FROM LIVERPOOL - EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF CULTURE 2008 _________________________________________________________________________________________

Guest Editor - Dan Masterson


When she found the horned shell
near her lounge on the lawn,
she pressed it to her ear

to hear the ceaseless hush,
knowing longing had replaced
the sluggish creature housed there.

From Romance in the Old Folks' Home

Introduction by Jim Bennett

Hello.  Welcome to CITN 30. In this edition we highlight the work of Michael Waters.
Our guest editor is once again the diestinguished poet and teacher Dan Masterson.  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 his website  - http://www.poetrymaster.com            

Poetry Kit Magazine, is our sister 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 3000 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 -
http://www.poetrykit.org/pkl/index.htm and following the links for Caught in the Net.




From THE BURDEN LIFTERS (1989, Carnegie Mellon University Press):

Horse (Ironwood)
Lipstick (The Ohio Review)
Keats' Lips (Ironwood)
Morpho (The Georgia Review)
Burning the Dolls (Seneca Review)

From BOUNTIFUL (1992, Carnegie Mellon University Press):

Shadow Boxes (The Missouri Review)
Bountiful (Poetry)
Hummingbirds (Poetry)
Village Dogs (The Ohio Review)
Miles Weeping (The American Poetry Review)

From GREEN ASH, RED MAPLE, BLACK GUM (1997, BOA Editions):

Green Ash, Red Maple, Black Gum (The Gettysburg Review)
Two Baths (The American Poetry Review)
God at Forty (The Ohio Review)
The Fox (The Missouri Review)
Christ at the Apollo, 1962 (The Missouri Review)


The Mystery of the Caves (Poetry)
The Conversion of Saint Paul (Poetry)
"Night in the Tropics" (1858-59?) (Poetry)
Parthenopi (The Georgia Review)
Romance in the Old Folks' Home (Poetry)

From DARLING VULGARITY (forthcoming 2006, BOA Editions):

Black Olives (Poetry)
Miserere (The Kenyon Review)
Wedding Dress (The Kenyon Review)
Commerce (The Gettysburg Review)
Blue Ankle (Connecticut Review)

4 - Afterword

You can purchase these books on-line through Amazon at Poetry Kit's Bookshop -



MICHAEL WATERS takes a topic, slaps it around, and decides how it can best snag the reader's attention, while getting something lasting on the page. He takes remarkable risks and doesn't seem to care if so-and-so has already written a poem about the event; he makes it his own. He's a street kid who's never grown up. He's retained that fragile sense of awe and focus that allows chosen poems to sound addressed to our younger self, as though he's saying, "and you remember the time we went around the corner and found the . . . . ?"

In conversation, Michael Waters is an eye-to-eye guy. He's involved, not searching the room for someone more interesting or more useful. His work embraces that same intimacy and decency of dedication.

Years ago, I read an essay by poet Waters in which he quoted a brain surgeon who told his students that they should "never pull on anything - because it might be attached to something that is attached to something else that might be attached to the soul."  That stunned me, and it led me back to his poems. Reading them, under that banner, allowed me to find the thread within his readers' skulls that he never abuses by tugging, always aware of what he is doing by being inside our heads, our minds, aware that a quick yank could abuse or becloud our souls.

In the poems that follow, you'll be visiting a world not your own, but a place you won't forget. Trespasses galore - trespasses and street smarts, forming a ragged life that is willing to expose itself for the sake of poems that never would arise otherwise. "Burning the Dolls" is one of dozens of poems that will stain you long and thick, hanging in memory like a fishhook caught in the mind's eye.  

He's a loner, this poet, roaming the concrete, catching every nuance as it goes unnoticed by the throngs. I'm betting when you finish reading these poems, you'll read them again. And again.   -

Commentary by Dan Masterson, Guest Editor

From THE BURDEN LIFTERS (1989, Carnegie Mellon University Press):


The first horse I ever saw
   was hauling a wagon stacked with furniture
      past storefronts along Knickerbocker Avenue.
He was taller than a car, blue-black with flies,

and bits of green ribbon tied to his mane
   bounced near his caked and rheumy eyes.
      I had seen horses in books before, but
this horse shimmered in the Brooklyn noon.

I could hear his hooves strike the tar,
   the colossal nostrils snort back the heat,
      and breathe his inexorable, dung-tinged fume.
Under the enormous belly, his ----

swung like the policeman's nightstick,
   a dowsing rod, longer than my arm-
      even the Catholic girls could see it
hung there like a rubber spigot.

When he let loose, the steaming street
   flowed with frothy, spattering urine.
      And when he stopped to let the junkman
toss a tabletop onto the wagon bed,

I worked behind his triangular head
   to touch his foreleg above the knee,
      the muscle jerking the mat of hair.
Horse, I remember thinking,

four years old and standing there,
   struck momentarily dumb,
      while the power gathered in his thigh
surged like language into my thumb.



