Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Bones in the Nightingale's Nest


I have spent the last two years of my life around people who were losing their memory.
And with the loss of memory
Is the loss of everything….

So I wanted to say something about memory…
I want to perform something about memory…
About how it is lost…
About how it is remembered.

About fragility…
Gossamer threads…
Spider webs…
Nestlike gatherings…

I want to talk about
The stories of love and loss
Those shuddering moments of meaning
That were meaning only for that one beautiful
And unique soul that told it to you:
Grandfather, Grandmother, Mother, Father, Teacher, Lover, Poet.

These people who are now dead
And gave you one of their stories.
The story as a means of remembering.
A mnemonic device.

The weight of that,
That fantastic odd tale,
The indelible images,
And whispered prayers,
The burden now that you bear

This Living Presence once carried by them

I am sorry…
I lost my train of thought here…

[ Searching over this page for several lost seconds]

No one else knows.
Of even if you do tell it to them,
They won’t carry it with them,
They won’t secure it
In the innermost temple of their memories.

What I remember is this question
That someone asked me:
Did you know humming birds make their nests from spider webs?

I am so sorry
I just can’t seem to remember
What I was going to say…


[ Again, looking over these notes for an almost uncomfortable amount of time.]

What was I saying?
No. It begins with…
I want to say something about memory.

These stories, memories, hummingbird nests…

I knew a woman once…
She’s dead now.

[ Pause. The following delivered hesitantly, with no flow.]

I found a ribbon
That fell one afternoon
From her hair in the woods
And the laughter in the woods.
And the memory of that red ribbon,

I was walking in the woods
Remembering laughter.
And just happened to look up
In the tree
The red ribbon,
Bound into a bird’s nest
And it was just so…

[ Uncomfortable pause. Look up from these notes to scan the faces in the audience. Slow.]

But, I am sorry…
I want to tell you
How I remember this story.
But not this one.

[ Fold notes up. Now speaking with confidence and no hesitancy.]

I want to speak from memory
No from these notes written down
They are trying to dance with crutches
I want to speak
About what I know by heart

[ The following is from memory.}

All time suddenly collected...

In 1819, Spring came early to Hampstead Heath,
The park in the northern part of London
That Unreal City where so many were so undone
Walking mindlessly around in a Ring of Death

And so many nightingales that Spring
Filled bush and branch and tomblike shadow
As if Death himself was sweetly whispering

John Keats
Now beneath a plum tree
That held a nightingale’s nest
Writing down words of fire
From the bright red blood
Dripping inside his chest.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!  
  No hungry generations tread thee down;  
The voice I hear this passing night was heard  
  In ancient days by emperor and clown:  
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path  
  Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,  
    She stood in tears amid the alien corn;  
          The same that ofttimes hath  
  Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam  
    Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

The seventh stanza of Ode to a Nightingale.
Words charged with such an intensity of meaning
That the language itself is consumed in the reading.

Keats again in the light darkness of dawn,
Around him Aedon, Philomena and Procne
His skull pierced through by their tragic song
And Fate as un-fightable as the sea
Mythic rightings of ancient wrongs

Aedon: mistakenly murdered her son.
Philomela: raped by King Tereus,
Her tongue cut out,
Weaves her tale in a tapestry.
Philomela’s sister, Procne
Revenges this rape proportionately :
Kills her own son by Tereus
And to make the revenge complete
Prepares for him a supper
And feeds him his own child’s meat

These unspeakable acts beyond the pale
Of our wretched civility
Each of these women transformed
By the Gods from vengeful insanity
Into easeful singing Nightingales

And Ah…
These nightingale grieve,
Sing such lament
Beyond the meaning
Of all meaningful things
As a Skeletal Ghost of God over the bend world broods
With bright skull and dark wings.

