The Patient in Room 206)

The you I never got to know,
Who doesn't exist,
The shimmering you composed of glances and a few soft words -
the rest but expectation -
The unsustainable you who melted with the March snows
As we walked by the river when knowing you
Meant forgetting her:
Where has she gone,
This you who never was
And whom I suddenly remember?


It's just before daybreak I enter those cities of dream
Whose charmed, curving avenues our feet seem to know,
Where the children again are playing,
And where the scent of crushed almonds
Becomes a nostalgic melody tormenting my heart
And dissolving as I awaken
In the Land of Disenchantment.


For a moment, as the sun returned
And warmed the old stone wall overrun with blackberries,
And the finch's immemorial song gilded  the afternoon,
We seemed to remember the reason we're here -
How we came to this world, and who we truly are.
Then came clouds of oblivion
And poetry, our hope.

This is how you build a  luminous cavern:
You begin with nothing
And imagine a little space
That grows
As you put things into it
Until it becomes the world.


The music that we sense can never sound,
The images we'd shape can never be;
Knowing beforehand this futility,
We yet persist in littering the world with poems -
So many crumbling castles scattering dust
That dances in the sun and, settling, forms
Haphazard patterns, lovely, unforeseen,
So that, abandoning what we intend
Makes failure a beginning, not an end.


Who am I?
From the mirror opaque eyes resist my gaze.
A hundred habits govern my goings;
A thousand dancing thoughts surround me -
Why do I elude myself?
Long ago in darkness I lay dreaming,choosing,
naming myself and you and world;
Now it's true, or difficult to believe
These eyes are nowhere's  guardians,
Reluctant portals to nothingness.


Of late the waking world's become a dream,
Soft interlude between bewitching nights
Of scented music in an unknown key
That eases poetry's futility.
What are these places, rising from behind
Dissolving mists and disentangling vines
That long ago, about me, newborn, wove
Forgetfulness in a tumult of signs? -
That feed upon this veritable earth
While indicating elsewhere, meaning more?
Perhaps, if I could live a thousand years
And see all hopeless, myriad things which are,
I'd learn to love as beauty disappears
And stride with ease into the beckoning stars.


Were I a troubadour or a trouvere
And loved a woman inaccessible
Through rank or circumstance I'd utilize
My subtlest skill to praise her rarest gifts,
Finding in the frustration of my doom
An opportunity for poems to bloom.

But as a modern man in a free world
I stare across an existential void
At some unknowable Other I would love,
Confounded by a language I mistrust,
And prisoner to my subjectivity;
And so resolve to form in this abyss
An emblem of impossibility
Made possible through love's deep mystery:
A poem by which to banish nothingness.


Words come too late for us and for the world;
The winds of memory die on life's still sea.
We live and row unknowing with sails furled,
Adrift 'twixt origin and destiny.


When the ships appear,
When the long-fluted, dream-crusted ships
Fall from the milky stars
And settle again in our midst,
What shall I say then? -
How explain that,
On your account,
I cannot leave?


Your greatest fear is groundless!
Though you may pass through myriad worlds
(Chance-tossed or doomed by wages of old sins)
You needn't fear oblivion: those cold moons
But form the stage on which life's drama plays -

Your fear is groundless!
Though you bear no memory
Of your countless transmigrations
You shall awaken as a bird,
A stone, a warrior or a maiden;
And live always,
Surrounded by children
Or in the study of your solitude,
Yes, you shall always live -
To the weary rhythm of repetitive tasks
Or in the midst of Carthaginian splendor -

And yet, Noble Traveler,
Among the hundred houses,
Sparkling vistas, oceans, suns,
Behind the many masks (that know
Those other faces as their dreams)
You'll be forever homeless, without name -
Fear not oblivion, then, but know instead
This is the price of immortality:
The ennui of endless wandering,
The terror and despair of one who seeks
In vain for his face
In the mirrors of infinite mornings.


What good is it, this dream of yours
That death is to the past a door
Through which we find old love anew
And suffer again what we'd undo?

This time - each time! - I comprehend
That what I'd keep the world will rend;
What good, eternally to live
In ignorance and die in sin?


May friends desert you and may lovers leave;
May your ambitions languish and you dreams
Of permanence dissolve - such vanity!

As beauty fades may you become despised,
Near-sighted, melancholy.  May your life
Take on the bitter taste of lemon rinds:

Then is it barely possible you'll say
In dying you feel grateful, not betrayed,
For simply having had the chance to play.