Who can hurry past the five-and-dime,
the cardboard Max Factor ad

fading in the yellow light
of the abandoned, fly-littered window,

without recognizing the miniature skyline-
spires, smokestacks, the blinking, red antennae-

his mother's lipsticks etched
on the powdered, greenhouse air of her bedroom?

Only God or someone taller could count them!
I wanted to explore that foreign city,

hold her hand across the cinnabar avenues,
whisper in libraries of peach frost and ruby.

Grey school-mornings in the railroad flat,
pretending to be still asleep,

I'd watch my mother dress
for the subway ride into Manhattan.

She's sit in her bra and half-slip,
elbows propped on the vanity top,

brushing flames across her lips,
first one flavor, then another-

forbidden strawberry, crushed orange, café au lait-
then close her lips on a tissue.

I'd steal the paper from the wicker
basket to taste the exotic

spices, the delicious
mocha, crème caramel, glazed papaya,

and when I was older, ten or twelve,
I'd wrap tissue after tissue

around my small, preening member,
smudging the lipstick on my flesh.

I never wrestled any desire
to smear the lipstick on my face,

touch the tubes
to my own parched lips,

but was touched by the story of Rilke,
poor Rainer, whose suffocating mother

painted the lips of her dear Maria!
O the poems! His problems with women!

Was his mother drawing out,
as she layered shade upon shade,

the lovely woman who lived inside him,
or was she blotting out,

dyeing his lips a deeper red, deeper
till almost black,

the boy who peeked
from behind his eyelids, feverish and weak?




       In the death mask by Gherardi,
   the flesh has already fled
the formal bones of the face,
     chiseled cheek and belled brow,

       but the lips remain swollen,
   almost pursed, what's left
of Keats' tumultuous spirit
     struggling to forsake the mouth.

       Keats might have been his own
   best poem, transmutable as smoke,
but his lips were impassable:
     "I lifted him up in my arms,"

       Severn wrote, "and the phlegm
   seemed boiling in his throat."
And when the body was no more
     than a flask, the last vial

       of blood broken in his lungs,
   the sticks of foreign furniture,
encrusted linens and nightshirt,
     even the door and window frame

       were taken by the police
   and set aflame in the piazza
below the barren, February steps,
     Bernini's marble boat

       showering the air, bearing
   the antique smell of Keats'
earthly possessions toward the sea
     in the slow swirl of its grain.


       His death mask lies in glass,
   facing a sky the color of straw.
The fireplace in his room is shut.
     Tourists throng the square

       when the steep steps flower
   and the light veers violet,
sift maps in Babington's Tea Room
     and loiter below Keats' window.

       In the hotel that night we argued,
   hurt each other with words,
then made love, that blind, desperate
     lovemaking born of loneliness.

       Let me tell you this-
   when our faces flushed with orgasm,
as we briefly lost all control,
     I was praying for Keats, his lips,

       the language touched with fever
   that bears us away from our bodies
and soothes the bruised soul,
     if only for a few moments.

       We rose with the clamor
   of street cleaners and vendors
fronting fruit stands and flower stalls
     to find the sun still cloaked

       with smoke rising off the Tiber.
   Keats loved the light on his face
when he paused on the promenade,
     and gathered momentary faith

       when the hundred gray pigeons
   began their awkward, flapping ascent
toward the gables and red tiles,
     then vanished above the rooftops.



In his Journey to the Jade Sea,
"one of the world's greatest walkers," John Hillaby,
tells the story of the ebony child
raped and strangled
near an acacia tree in the bush in Kenya.
The game warden who found her was mesmerized
by two large, blue-green, rarely seen butterflies
trembling upon her glazed, staring eyes,
opening and closing their wings.
Those butterflies were attracted to moisture,
lapping with their spiked, black tongues
the shallow lagoons of primeval water.
Hillaby doesn't specify, but they were probably
     the Morpho butterfly,
each lulled in the mirror of her dissolving eye.
Beauty and beauty often go hand in hand-
"what an attractive couple," we say-
but some beauties are too terrible to bear.
I've only seen a dead woman once
outside of the Ridgewood Funeral Parlor.
In Amsterdam I wandered into a bar
where a three-hundred-pound, nude, quite dead woman
shaded the jungle of a back room pool table.
The club was hers, and she'd left provisions in her will
for the local populace to swill
the remaining stock in a sort of wake.
She was doused with beer
-the felt was soaked a deeper green-
and there, between her enormous thighs,
one silver-blue, scratchless, polished and buffed billiard ball
was blazing!
                     I was hypnotized.
I think that combination was beautiful,
or was near to what we think of as beauty.
Still, I couldn't look for long.
My duty was to accept another beer
and hoist it, in her dubious honor,
remembering, in another pocket of the world,
the mutilated girl with butterflies upon her.



