     in Emerson’s “work of the pen”

enraptured recognition

         the synchronicity of Time


at a rooftop Waikiki swimming pool

     a palm’s trunk reached still higher above me

I lay there in fronds of green & gold

         dreaming off toward Maui


my palm slowly healing I’d wrap it in

     my towel redolent with chlorine

then open it to the sun

         my imagination a feverish gangrene


but the doc said I’d live     I pictured

     elms with their toothed leaves

chestnuts blowing in Pacific winds

         morays toothless in their caves






I once played a game with John Logan

of first-name number one

he had his pennant team

Keats Milton Donne


& reminded me of Berryman & Steinbeck

     but I had series mystics Yeats & Blake

Wordsworth & Cy Young Shakespeare

         I reminded him of you & Faulkner


Berryman spat blood writing Stephen Crane’s consumption

     who called his own poems “pills”

he thought of them as medicine

         for our romantic ills


JB &/or Henry at my table that one Brockport time

     a day late for their reading

my five-year-old daughter asked them

         “Mr Berryman are you laughing or crying”


he shouted my living room into a weeping rage

     imagining the horror

said he’d earned a book hadn’t he with only

         a camp’s name to a page


by way of his own suffering

     he asked how long he’d be condemned

to follow women with his erection

         lust’s besotted spring


a Steinach surgery for Yeats at seventy

     basically a vasectomy

ligature of the spermatic duct

         not to be a rutting buck


but to feel blessed & bless

     “The knowledge that I am not

unfit for love has brought me

         sanity and peace”


in the Brockport studio Berryman read

     “Song of the Tortured Girl”     she

appeared in the bleached light I heard

         her voice terribly





a visit to you not to be

ever     maybe when you’re ninety

for now I book this jet by ear

beyond forever’s future


that remembers John Unterecker

     who searched for Crane the voyager

John with his belabored heart who

         got to the upstairs party Han & I threw


in our apartment on Kuhio

     whose great passion was to

charter a plane when Kilauea

         erupted & flowed & to fly over


Emerson visited Vesuvius

     Dickinson was “Vesuvius at home”

how far to poetry’s abyss

              lava-flow frozen into bloom


he looked up in the Sistine Chapel

     you & I have also stood there

with many poets I recall here

              hosts of voices there


& that week heard the sound

     of soccer balls against the great doors

of the Pantheon that have swung there

              for two thousand years


& that year returned home with my family

     with enough in me of travel

to stay in one place until

         I could make Time stand still


but that decade & the next

     blur for me necessarily

with teaching study poker & money

              the lyric mortgage of x


over & over again Walt told Traubel

     one day he’d reveal

the secret of his breakthrough ecstatic serenity

              that gave him the 1855 Leaves


but never told him not even

     on his deathbed what would have riven

even faithful Horace Walt’s discovery

              of sublime incestuous love


so huge so hopeless to conceive

     beyond any earthly bible

kept secret with the dead

              Down’s syndrome brother Edward


Traubel mentions offhandedly

     something that should not have startled me

that Walt always wrote & read

              with his eyebrows raised


my memory of William’s fire

     grows grateful as I grow older

the mystical duration there

              the reservoir of Allen Ginsberg’s ear


Walt cherishes his roughs

     who shudder in poetry’s shadow cortege

rail from Atocha to reach Brooklyn

         on every life stage every passage


Ted Hughes’ crow ravaging earth

     Frost’s clearing he will not leave

Stevens’ peacock flaring in Meredith’s hearth

          Merwin’s e


a now “consummate insider” once framed archival

     poems & poets for his stairwall

I was one of his gallery

         early years he wrote me maybe


once or thrice a week such gossip

     we became obituary

he inscribed his last book to me

         “in memory of our friendship”


he sent me a photo-postcard he’s riding

     a camel in the Valley of the Kings

the great astro-geometry looms behind him

         he said he saw the Sphinx flap its wings


certain rarefied poets claim

     kinship with inclusive Walt

who would have dismissed them

         then quickly embraced them placed them


in compost’s charnel house & hospice

     for inventive artifice

to sip Jamake Highwater’s curative

         “communicative access”


