Were I a gentleman true, gallant,
The kind if chap with plumage in his hat,
Whose cape readies for damsel's distress,
I would say let's end it now; you're
Too young or, even better put, I'm
Too old for love with a beauty your age.
But let’s face it!
No simple convention has hold on me.
Long ago, it was in the woods of
I saw time tunnel down the trail before me.
I saw the nature of things, the whirl into which all
we know disappears.
faces of the dead have startled me awake.
Family and friends float before me.
Oh the calamity! Death holds both young
and old alike!
Darling, the air in my bedroom dropped
to the temperature of ice.
I envision my aunt, Helene, and see her
When she says to the child who is me, 'Stanley!
Go ahead! Touch her!' My cousin, Barbara,
Lies in her coffin before the age of six,
a year older than I.
My buddy, Burton, cut down well before prime;
Thought of him occupies my every day.
Revelry brings me to Joey who cried
'Whitney's dead!' And right there
On Fifth Avenue, opposite the Public Library,
He placed his gun on the glass of the showcase
Counter top. I was in the jewelry shop.
I dreamed a slip
Back to former ways, the drinking life;
I could taste the whiskey shots
Dispensed that afternoon, Johnnie Walker Black.
The haunting went on;
more of the dead paraded before me.
Omar, tall, dark and handsome,
The child, Spencer, my son's best friend,
My high-school sweethearts, Arlene and Lynn,
All taken, all unwitting emblems, as if to prove,
Life bears no promise of continuance.
Nightmare arms with disembodied hands,
wagged imaginary fingers
As if to demand I pick up pen and write.
But before one dream ceased another appeared.
I saw the birds of the air keep still.
Those who were eating did not eat,
And those who were conveying
material to make nest,
Did not convey it, and before me opened a scene
Of low surf beaches upon which were long ships,
Vessels whose hulls had center masts
With single, rectangular sails, blood red,
And from gar boards up were stakes, broad-axed
Hewed, each board a color its own, and
Each board nailed one upon the other,
The sides of those ships appeared
like the bands of rainbows.
Red, orange, yellow, green, blue,
indigo and regal violet.
Color upon color ran the length of keels, which
Themselves were crowned gold with fierce,
Rudders were mounted at right,
and within each craft
Upon rows and rows of chests sat oars men.
The ships were set to sail,
yet the entire assembled host
Seemed as if stuck in stone,
like sculpture done in high relief.
The waves had stopped, and broke not.
It was a night. What a night!
It was, it really was, what a remarkable night!
Never before had I beheld
such Technicolor panorama.
The closed world of family and friends
fell to vision from other time and place.
My bedroom warmed. And a true,
second sense intimated Spring,
Prelude to some glorious Scandinavian summer.
Light, bright, bright day dawned, and it thrilled me.
I readied for adventure. I was happy,
exhilarated beyond all normal sense.
And, then, a bearded visage loomed before me.
It was strange, unlike anything I had ever seen.
It wore a helmet, a four part iron dome with a
sharp spike atop.
A braided chain surrounded his eye sockets,
giving a spectacle-like appearance to his visor.
Down the back of his neck, mounted from
the edge of his helmet.
A chain-mail curtain fell directly to the shoulder
of a thick, hide tunic.
A strap from ear guard to ear guard dropped
behind his beard, held his helmet in place.
He said, 'Action! Please!' At once, as though
My whole vision be some kind of cinematic construct,
I heard birds of the air singing,
Those who were eating ate, those who
Were conveying material to make their nests,
The shipyard had come to life; the din was terrific.
On horizon's plane I heard low thunder.
And saw the spray of waves
sparkle in the daylight.
I wondered do I sleep or do I wake?
'Today', the specter said, 'before I appeared
in vision to you,
A fierce fit seized my brain, and I took my sword
And smashed it mightily
Against this stone which our men
had trundled from the moraine,
A monument on whose face inscribed characters
memorialized my life.’
Wordlessly he handed me a leather roll to unfurl.
It was a runic manuscript and though
the writing was old’n Svenska, I could read it!
'My Darling Brunet,’ the salutation went,
'I am your countryman, a remote ancestor,
I tell you true, and whether you believe me or not,
Or how you choose to act,
it rests entirely with you.
Nonetheless I urge you. Harken!
‘Death has deprived me of ability to speak,
The poet’s verse, the dream
it communicates to you,
Is but channel, the vehicle this ghost employs,
Without this medium
no correspondence would exist.