     In 1851, in John Humphrey Noyes' free-love settlement in Oneida, New York, the
     communally-raised children, encouraged by the adults, voted to burn their dolls
     as representative of the traditional role of motherhood.

That last night, unable to sleep,
   I prayed with my doll
      under the twisted-star
quilt, then held her close,

her flannel gown warming my cheek,
   her hair made of yarn
      brushing the tears away.
I sang her favorite lullaby,

then she sang it back to me.
   When the sky flared into dawn
      I carried her in my arm-
not crying now for anyone to see-

to my sisters barefoot on the lawn,
   circling the stacked wood, each
      bearing some small body
that stared into the remote sun.

And when the burning was done,
   when her white, Sunday dress
      was transformed to ash
and each perfect, grasping

finger melted upon the coals,
   when her varnished face burst
      in the furnace of my soul,
the waxy lips forever lost,

then I knew I'd no longer pray,
   even with fire haunting me,
      because I hadn't resembled
closely enough my mother,

hadn't withheld my burgeoning
   desire, so like a doll
      concealing what I'd learned
I burned and burned and burned.

From BOUNTIFUL (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 1992):

                    in memoriam Joseph Cornell
     "The intense longing to get into the boxes this overflowing,
     a richness & poetry felt when working..."

Six a.m. I'd be walking those sycamore-
   lined streets alone, red rubber
      ball in one hand, sawed-off

broomstick on my shoulder, waiting
   for a few friends to rise, morning
      to commence among parked cars

and manhole covers, the sun looming
   at last above tenement rooftops
      crisscrossed with clotheslines.

His slanted cellar-door would be propped
   open and I'd step down, eyes
      adjusting to the low

wattage, into the enormous clutter
   of his workshop, tables strewn with wire,
      paint-slick slats of wood, severed

dolls' heads, porcelain pipes, thimbles,
   tiny stoppered bottles cleansed
      of lapsed medicines,

birds' nests, children's building-blocks,
   their letters sandpapered off,
      brass rings, ticket stubs, magazines-

the magazines!-tossed everywhere, 1940s
   illustrated ladies' weeklies, National
, U.S. Army manuals,

storybooks and road atlases and astronomical
   charts, greeting cards bought
      bulk in boxes from thrift shops,

this world so dense with detail
   and populated with such familiar
      yet somehow exotic bric-a-brac

I'd forget I was below the thronged
   avenues of Flushing, 1964, my friends
      running bases on Utopia Parkway.

For hours I'd sit on a high stool
   with long scissors, turning pages,
      carefully clipping pictures-

parrots, Medici princes, even Lauren Bacall-
   while he pasted them in boxes
      of his own devising, concentrating

on each particular shade of blue, or
   the shape the paper made
      against a backdrop of winter stars,

but this morning he stopped, staring
   into the wreckage for something-
      he wasn't conscious of what-

until his glance chanced upon a ball
   balanced upon a Coca-Cola bottle,
      and before I had the chance

to say Wait, it's mine, he'd placed it-
   just so-on two thin wires
      suspended over wineglasses, each

filled with a milky-blue cat's-eye marble,
   and now we were done for the day,
      at ease, sipping seltzer

before I returned to stifling streets
   oddly empty, monochromatic,
      lacking a certain delicacy

and playfulness, a world taken too
   seriously in sunlight, intent
      upon its own inviolability

as my eyes half-closed to glare
   slashing off fenders and hoods
      freshly washed and waxed

and buffed a metallic blue, but still
   not the blue that blazed
      below the earth, in darkness,

in a world where nothing would be lost,
   where each button was given purpose,
      if only it could remain patient.



Providence leads us to many tables
in our travels, to meetings with the insignificant
others who, placing olives on their tongues,
begin to shine like the swollen Buddha.

Watching them eat, we fill with desire.
The raw broccoli in its cradle of ice
quivers its antennae, breathing its green
and vinegary aroma into the room.

Lemons offer their soft, underwater light.
Pale crescents of peaches in Bordeaux,
cheeses defining the shaded meanings of yellow,
chunks of melon like the fabled jewels of pharaohs,

the breast of turkey whiter than the linen
wrapping the risen body of Jesus-
you know the kind of meal I mean.
When the bread is broken, love seems possible.

If the sleep that follows draws us away
from this life into another, more abstract landscape,
food eases us into a future
among friends, among the forbearing women.

And sorrow has no place at this table,
simmering in black pots on back burners,
or remaining in cookbooks
bought by husbands roaming malls after the divorce.