That self-same song now like a sick worm
In Ruth’s heart as she stands defiantly
Amongst the reapers as the sun above burns
And that distant song rises so quietly
Being reborn again within her bones
And though she could not hope to turn
And because she could not hope
She prayed that she might forget
These matters that occupy her mind too much

Keats there listening,
Already sick to death,
Quietly spits out a mouthful of blood
Onto the plum-stained ground
And with a ragged breath rakes
Obscene percussion to beauty’s aching sound

Then, he smiles at the strange, alien element of Ruth,
Standing there in the center of his poem
In the same way she stood out in the fields of Truth
When Boaz first saw her with the Reapers alone

“Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam”
Collecting around the poet's mouth
As he hangs on the cross of his fate forlorn
Spitting arcs of blood laced with doubt.

One imagines this nightingale’s song
In the brightness falling all around him,
Singing of “summer in full-throated ease.”
This mythical summer,
This zero season of no shadow or wrong
That this world might begin again.
In fires of absolving purity.

Keats sighs, wondering if it is all a sick dream.
There in the blueing light of dawn
All music, long departed.
From his infected memory.

Keats died on 23 February 1821
On the Spanish Steps in Rome
He desired only this be written
For memory
On a simple stone

Here lies One
Whose Name was writ in Water.

The Winter of 1822 was hard.
A great many birds died in their nests.
Fanny Brawne and Isabella Jones,
Take a chair into the frozen orchard
Set it beneath the barren plum tree,
Search through bonelike branches
Searching until they see it.

With Fanny’s help,
Isabella climbs up
Retrieves a nest
So fragile and frail
And within a hieroglyph of hope
The Bones of a Nightingale.

Fresh Hay

From Charles "Bonesy" Jones Private Collection

The flesh filled with the black sludge of time,
difficulty moving, out of breath quickly,
trouble sleeping, trouble staying awake.

The failure of stamina.
I imagine a Gulliver figure aging
in a Lilliputian world,
the diminutive devils of sickness, old age, death
throwing ropes over his form,
bending the spine closer to earth,
dragging down the skin over the bones,
slowing the stride to a sad shuffle.

Mostly, it is a persistent tiredness,
a dull exhaustion with the world.

I cast a cold eye on the happiness and joy of others.
This public laughter.
A family running around the park with children.
A father lifting his little girl into the air.
A mother riding on a grocery cart through a parking lot,
her children happily running along beside.
Lovers giggling face-to-face over private jokes.

Enthusiasm in older people is a particular sin.
Men singing the trivial praises of a beer or a new band or a recent film.
Even worse: the old trying to blend in amongst the young.
The masque of overabundance,
the false enthusiasm, the forced smiles,
the affect of being free of cares,
hiding like reptiles amongst a herd of sheep.
Showing their shaking hand
as they glance surreptitiously at the clock,
their faces falling in unguarded moments,
the grey slack skin yawning around the bloodshot eyes,
revealing the vacant countenance
of the skull waiting underneath it all.

These petty crimes of humanity...
aren't they all always petty in this regard?
I am as guilty as anyone.

However, tending to the fire
of this awareness seems everything.
I figure the old man feeding the broken down nag
in the barn for all of his life,
awaiting the return of the hero.
Still better, I say to myself,
as I shovel fresh hay into the coffin of the stall,
than being lost in there with all the others.
In There.
Standing outside in the gloom of the brain's evenings,
outside the luminous frame of the window,
careful to stay unseen in the shadows,
looking in upon the merry pageant
of other's desperate happiness,
thinking always how fortunate I am
to have made such wise choices in my life,
lesser traveled paths
that have led me to this strange watch
I hold outside of the drama,
that warm life, laughter and love
in there.

I mock myself laughter,
move deliberately into the light
so as to spy my ludicrous shadow
and descant upon mine own deformity.

I return to the ruined nag in the stall,
this ghost of a horse,
this trembling bag of bones
curled into the corner.

I whisper its name,
trying to divine if there is still life in the creature.
One sad eye opens.
The weathered head lifts slightly.
I say the name again,
rare warmth returning to my voice:

Dance Me Down to the Bone

So when I die bury me deep
Water my grave with your tears
If you’re holding a rose, let it fall
In memory of all our lost years

Cover me in the sweet sweet earth
Let my face take root in the ground
And in my Dream of Death, let Silence reign forth
In a Kingdom of no sound.