my own ouija spelled how some must ever be

     too erudite &/or ethereal &/or too-too for me

Walt sauntered Broadway waded the salt-hay marsh

         never walked a lobster on a leash


lovers warm their tongues in him

     he blows them kisses from his palm

he travels to Europe sometimes never

         his mossbunkers school in aria


Saint Illuminate dispensed jellies cakes fruit stamps

     to soldiers who seemed at first to mend

but soul swelled in septic stumps

         letters delivered the loving dead


to family who could not answer him or them

     the way times were he said

this comrade come from your field father

         console inconsolable mother


Meredith’s prophetic Thresher

     Louise Bogan’s beguiling blue estuaries

Walt’s Lincoln lilac

         Merwin’s e


love fame poetry

     of major writers of the nineteenth century

only Whitman died happy says biographer

         Justin Kaplan who helps us see


the old man poking among strewn papers

     for memory to pleasure & confirm him

he suffered he was there

         he candled the long foreground in him


Delmore Schwartz’s twelve pierced by starlight’s intuition

     Stevens’ dreaming Penelope

her winter mended by inhuman meditation

         Merwin’s e


that assumes as Walt & Allen did

     any subject’s immensity

closure’s impossibilities

         but death sings in e


I’d been shy I kept apart from Ginsberg & Orlovsky

     their gang of beatific friends

in a coffee-shop post-howl reading I’m

         displaced in jacket & tie


Bill sit with us here & the son of Walt

     waves me over & makes room

wedges in a chair for me this lifetime

         of fellow-feelings for him


visiting Emily’s homestead

Allen gravitated to the attic

going down while climbing upward

the stair of Dickinson’s art


battered old sunflower sutra of a poet

     I’d first heard that elegy

Cortland 1963 when Kinnell read it

         from my Donald Allen anthology


that muddled sense for me

     except for a few poems now remembering

a cry by John Wieners

         “Poem For All Trapped Things”


one evening with students & Wieners & Charles Olson

     that leviathan sprawled on

a motel bed with John their full-mouth kisses

         other minor incomprehensibles


I knew little & cared less about

     for I was now

listening to everything half lost

         married once & for all in debt


to poetry that seemed to see & hear me

     editions of the Poulin anthology

Levertov’s Nam / Baraka’s Malcolm / cherrylog Dickey

         who once asked me if thirty grand


a fortune in those days would translate me

     to South Carolina where in fact I had a friend

Benjamin Franklin IV from Athens

         who collected me & would welcome me


Big Jim had fun deriding

y’all’s beats & hippies unshaven

     I woke up this mornin

         & my armpits were green


on the set of Deliverance someone asked him

     what he thought of JCO

he said he was sort of tired y’know

         of all these smart women


the once & future ad-man hit

     the line at Clemson three

yards & a cloud of dirt

        & the fighter pilot’s mystery


I poured him Jim Beam bourbon

     by the half waterglassful

we went outside he could still

         spiral a football


he’d strummed a sweet

tragic ballad of Dixie for me

sled burial & dream ceremony

         suspended in melody


the last time I saw my father

     I left his hospital room then looked back at him

he stared into an eternal ceiling

         I speak to him more often here


& my older brother Werner dead last spring

     his was a harrowing

my boyhood protector lifelong friend

         I remember him coming toward me


his bare chest & legs maybe a dozen leeches

     he & his friends burned them off him

this beauty smelled sublime to me

         that Hauppauge pond is our history for me


where nature by way of nature

     becomes scarified into poetry’s

beautiful terror Werner ripped a water-

         snake in half when it bit me






in Independence Hall on a green-draped table

Ben Franklin’s bifocals

who fissured the founding fathers’ bellsound

  America squints through his lenses now


at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C.