When I read the translation from the Russian,
razdirat' dushu, literally, to "tear out" one's soul,
I understood the genesis of hummingbirds,
how they can be there and not-there,
how the specific wind of their wings
trembles the three leaves of the sassafras,
how the tumescent tongues of the lilies clamor their presence.

How the elements conspire to create them:
the blue-green pearl of molten sand
-that miniature globe, swirl of smoke-
hovering at the tip of the glassblower's rod
seems forever on the verge of cooling
into final form, the almost-shape of the hummingbird.

At the dinner party, no longer lovers,
we spoke to each other in such measured tones
to keep our voices from modulating,
until you couldn't help but choose
not to return my gaze, or respond to my mild jokes.
I felt some interior wall tumble away...

Who has ever seen a hummingbird arrive?

Who has seen a hummingbird at ease, though
its metaphysical dollop of flesh
must grow heavy, weighted with gravity, even
the saffron seed of its eye, the cork skeleton,
the heart like a ball bearing in its feathered case.

What I've never told you is that, beyond the ruins,
I glimpsed a garden
resplendent with hummingbirds,
an aviary of exiled souls
working so hard just to remain in one spot.



Groggy, we watched the ball descend
   as benediction upon the boisterous
      throng overflowing Times Square.
         We felt no desire

to mill there, to embrace the New
   Year among strangers, jostled and cold.
      Corks still popping at nearby
         parties, I leashed the dog only

minutes past midnight and let him lead me
   onto the village street, its one lamp
      a low moon lustrous below black
         clouds, glazed with rain.

What remained unspoken between us followed me
   like a shadow in a B movie, then sprang
      through a hedge wall with a primal
         snarl. A pit bull, frothing

knot of muscle, slammed into my pet like a small
   train, tumbling him, his high-pitched
      yelps rising above their revved
         thrashings and the revelers' shouts.

I kicked and missed and thudded onto my back
   inches from their slathered, blood-
      slick snouts. Match days of sorrow,
         decrees Psalm 90, with days of joy...

I rose and dragged my broken dog
   by the choke-chain toward the house,
      the bull still clamped to his throat
         till I splintered a branch across its spine.

By now my wife stood pale on the porch
   as I hefted a brick to crush
      its skull, but her cry stopped my arm:
         "Don't. Haven't you done enough harm?"

The bull foamed in the hedge's shadow.
   I hurled the brick into its ribs
      and the creature-my stunted anger-
         fled with a groan. And when I returned

home, bruised and sober, the neighbors'
   festive clamor dwindling
      in the decade's first hour, who
         could deny that the marriage was over?



To hear Miles weep
   for the first time, the notes bent
      back into his spent frame to keep
   them from soaring away-
I had to click the phonograph off
   and hug myself to stop the shaking.
      I'd recognized a human cry
   beyond any longing given a name.
If ever he let go that grief
   he might not touch his horn again.
      That cry rose in another country,
   full-throated in awkward English.
I still have the envelope, unstamped,
   addressed to "Mother/Father," its oily
      scrap of paper torn from a primer,
   the characters like the inky
root-hairs scrawling the washed-out soil.
   Lek-every boy's nickname-
      wrote he was "to be up against,"
   meaning, I guess, that his future
was end-stopped, one unbroken line
   of tabletops waiting to be wiped.
      He'd walked miles along the coast
   to find us combing the beach, then
stood, little Buddhist, with bowed head
   while we read his letter, composed
      with the help of the schoolmaster.
   How could we deny the yearning
ambition to abandon the impossible
   land of his fathers, to begin again?
      We could only refuse in a silent way.
   When someone asked Miles Davis
why he wouldn't play ballads anymore,
   he replied, "Because I love them too much."
      All that we never say to each other.
   The intimacies we can't complete.
Those ineluctable fragments. To be up against.

  Koh Samui - Thailand

From GREEN ASH, RED MAPLE, BLACK GUM (1997, BOA Editions):



How often the names of trees consoled me,
how I would repeat to myself green ash
while the marriage smoldered in the not-talking,
red maple when the less-than-tenderness flashed,
then black gum, black gum as I lay next to you
in the not-sleeping, in the not-lovemaking.

Those days I tramped the morass of the preserve,
ancient ash smudging shadows on stagnant pools,
the few wintry souls skulking abandoned wharves.
In my notebook I copied plaques
screwed to bark, sketching the trunks' scission,
a minor Audubon bearing loneliness like a rucksack.

And did the trees assume a deeper silence?
Did their gravity and burl and centuries-old patience
dignify this country, our sorrow?

So as I lay there, the roof bursting with invisible
branches, the darkness doubling in their shade,
the accusations turning truths in the not-loving,
green ash, red maple, black gum, I prayed,
in the never-been-faithful, in the don't-touch-me,
in the can't-bear-it-any-longer,
black gum, black gum, black gum.