***O Death, Death
Dance me down to the Bone

There is a cantina deep underground
Where all the Lost Souls drink
Trying to forget the memory of pain
Trying to not even think

There’s a woman there with snakes in her hair
Seducing us all with a dance
Some try to cry some still try to die
Most never have any chance   ***

There’s a fire in my brain about to drive me insane
I feel my skin is slipping away
I take a bottle from the Desert and a drink from the Sky
How’s I ever end up in this place?

I try to drink and can’t get drunk
Think these thoughts that can’t get thunk
I want to scream and I only sigh
I guess this is what happens when you die   ***

The Singer says it is was a World full of tears
Everyone still full of pain and fears
And now all of that is going to disappear
And leave nothing but Desire

The Snake rattles out the Rhythm of the Bones
And the Woman sings in cries and moans
I would give anything to get back home
And remember who I am   ***

The Band plays on the same tired song
Seems like I’ve heard it for a hundred years
And every whispered word sounds like a curse
These skulls can’t cry any tears

When I die I pray my memory
Will never forget your face
And even when my bones are turned to dust and stone
They’ll be whispering your name  ***

Blues for Dead God

The Seventh Seal - 1957

Blues for Dead God
Haunting the sky
Poem for a broken man
With no reason why
Blood on the bones
Dancing in the grave
Living is just dying a little
longer every day
God ain’t nothing but a Monster Ghost
I think it’s Love that I’m gonna miss the most

Prayer for a woman
Who opened her chest
Gave me her heart
Said forget all the rest
Like the English Language
Stepping out of it’s skin
Speaking in tongues
Before it was a sin
I said I wanted it but I didn’t know the cost
I think it’s Love that I’m gonna miss the most

Last words for a Savior
Nailed to a cross
I found a bone in the Desert
Before I knew I was lost
Covered in honey
I set myself on fire
Lift up the Skull of God
Higher and higher
I don’t nothing by a scarecrow hung on a post
I think it’s Love that I’m gonna miss the most

Whisper in my ear
When I’m deep in the grave
Hold my in your arms
Every time that you pray
Dance with my bones
In the dark of the night
Throw my skull on the fire
And let my spirit burn bright
God ain’t nothing but a Monster Ghost
I think it’s Love that I’m gonna miss the most

On Yeats' Second Coming

Turning and turning in the deepening hole
Our skull surrenders the whispers of our soul
Here things fall apart
This rag and bone shop of the heart
Turning and turning in the deepening hole

The Ceremony of Innocence is drowned
The Tower of Babel falls without a sound
Mere anarchy reigns supreme
In this dark and dismal scene
The Ceremony of Innocence is drowned

The Worst of are full of passionate intensity
Every Prisoner listening for their key
Some Revelation is at hand
As the Glass runs out of sand
The Worst of are full of passionate intensity

The Darkness drops again and now I know
So many memories fade away without hope
And when the hour comes around again
Who among us has no sin?
The Darkness drops again and now I know

If it’s true the Second Coming is at hand
There’s something I need to understand
What rough beast forlorn
Is waiting within us to be born?
If it’s true the Second Coming is at hand

These days always I question who I am
Walking down the road to Bethlehem
For so long I was asleep
But the Devil wouldn’t let me dream
These days always I question who I am

You Have Your Private Armageddons

Nagasaki - 1945

All our revels now are ending
The Gate of Hells are clear in sight
The Devil’s case needs no defending
As the World spins into Night

Midnight Agents are congregating
A Consecration of Despair
The Old Men always debating
How much pain they each can bear

So torture me with your solutions
Tear the Flesh right off my bones
You past is full of resolutions
Your future finds you all alone

They always send the Lone Assassin
The Devil laughing inside their head
A Poem of Pain in your compassion
You still deny that God is Dead

You have your private Armageddons
Annihilations of the soul
But the memory the one you loved

Just won’t leave you alone

Me and the Devil Riding on a Train

Haxan - 1922

Well it’s a darkness visible and a world on fire
Everyone is burning in a dream of desire
Desolation in the Desert and an Empty Cross
I had a map of heaven but in hell I was lost
Rain coming down like tears of pain
The Devil and Me are riding on a train