Like a little child on the first day of school
You will go with hesitation,
On the appointed day,
Into the room.

Like a child you will go reluctantly,
Glancing backward, dragging both your feet,
Not because you wish to go
But because you must.

And no one will pity you,
Not those dim faces outside the window
Waving with false smiles,
Nor the strange clods of dirt
Already settling into place all about you.

But one thin shaft of light
Shall slip into the cracks of the heavy walls
And nestle on your cheek, upon your shoulder
(And whisper immemorially in your ear:
All is well; I am with you!).


I float above the days and years
And look on what I've left behind:
The beggar's bony hands outstretched,
A woman sobbing in the night,
And the fallen bird by the roadside.

Humbled beyond all vanity,
No longer desiring to be,
I find myself prepared at last
To live again and mend the past.


The shy child you befriended
With your russet-freckled smile,
your strawberry hair,
Who tapped on your window, lightly,
And brought you chestnuts,
The boy who tossed a ball with you
In that park in the afternoon
of a thousand robins -
He is here still - here! -
Beyond the reach of time,
Love's prisoner.

Die Seele ist ein Archipel
Wo ganzen geheime Stimmen singen
Auf tausend duftenden Inseln
In esoterischer Harmonie
Umgeben von goldenem Meer.

The soul's an archipelago
Where sing the sundry, secret selves
Upon a thousand fragrant isles
In esoteric harmony
Surrounded by an amber sea.


I come upon a precipice and pause
To wonder what dark truth awaits below.
A place that I'd forgot and now recall?
A new existence where I am a bird?
The countries of my dreams become substantial?
This one, same life, eternally replayed?
I come upon a precipice and pause
To wonder what dark truth awaits below.


Unnameable object of desire,
Unreachable city dissolving in gloom,
Faces without souls,
Hands grasping emptiness;
Who will deliver us from these shadows
Into the Land of the Living?


We walk beside our several selves
In parallel existences,
Some blessed, some burdened with travail,
But each of them palpably real -

And doomed: each story ends with a demise
From which we waken under different skies,
Enchanted, anguished, curious, by turns,
Immortal like the gods and blind as worms.


The color of the sea, before a storm,
O'erhung with clouds: for this I have no words;
Nor standing on exotic isle forlorn
Can I repeat the music of its birds;
Nor name th'especial quality of her charms,
But know it, blind and speechless in her arms.


(with elucidation)


Gather!  Gather about me, my wits!

Gather and disperse!

"I will pick irises for you" quoth she
(Or did her mindless phone correct her text?)

In Khabul fifteen are dead, another fifteen injured.

Once there was a shy boy and a girl with
Freckles and strawberry hair.
They tossed a ball in the park

(Now he is hefted on high in majesty -
Now he swings in mid-air, captive king,
And jests as he jousts with the dark-bearded barber)

It was summer in the park: they tossed a ball,
Never speaking.  Now:
"I will gather dandelions for you
As I find them here."  And
Fifteen minutes can save you fifteen percent.

The blade of his nemesis poised
As he swings in the air, captive in a cloud

The cloud-king, soon to be clod

And cloven from this earth, that girl, these flowers:

Who knocks?
Who knocks and enters unannounced?
The children ungrown again, ungrown at last!

When you were young you girded yourself
And walked wither you would;
When you are old another shall bind you.

Bind me, dark eyes!

Find me in the dandelions
Or the iris -
To love (I risk) is not to know
But to wonder
And to wander among imponderable sunsets
Rose and mauve.
Enter!  Enter the children into the Garden
Of Yesteryear, and into the house on the sloping hill.
Beyond, in the golden glade,
Wanders in solitude Tzhing.

Many names have I but faceless I remain.
My love is a beautiful stranger
Whose fond familiar form masks
A mystery of sunsets.
Who knocks?
From up here I can look down on the park
(They cannot see me for I am looking at the past)
There is dew on the light-green leaf-buds
And on the clods of dirt undrying.
Hark the song, the thin-whistling gliss
Of the lazy bird of distant summer
(Some are short and summer long, the saying goes
Of trains and horns of unicorns) -


From the magic horn, say some

And cure the crimson clouds.