Lovelier than Susannah
who set the elders' hearts groaning at twice their faithful
stride, so that each grandfather
clutched his breast to remember the beauty of the nude
female body, you tilted
the pail to plash well water over stepped terraces
of flame-red hair, rivulets
snaking down breasts, God-thumbed birth-stain, vulval thatch and thighs.
And I lavished the shampoo
as you knelt in the rue anemone, spiraea's
windfall stippling burnished skin,
lather foaming through my fingers, foaming shut your eyes
as you took me in your mouth,
the sun bearing witness to our blind, intuitive
coupling, till I tipped the pail
to rinse our fallen flesh, let our imperfections glisten.


Light roused us from the depths of our separate longings
and while I balanced buckets
you laced black sneakers for your morning run on the cliff,
wrapped the red ribbon of shirt
around your forehead, stretched stiff calf muscles, then ran off.
I could see you jog the beach
as I arranged notebooks, pens, on the marble table,
then begin the zigzagging
goat path toward the crag overlooking our stone cottage,
your red rag still visible
against the rough, anemic marble of the mountain.
Remember the undressing,
how I slipped off your Nikes, peeled each slick of cotton,
then unknotted the sweatband
and dipped that tatter into the icy water, sponge
pressed between your breasts, your legs,
the tenderness between us before the sex turned sour?-
before your six miles became
a more-than-tacit withdrawal, like sleep, or headphoned jazz,
so I'd watch you crest the hill
as I worked at the marble table, wrenching lines, syl-
lables, the diminishing
sweatband a raw wound in the distance, as I revised
draft after draft, prodding you
past the horizon, writing you out of existence.



I think God must be reading,
or crumpling love letters, or poking His cramped finger
into the ash of the dead
fire to resurrect the flames and warm His mildewed room.
Rain spatters the cabin roof.
One hushed breeze freshens the crab apple blossoms upstate
where God summers. They're pleasant,
these evenings spent in solitude, though God remembers
each of His former lovers
who steamed exotic meals for wary angels, Thai oil
to relieve the strict boredom
of living with a brooding Being whose creative pulse
drove Him inward, whose silence-
that dour guest-too often graced their bountiful table.
Now God keeps His meals simple,
noodle soup simmered on the single coil, peppered brie
slabbed on chunks of broken bread.
Late afternoons neighbors bring baskets of blueberries,
predict dry weather, then leave.
Near dusk God revises His poems, counting syllables-
traditional forms soothe Him
(though He prefers free verse), lend emotional restraint,
keep Him from stepping over
the border of sentimentality where minor
postmodernists stray. Not God.
His eyes water, the owl's clawed feet loose the poplar branch,
the fire wavers, and He sleeps.
Another shitty day in paradise, He might joke
on scrawled postcards never sent.
And dreams: unclasped bra, sunburnt back, freckled skin peeling.
Ants file the smoke-smudged ceiling.
One mouse scurries from its woodpile shelter, zigzags back.
Then God awakens, opens
His black binder to erase some easy metaphor.
He never answers prayers, but
heeds His morning routine: NPR, knee-bends, java,
then work, always the work, lost
for hours in rough drafts, until the broth boils, the cheese wedge
flicks its furred green tongue of mold,
or the last loaf crumbles, and God's immense loneliness
overwhelms. He scrapes His pocked,
bristly cheek along the splinter-shot table, eyes shut,
allowing His vast yearning
to wash over the planet, cool scouring blankness, that
leaf-lit, resplendent seepage
whose source He sometimes forgets-within Him or without?
Rain quickens the white dwarf pines.
God's manuscript blows open, thumbed leaves riffling, their chirr
the psalm of His rasped breathing.



After we peeled and dipped and sucked
each leaf of the artichoke
to reveal the fluted
heart still steaming in its shaggy
rind, after uncorking another light-proof
bottle of homemade plum wine, we began
telling our dreams, those that surprise us
or bring back the romantic
childhood urgencies long ago given over
to the conservative wishes of adults-
the wish to be simple, to hurt no one-
when, low to the earth, scavenging the frost-
lit bristles of saw grass for torpid mice,
the fox appeared beyond the glass door,
tarnished silver, mottled with mange,
a rough rag torn from the hillside,
a storybook fox cut out with blunt scissors.
The retrievers shook off their sleep then,
ramming shoulders against the door,
slathering the thick panes with foam
till we hauled them, choke-chain, back.
The fox paused, gazing at the hushed
gathering only heartbeats away, then sidled off
into the muffled trees, leaving us
astounded, more than pleased, aware
of a mild blessing bestowed upon friends.
Later that night, I glimpsed our host's face
pressed to the guest-room window
while my wife and I undressed. Startled,
I yelled, and he quickly stalked away
among wavering stems of starlight.
During the awkward breakfast, he mentioned
how he'd gone out in search of the fox,
but found nothing but scat,
the autumn earth too hard for tracks.