I got Skull of God in my suitcase
Last words of Jesus tattooed on my face
Tore the wings of Gabriel to make my coat
And Adam’s apple is still stuck in my thought
The world is ending nothing is gonna be the same
The Devil and Me are riding on a train

I once knew a woman called Memory
But I can’t remember what she did to me
The Devil’s keeps singing some sad old song
Saying she was right but I was wrong
No matter what I do, it all stays the same
It’s just the Devil and me riding on a train

Well the Devil is laughing asking it I want to smoke
Hold out a handful of rocks I say, well I’m flat broke
He says, not to worry we can work it out
You can pay me later on the River of Doubt
I was sorely tempted I must honestly say
To make that deal with the Devil on the Hellbound Train

I say I got a bottle of tequila and a book of spells
To keep my true to my word while I’m sitting in hell
He says that tequila won’t last and your language is a dream
Made of sighs and whispers and cries and screams
There once was hope but none remains
It’s just the Devil and Me riding on a train

Go ahead and take my tequila and all your rocks
Burn me in fires and stop all the clocks
The Skull of God is like thunder in my hands
I’m gonna step out of my skin and my bones will dance
And these bones aint gonna ever feel no pain
It’s the Devil and Me riding on a train

The Devil he laughed and he knew I was right
And we drank tequila and smoked all night
And I passed out under the Skull of God
And dreamed I walked to Eden from the Land of Nod
When I woke up I was hungover insane
Just riding alone on that Hellbound Train

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jones is dreaming

Jones is dreaming
under blanket
on the other side
of the fire
eyes rolling
under closed lids
mouth whispering
the language of sleep
mumbled prayers
to a dead god

we are far up
Chama River Canyon
good ways past
the Monastery
beyond the deadend
of the red road
coyote yip and prowl the shadows
along with larger beast
shapes divined in dusty print
wings hush and shiver
bat owl and nighthawk
choir of cricket
grasshopper katydid and cicada
rising falling calling
long oscillations
of sex and death
the desert breathes
its breath

pinyon, cedar, ocotillo and juniper
a pile I add to every day
sizzle pop and sputter
sap and resin in the fire
the red cathedral
of embers
dioramas of inferno
copal smoke
frankincense myrrh
red sparks rising orange
flame yellow spin white
fill the night sky with stars

waiting now
for Jones
a week gone
since we arrived
I walk and gather wood
Jones wants no food
but takes water
we wait
we talk little
nothing left to say
at night
he stares into the fire
sleeps and dreams
during the day
he sits still
in the shade
of a broken juniper
I watch and wait
polishing these
present moments
teeth and stones
in my pocket
already shining
with memory
a deepening lustre
like a bone in amber
waiting for Jones
to die

bus from Austin
night departure
soaked in hot rain
an angry driver
vicious with words
and a child wailing
with hunger
in the uncaring arms
of a dead-eyed Mexican man
holding the child
like a tombstone
the child cries on
with the wasted energy
of a lonely siren

like an opening wound
Ft. Stockton, Texas
get off to stretch our legs
I sit Jones down
on a church pew
in the waiting room
of the station
go hunt down some coffee
come back
and there's an old black woman
across from him
playing a banjo
singing ancient song
I sit down
steam rising
in ghost vapors
from the coffee
her eyes are clouded white
with cataract
her banjo out of tune
or maybe just
alien to my ear

See my child with eyes so bright
The stars are hidden from his sight

O I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

My mother is draped in robes of shame
And fears to use my father’s name

Well I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

My other child is buried deep
And sings my dreams when I sleep

Yes I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

Listening to
the increments of India
air rich with smell
the mud of the Ganges
a hundred fires at least
Jones and myself there
sitting on the steps
Varanasi Ghat
watching the smoke
from burning bodies
blacken the temple walls
ashes muddy the water

the spell is broken
by the unnecessary
and harsh hollering
of the driver
Charon rowing
through the souls
lost in the water
knocking heads
and hands away
the bus is leaving
the old woman
keeps singing
maybe deaf also
Jones painfully rising
and we reboard
and continuing
ever westward