     a pair of Abe’s boots on exhibition

their black aura blinded me

         their creases were proclamation


what could it mean to wield your life

     as Olson put it so succinctly

what weaponry what poetry

         could my own experience justify


where I was where I am now

     flints of memory

spark Erie Canal sound

         as in the instant when a long poem


sometimes creates duration     I remain

     guest at William Meredith’s fire

only so long as someone here

         opens those file-sound correspondences


hearing Merwin’s passionate vowel endlessly

     vary every time within me

what has he not given me

         that is not immortal in me


I saw in evening woods in Germany

     while passing in a train

a raptor fall from a tree

         its darker shadow lodged in me


an SS singing while drowning a newborn

     Here you go little Moses down the stream

from this distance I lust to kill him

         but could have been him


if I’d been born in Berlin in 1920

     instead of Brooklyn in 1940

he still seems to wax & wane in me

         do mystics know the evil in me


when I was a boy orioles lived above me

     returning to Long Island summer

their pendant singing nest in the same pear tree

         your “Oriole” returns them to me


Kabir smiles at everyone’s quest

     for the great eternal ruby

in the east in the west

         under earth rocks & undersea


but his instinct tells him

     it is inside himself the hearth

in his chest he wraps that gemstone

         in his heartcloth


Bill Ewert & I with May Sarton a rubythroat

     preening a few feet from our heads

post-stroke May served champagne & strawberries

         in her house by the sea


& had Archie’s Life moon-landing poem

     on her refrigerator door

though she was bitterly disappointed in him

         for not answering her


I remember Hessian soldiers

     her hearth’s andirons

forged to burn in hell

         some deserted & became Americans


that day of her memorial

     October constant rain

the phoenix from her garden

         sodden above her stone …


William while finishing this to you I heard

     my friend Martin died

whose pen couldn’t half glean

         his cancer-teeming brain


in abandoned Saint Margaret’s at Knotting

     he preceded me climbing an oak ladder

to belfrey then softly lifting

         bones down to me a raptor


dust in a hymn of late sunlight

John Bunyan had preached there probably

we left for home singing Elvis

         I’d never seen Martin so happy


Martin said that in schizoid Britain

     still haunted by King Arthur

poets had split from the Round Table & Merlin

         now wandered homeless everywhere


a long poem about your being son

     of many fathers awakened in me again

how many palm strophes unforgiven

         once heard cannot be forgotten





William as you did I skipped a grade

     supposedly too elementary for me

I was the youngest before I did

         I’ve now it could be caught up with me


Jeffers said he hadn’t been born

     until he reached thirty

Frost & Stevens published first books in their forties

         you came so early into your own


in my Smithtown High School chemistry classroom

     a huge chart of the elements

but Emerson’s “mystic element of time”

         & “no greatness without abandonment”


waited for me in that library I’d only

     begun to read after graduate school

I wish Mrs Pierce had pierced me

         with the single illuminated periodic table


unified from within by whatever name

     we assign in prayer to whatever god

even our dictionary in the end

         just one word circling within around


even memory I was six eight ten

     standing in Island woods listening

for scratching over the leafed ground

         a box turtle approaching me


into whose burnished shell someone had cut

     1892 this meant nothing to me

in this way signs keep awakening in me

         from William Merwin’s e


Archie oscillated in his mother’s womb

     the year Walt died who designed

his own tomb why can’t I remember

         if I’ve ever visited there


soon you’ll be eighty when I’m sixty-seven

     what have I learned about such things

poets die or re-sound in me

         profound goings & stayings


over coffee I mentioned The Idea of the Holy

     Rudolph Otto warns us away from him if we

haven’t experienced such moments as he’ll study

         Das Heilige a confirmation for me


to which I brought my intimations of immortality

     from when I was a boy

where I am now when poetry

         allows me joy


despite that SS maniac who holds

     a newborn child under a running faucet

drowns it while singing Here you go

                           little Moses down the stream


poets digest the slime

     of history as appalls them

not one finds joy

         or soul except in writing e


some began in gladness

overtaken by despondency

Wordsworth prayed for the child’s e

         to sing from the father’s abyss


Primo Levi’s periodic table

included Auschwitz he insisted

prose & poetry speak clearly

of the unspeakable


he threw himself down this stairwell

     toward freedom not

assaying god’s absence

         that pre-empted good



but once in a rainstorm tunnel

another prisoner shared a radish with him

for a time this gemstone

         baffled upwelling darkness in him


George Steiner spoke of post-war language

     as haunted music from embers

that crackle in cold ashes

         of the dead human fire


in Germany after the war Primo’s train’s water

     tasted of ash that blew in

from the coal-fired locomotive

         #174517 told his young companion


drink you can drink this water safely

     the chemistry of memory

they say he lived without hatred

         drink you can drink this water safely






William tongue the starred water for me

with what I’ll need in peril

this more than we can bear

   that our earth itself becomes untenable


for palms & their words in wind

     the turtle my totem animal

poems’ diseased roots & shells

         our diminishing fellow-travelers


Roethke asked littles to lie more close to him

     he’d rise from a last diminishing

Frost asked what to make

         of a diminished thing


Derek Walcott says that like Crusoe the poet

     makes his own tools

I’m not sure what I’ve fashioned here

         with my striated sprung-verse strophes


for all such reasons we recall

     the Knight of the Green Chapel

how fast the year passes in his story

         until the days again feel wintry


until he hears a strange sound as of someone

     grinding a scythe

Gawain flinches from death just once then

         the green one’s axe cuts & spares him


for his unswerving words his loyalty

     his bravery his chastity

in your translation he

        welcomes the green night into me


when for the first time young John Woolman

     said some words at meeting

went on past “the divine opening”

         this indiscretion tortured him


until he prayed himself forgiven

     then his Redeemer kept him

pure in spirit the next time

         inspired words seemed few     William


however many within duration

     arrive like tender mercies

their sounded revelation

         I hear thy e in me


your lover’s lament for the true sound

     of brevity     it’s far past time

as everyone’s unnamed time must come

         to rest in such mystery as sounds portend


in my present memory we still speak

     standing in line for coffee

that nectar steams black & sweet

         you bow not knowing to what


in the past or here we may never

talk together any closer

except along such melody

         variegated in our poems to be


hearing your vowel infinitely

     translated within me

how much has e given me

         that will not desert me


or the young poets who find you

     how will they prove to follow you

in their own diminished vehicles into

         their own perilous tenors


in memory of the makers’ company

     glittering eaves & smoke above these years

Time backflames soundlessly

          from William Merwin’s e