Sometimes I dream of the fox in his lair,
that secret, interior life
growing thinner, losing hair, starving,
the alert intelligence sharpened by need
helpless not to transform itself into grief,
humiliation, the tense silence among friends
in return for a moment of mournful
revelation, the chimera of a child,
however naked and heart-rending, however
impotent and wild.



          "Even in religious fervor there is a touch of animal heat."
--Walt Whitman

Despite the grisly wounds portrayed in prints,
the ropy prongs of blood stapling His eyes
or holes like burnt half-dollars in His feet,
the purple gash a coked teenybopper's
lipsticked mouth in His side, Christ's suffering
seemed less divine than the doubling-over
pain possessing "the hardest working man."
I still don't know whose wounds were worse: Christ's brow
thumbtacked with thorns, humped crowns of feet spike-split-
or James Brown's shattered knees. It's blasphemy
to equate such ravers in their lonesome
afflictions, but when James collapsed on stage
and whispered please please please, I rocked with cold,
forsaken Jesus in Gethsemane
and, for the first time, grasped His agony.
Both rose, Christ in His unbleached muslin gown
to assume His rightful, heavenly throne,
James wrapped in his cape, pussy-pink satin,
to ecstatic whoops of fans in Harlem.
When resurrection tugs, I'd rather let
The Famous Flames clasp my hand to guide me
than proud Mary or angelic orders
still befuddled by unbridled passion.
Pale sisters foisted relics upon me,
charred splinter from that chatty thief's cross and
snipped thread from the shroud that xeroxed Christ's corpse,
so I can't help but fashion the future-
soul-struck pilgrims prostrate at the altar
that preserves our Godfather's three-inch heels
or, under glass, like St. Catherine's skull, please,
his wicked, marcelled conk, his tortured knees.





I don't remember the name of the story,
but the hero, a boy, was lost,
wandering a labyrinth of caverns
filling stratum by stratum with water.

I was wondering what might happen:
would he float upward toward light?
Or would he somersault forever
in an underground black river?

I couldn't stop reading the book
because I had to know the answer,
because my mother was leaving again-
the lid of the trunk thrown open,

blouses torn from their hangers,
the crazy shouting among rooms.
The boy found it impossible to see
which passage led to safety.

One yellow finger of flame
wavered on his last match.
There was a blur of perfume-
Mother breaking miniature bottles,

then my father gripping her,
but too tightly, by both arms.
The boy wasn't able to breathe.
I think he wanted me to help,

but I was small, and it was late.
And my mother was sobbing now,
no longer cursing her life,
repeating my father's name

among bright islands of skirts
circling the rim of the bed.
I can't recall the whole story,
what happened at the end...

Sometimes I worry that the boy
is still searching below the earth
for a thin pencil of light,
that I can almost hear him

through great volumes of water,
through centuries of stone,
crying my name among blind fish,
wanting so much to come home.



In 1956 I was the shepherd boy
with nothing to offer the infant Jesus.

Kissed goodbye, I left the walk-up
in a white, ankle-length, terrycloth robe,

flailing my grandfather's wooden cane
wrapped from crook to tip in foil.

Secretaries stared from passing buses
at this Biblical apparition

leading his invisible sheep to school,
O little, wild-eyed prophet of Brooklyn!

Older, I portrayed the leper
gifted with half of St. Martin's cloak

and, with paper arrows and red Play-Doh,
evoked the passion of St. Sebastian.

Then I had to fake a terrible fall
to honor the conversion of St. Paul-

when I changed into costume
in the boys' musty coatroom,

Sister Euphrasia knelt to hike
the elastic waistband of my briefs

to better arrange my torn-sheet toga.
In second grade, this ageless ogre

had pasted Easter seals on my skull
and locked me in a cobwebbed cubicle,

pretending to air-mail me to China
where I'd never again see my mother!

Funny enough today, I guess,
but then I pleaded for forgiveness.

Now her sour breath flushed my face
when-classmates clamoring their impatience-

she whispered Jesus
would be judging my performance,

then thrust me from her failing sight
to be apprehended by all that light.



          "Lack of listeners did not deter Louis Moreau Gottschalk, living on the edge of a
          Guadeloupe volcano in 1859, from giving piano recitals to the universe."
            --Edmund Morris
           "The Romance of the Piano"

Assuming rain, the exotic
species flare up like gas-flames
released from the earth, then settle on hibiscus
branches as the arpeggios shower down.
But the blossoms remain dry, their wings
dry, and only the spattering
notes keep them pinned to their trees, leaves
and insects blending in infinite
                And the birds who pluck rare
butterflies from air, not finding them there,
assume nightfall, so return to their nests,
tongues stiff, though the sun slips
its staff of light through the canopies,
                                                     & so on
upward through the great chain of being, all
the bird-eating snakes, the snake-eating
birds, till the selection seems to halt,
Louis Moreau Gottschalk
slightly unnerved as he swabs the moisture
from the strings, shuts the lid of the Chickering,
then steps from the terrace into his room
to allow the universe to resume.