"Steady now, let's gulp it down."
He's rough beneath the smile,
Rough like a banker:
I'm spun about.  I glimpse the glinting blade.
Who pinched? Who pinched my thighs and mocked
My exiled brow?
"Let's go, dammit: open your mouth and swallow!"
What? And forget the warm sun on the side of the house?
And her voice from the window dropping
Pearls of amber into memory's marble basin?
That fatal draught?  Oblivion's herald?  Never!
"The bastard - he bit me!"
(And the one-day sofa sales and the endless texting trivia)

Bring me my sons and my daughters!
(Stay thirsty, my friends.)



The park is empty, evening falls,
The freckled girl has moved away,
A moss-covered ball rolls wind-tossed
Among stones.

But to be a king is to see a new way
(And I saw fear in the barber's eyes)

I take leave!
My sons and my daughters bring to me
Let them play one last time the mingled chime

Let them show me the invisible loom of my deeds
Foolish father, cripple-king: they will not judge harshly
On my dancing day.

Then gather, gather about me, darkening clouds of winter.

Divest me of these paltry bones:

The courts of chaos call.

Take from my quaking hand this scepter

Let go my names upon the wind.

The cold is my secret friend

As I seek my forming face

In a country without boundaries

In a world without words.




Light blossomed
Within me

A-rocking I went
Among somewheres

My mother the sea!
The tides, the tides pulled me
Inside my outsides and outside my ins


Was I born blind or did I learn to hate?
(I remember)
Smooth marbles, bright ashtrays
The smell of sawdust
A bullfrog in tall ferns

Where have the shining afternoons gone?
Whence the lily I was,
Intrepid sandpiper,

What,s love? - a leaning outward like a rose
I learned at the feet of soft caterpillars
What briefest lives, lives bravest.


The complicated self grows at a price.
The soul hides in a cave
Deaf to the dove
And the murmuring dead,
Pondering stale enigmas of the mind.
Believe! Oh believe in the stair.
Follow the foolish fish into plein air.
(From dream comes language and from language dreams.)


The world turns, the tide goes in and out.
Indignities of age?
A shell has whispered my worth.
Sweet sooth of pebbles!
Catbird whom I love!
I shall not cease to search for songs
Till I become who,s singing all along.
The influence of Eliot's Wasteland and Pound's
Cantos will be evident in a general way, though
here, as everywhere, the technique emerged
organically rather than through deliberate
imitation.  More an image of a mind with its many
voices than of a culture.

Who speaks? Partly me, partly my father, partly
historical personages.

Ambivalence: both a rallying against senility and a
yearning for oblivion's release.

Something Sue once texted me, later revealed as
the product of "auto-correct". "Irises" was
"groceries", and phones are more poetic than their

A tv is playing in the room: its intrusions  form a
careless counterpoint to the drama unfolding.

From an earlier poem in this collection on the
theme of distant, young love.

The child of the poem has become an old man
trapped in a  Home for the Aged.  Each morning he
is lifted in a hospital swing to be cleaned and
shaved by an attendant who seems polite but who
is (or is imagined to be) cruel .

The tv intrudes upon his consciousness, blithely
irrelevant, pandering to young consumers.

The cloud of amnesia.

As in returning to the earth - through death.

In his dreams his children are small again, and he
is young and vital.

With these words Jesus warns Saint Peter of the
nature of his death.

Title of a painting by Hans Hofmann based on a
German Romantic poem

Tzhing the unicorn - the symbol of Imagination.


There is a legend according to which the unicorn's
horn can cleanse poisonous waters.

His befuddled state of mind

A confrontation - real or imagined  - between the
attendant and the patient.  

Indifferent to this private drama, the outside world
continues to  spin.

Another commercial - "the most interesting man in
the world".  Also an injunction to avoid soporific
drugs, an exhortation to remain vigilant.

The tone of this stanza is indebted to the last song
in Schoenberg's
Book of the Hanging Gardens
(poetry by Stefan George)

Paraphrase of a line from
Star Trek, the original

A Mingled Chime - title of the biography of the
British conductor Thomas Beecham.

"Tomorrow will be my dancing say" sings Jesus in
an old Christmas carol.

As in Yeats,
Sailing to Byzantium

Roger Zelazney, The Amber Chronicles

Prospero's decision to lay aside his power, to let
things go

Star Trek, the original series

The sentiment comes from the intimate poems of
Theodore Roethke.

Italo Calvino"s  
Cosmicomics, the final sentence

The Real, the Source, the ocean of non-being