Yes I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

They say he lies on a cold grey stone
With holes for eyes and snow-white bones

Well I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

Yes I’m a woman from the Land of Nod
On my way to see my God

Jones showed me three dice


Jones showed me three dice
held them in one hand
in front of my face
turn the hand
only one die remained

Mrs. Smith cooking
screen door breezeway
hear her in there
always talking
East Texas in the kitchen
fresh greens from the sandy soil
sweet corn
mashed potatoes
fried channel cat
some bream
chess pie

there with Mr. Eliot
nightfishing on the pier
he called my grandfather Cal
and my grandfather called him Skinny
and he was
showed me how to form a ball
of stinkbait on a treble hook
how to cast
with the sinker set up high
sose that bait would sit up
off the bottom of the lake

mercury light
on the black water
frogs scream and glug
across the lake
vast cricket chorus
sprayed out Milky Way
spilled over the above
reflection on the water
big things out there
breaking surface
feeding on stars

my rod tugs
like a question mark
my grandfather raises an eyebrow
Skinny says quiet
slow slow just let him think he's got it
I can feel the depths of the lake
pulling the line
across every ridge of my thumb
sounding out my intention
slow slow now says Mr. Eliot
he's just dancin widdit
just dancin widdit
wait til he make his move
like a thief in the night
thinkin hes gone get away
tug pull tug boom
straight down the line
bowing the rod way over
my grandfather
and Mr. Eliot saying
set that hook son
play it out now
now bring him in

My grandfather showed me
how to hold the catfish
big as my arm
spiney black fins
between the fingers of both hands
don't get stuck with those said Skinny
they hurt you somethin
we had to use needle-nose pliers
to get the hook out
the catfish shuddering in my grip
its smooth skin seeming
to have a writing I couldn't figure
my grandfather saying
thats a biggun
be good eatin said Skinny
then the catfish croaked
like it was trying
to speak
startled me such
that I dropped it
flopped all crazy
and I reached to get it
watching not
to get stung on the fins
and was too late
cause it flipped itself back
into the water

both hands spread open
and my arms wide
a picture of loss
I turned from the water
back to my grandfather
and Mr. Eliot
and they both broke out
into such a laughter
that I started too
but didn't feel it

at breakfast the next morning
the tale was told
for the table
Mrs. Smith spooning
scrambled eggs onto my plate
bends down to ask
honey whatid that catfish
say to you to get you to let him go?
and I said
he didn't have time to say nothin
fore I dropped him
and he got away
and everyone laughed again

And Mr. Smith
everyone called him Gerald
says I used to have a catfish
that would come out of the water
when I whistled
maybe he learned
how to talk
and that's the same fella
you caught last night
and there was more
and everyone thought
it a grand story to
tell in my presence
from then on out

I remember how
Jones shook his head sadly
when I told him about the fish
said I had to be careful now
cause that fish would tell
all the others
about me
and that now everytime
I caught a fish
it was gonna try to talk
me into letting it go
I didn't know if
he was joking me

he put his hand
in front of my face
turned it
and appeared a single die
from thin air
and put it in my palm
said you gone need it now
put that in your tackle box
to keep them fish quiet

I didn't know
Skinny Eliot
saw it all
from where he was
sitting in his boat
in the boathouse
saw me put the die
in my tackle box
when I looked up
to see that he was watching
I was embarrassed
but he only nodded at me
and went back
to what he was doing

Sunday, February 09, 2014

There's a book, dog-eared

There’s a book
From all the years
It spent howling

There’s a page
That appeared
In the House
Where I was hiding

And the words
Tell of a man
Who was lost
In the life he was living

And the letters
Drawn in the sand
And no one remembers

There’s a story
With ragged hymns
As thin as
A spiderweb

And a writer
With too many sins
And far too much
Time on his hands

And his life
Tells of a man
Who was lost
In the myth he believed in

And his words
Are buried in sand
Fading away
As soon as he speaks them