Once we beheld the brilliance of our estate
reflected in the haloed serenity of the girl
who prepared the basketful of cucumbers for salad,
slicing each nub into watery wheels,
columns of coins in the egg-white bowl.
Then she'd lift each miniature transparency
as she'd seen the priest flourish the Host,
thumb the serrated blade
to nick the green, then twist her wrist
to peel back the dust-plumed skin, the rubbery shavings
heaping a wild garden, unspoiled Eden, on the wooden counter.
Again and again she consecrated each wafer.
We basked in her patience, that rapt transportation,
her bell-shaped, narrowing eyelids as she spun
one papery sun, then the next, her perfect happiness,
smoke from the blackened grillwork wreathing her hair,
the fat of the slaughtered lamb hissing in the fire.
Her name-we'd asked our waiter-was Parthenopi, "little virgin."
We were still a couple then, our summer's lazy
task to gather anecdotes toward one future,
each shared and touching particular
to be recited over baked brie and chilled chardonnay
in the grasp of some furious, if distant, winter.
"Parthenopi," one of us might say, chiming a glass,
but the common measure of love is loss.
The cucumbers glistened in oil and thyme.



First he offered to read to her,
but she was afraid
he spoke as Bible-thumper, so declined.

Then he steeped several
herbal teas for her table-
she sipped without looking up.

He scissored photos from weeklies
and taped them to her door,
little windows into the past:

couples skating on Highland Pond,
dancing four days in a marathon,
sleeping on roofs above Flatbush Avenue.

She knew she was being spoken to
in a language long forgotten,
like Latin lost after school.

When she found the horned shell
near her lounge on the lawn,
she pressed it to her ear

to hear the ceaseless hush,
knowing longing had replaced
the sluggish creature housed there.

The next evening she appeared
with freshly washed hair
pinned with an ivory comb,

and brought that shy spirit
her favorite book-
The Marble Faun by Nathaniel Hawthorne

who liked to brood on sin-
while the faint widows flushed
and whispered her name-oh Anna!-

and she asked him please to begin.


From DARLING VULGARITY (forthcoming 2006, BOA Editions):


In those days while my then-wife
taught English to a mustached young nurse who hoped to join
her uncle's practice in Queens,
I'd sip gin on our balcony and listen to her
read aloud from the phrasebook,
then hear the student mimic, slowly, Where does it hurt?
then my wife repeat those words
so the woman might enunciate each syllable,
until I could no longer
bear it, so I'd prowl the Ambelokipi district
attempting to decipher
titles emblazoned on marquees-My Life As A Dog,
Runaway Train, Raging Bull-

then stroll past dark shops that still sold only one item-
kerosene, soap, cheese, notebooks-
to step down into the shop that sold olives, only
olives in barrels riddling
a labyrinth of dank aisles and buttressing brick walls.
I'd sidle among squat drums,
fingering the fruit, thumbing their inky shine, their rucked
skins like blistered fingertips,
their plump flesh, the rough salts needling them, judging their cowled
heft, biding my time. Always
I'd select a half-kilo of the most misshapen,
wrinkled and blackest olives
sprung from the sacred rubble below Mt. Athos, then
had to shout "Fuck Kissinger!"
three times before the proprietor would allow me
to make my purchase, then step
back out into the smut-stirred Athens night to begin
the slow stroll home, bearing now
my little sack of woe, oil seeping through brown paper,
each olive brought toward my mouth
mirroring lights flung from marquees and speeding taxis,
each olive burning its coal-
flame of bitterness and history into my tongue.



We're bathing together when Alina kneels in steam
to reveal crimped flaps of skin,
drawn shades the surgeons have fashioned: system of pulleys
worked by little metal wheels
screwed into each shoulder. She rolls them with a finger:
the shades scroll: I gaze through her,
through windows opened in her chest, past icy tendrils
scrawling abandoned gardens
where seven unborn sisters, hands joined in a circle,
attempt to sing a sacred
cycle by Gorecki or Part, a healing chorale
that resurrects starved finches,
lifts fallen fruit back to black branches, replenishes
green in winter-scorched grasses.
Their voices swell through each scar-rimmed oval. O, she says,
look: they've taken both my breasts.
Yes, I reply, but listen: hasn't God replaced them
with such glorious music.



That Halloween I wore your wedding dress,
our children spooked & wouldn't speak for days.
I'd razored taut calves smooth, teased each blown tress,
then-lipsticked, mascara'd, & self-amazed-
shimmied like a starlet on the dance floor.
I'd never felt so sensual before-
Catholic schoolgirl & neighborhood whore.
In bed, dolled up, undone, we fantasized:
we clutched & fused, torn twins who'd been denied.
You were my shy groom. Love, I was your bride.



                                                           Niagara Falls

Some half-wit Barnum, amateur Noah,
fashioned an ark-a salvaged, broken barge-
to populate with creatures trapped or bought:
black bear, wolverine, a fox like a flame,

peacocks, possum, hogs, raccoon, wailing tribe
of forsaken dogs, weasel, skunk, even-
according to eyewitness reports-six
silver monkeys shipped by rail from New York,

God's mange-thumbed menagerie chained to planks
that would have floated three runaway slaves
had not abolitionists threatened court.
Then Noah bid his bestiary good-bye,

the raft of lamentation set adrift,
its creatures more confused than crazed, almost
calm as the ark spiraled toward the maelstrom,
the waters' vast uproar drowning weak cries,

white mists like shrouds enveloping the crew
while spectators whooped and scrambled both banks
and newsboys shilled beer a nickel a glass
till it perched midair on the precipice...

Folklore swears the bear survived, pummeled ashore
where men beat her with clubs and muzzled her,
then dragged that rough beast saloon to saloon
where drafts of whiskey were chugged down her throat.

By morning she lay a rank heap on State-
schoolchildren leapfrogged the raggedy corpse.
Then one cat was found, eyeless, legs broken,
so for the next decade tramps tortured strays

to sell them to tourists, farm boys, and Poles
as The Cat Swept Over Niagara Falls,
singular souvenir, His living hand,
New World miracle-only one dollar.



That stooped old woman who tremors through Kieslowski's films
takes almost an hour, it seems,
to heft one milk carton into the recycling bin,
groaning her arm up only
so high so long, failing again to push the plastic
through the rubber-flanged circle
of the public receptacle.
                                  And the young woman's
always watching. Should she leave
the window to help the woman slip the container
into the drop or flutter
her letter-in another sequence, another film-
toward the narrow mailbox slot?
One friend half-jokes that we're all coming to a bad end.
Is the arthritic woman
some future version of herself, blue ankle swollen,
spine hunched like a question mark,
drab woolen coat too thin to repel the frost-edged wind,
scarf askew, the few whiskers
poking from her chin like the black spikes of sea urchins?
And after she releases,
at last, the empty jug into the receptacle,
where does she go?-to which cramped
studio along which pocked lane where art school dropouts
loiter, racing engines, sleek
cycles propped on the sidewalk so she's forced to weave through
a labyrinth of chrome and fumes
to reach her door, then ascend steep steps to the fifth floor?
Mercifully, Kieslowski's
camera doesn't accompany her.
                                              Nor have we seen
one of those boys, as a joke,
not meaning to hit her, lob a loose cobble, striking
the woman's ankle so fire
sears up her leg, but she drags her foot forward without
turning, the boys dumbfounded,
embarrassed now, till the one who tossed the stone, almost
as an afterthought, shouts  "Jew!"-
then the rest scoop up fistfuls of rubble and warn her
to keep moving, though no one
tosses another stone, and the woman feels too much
pain to allow consciousness
its thorny, inexhaustible registry of fear.
All coming to a bad end...
Dominika turns from snow-struck glass back to her room
where her lover smokes in bed.
He seems vain, superfluous now, though she once enjoyed
encircling his waist, pressing
her cheek against the cold black leather of his jacket
that smelled of gas and absinthe,
while the cycle surged Warsaw's crooked passageways, once
took pleasure in their vulgar
colleagues who preened, crow-like, uncircumcised cocks erect,
as she sketched them for art class.
Her mother's dead ten years. Her father's letters bear stamps
from a distant country, so
this boy's the only one who holds her these days, these nights
all coming to a bad end
though later she will dream the woman rinsing one dish
or watching soap operas fling
vertical corpses across blank windows while she soothes
her bruised ankle with chipped ice,
with a gentleness no lover has ever possessed.


3 - Biography

Michael Waters is Professor of English at Salisbury University on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and teaches in the New England College MFA Program in Poetry. The recipient of a Fellowship in Creative Writing from the National Endowment for the Arts, Individual Artist Awards from the Maryland State Arts Council, and three Pushcart Prizes, he has taught in Creative Writing Programs at Ohio University and the University of Maryland, and has been Visiting Professor of American Literature at the University of Athens, Greece, as well as Banister Writer-in-Residence at Sweet Briar College, Stadler Poet-in-Residence at Bucknell University, and Distinguished Poet-in-Residence at Wichita State University.


4 - Afterword

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