‘You have heard of the hurried activity that
animates the point of embarkation,
Note anticipation of mere material success
Dwarfs so much noble human endeavor.
The business these ships portend had once been mine.
‘The business these ships portend had been mine.
‘And now voyager, you, like we before you,
Pursue the world to bring it to your feet,
To bring new riches home to dazzle compatriots.
‘Yet, whatever the greatness now awaits you,
Yours can not compare to ours,
to our accomplishment.
Forgive the invidious note. Still mull it over,
If even for a moment. Imagine it!
‘The joy! We sat well in order
And smote the sounding furrows, and
sailed into the sunrise
We headed toward the baths of the morning stars.
‘And when we landed, we transversed a vast,
unnamed, Eurasian landmass,
Harnessed captives to forge the rivers, fought
Used native allies to establish posts for trade.
‘And while we traveled we beseeched Odin,
‘Oh Father! Oh Father of Fathers! Oh Allfather!
Soak us in the blood of enemies, and let its
Stench increase our fury. Help us to violence!
Oh Great God guide us to kill any whom defy us.
‘The greater bloody smell that filled our nostrils,
the more the madness to fight and conquer.
‘And when we lit the funeral pyres
made from the ships of recent travels,
And burned the bodies of our fallen comrades
into the heaven that awaits the warrior.
Our hair was matted
thick with the ash of the departed.
We breathed in the spirits of heroic conquest
in the smoke from those fires.
‘We were men of prayer and momentous belief,
Utterly turning our will and lives
over to care of Father.
‘And I ask, again, how may yours compare
to ours, to our conquest of the East.
‘We founded Kiev, established the thrones
That became the Royal house of a great nation.
‘All the way from the soil of Stora Alvaret,
we crossed the Bosphorus,
And battled foes on the plains outside Byzantium
in the employ of oriental Emperors.
‘We had vanquished the expanse of land from
Baltic to Black Sea.
‘And when we returned to homeland shores
We had ships filled with slaves and honey.
We brought woman companions North,
awesome beauties of the East.
We stole the horses of the Hungarians
and the Czechs.
Our hulls bore bags upon bags of gold
and silver coin, and were heaped
With all variety of fruit and
pelts of fur for our winters.
We had returned home rich beyond measure.
‘Now I am but a shade, truly ghost of former self.
No one need tell me how the gravestone script
Commemorates your ancestors’ deeds and mine.
‘Yet nothing matches the warmth of a dear
wife’s body in bed for sleep.
‘Once, and now so many years ago,
I happened upon my wife while she lifted
Our son to seat him on the front plank
Of an oxcart parked in the front of our home.
‘I must convey that there be
more lasting memory and real worth for me,
In the way dappled sunlight had illuminated
my son's head,
Than there is upon all the runes that stand today
in the homeland.
‘Our paths emerge but for a while then close
forever within a dream.
‘Time cuts us a length so short
only the moment may be savored,
All else is vanity, and in the recognition of
We may seize the instance and recognize
‘I am a shade. My victories mean nothing.
‘Were I only able to spend another hour
in the arms of my beloved.
If I could only bear again my living witness
to sun’s light across tree tops
at the height of the day.
‘If only it were possible to play, to tumble
with my toddler son,
To crawl upon earth with him once more.
‘Goodbye! Sweet woman, Goodbye!
‘Farewell! Farewell! Remember me!’
He vanished. The dreamscape turned green.
And the color now before me matched the color,
The verdant, the summer green of those
preserves of forest
That stretch for mile upon mile
along the River Desplaines
The green that matched the color, the wood,
Which circled the cemetery stone,
the burial ground of the Chippewa Chief
Whose bravery saved the pale skins
at Fort Dearborn,
The green was the color of the burial plot,
The Indian Burial Ground
where I played in my youth.
And, now, out from this world of green
‘Go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly.
For time chases upon our heels,
Before too long it quickens its pace to
All earthly store succumbs to this onslaught.
In a wisp, like the language of our monuments,
we cease, and we are remembered no more.’
And over and against this green
a spectral chorus appeared,
And from that group a single figure stepped
to the fore, and said
‘I repeat the ancient wisdom,
What do we care what the joyless say?
They should get lost, all of them!
Once our tiny, brief light is pinched out,
There be no night, like that everlasting night,
When earth replaces heaven.
‘So let’s kiss, and let’s kiss again.
Let’s kiss a thousand times, and, then,
Let’s do it all over again, those kisses.
‘How many? How many? How many?
How many, you say?
‘Let’s let our kisses be unnumbered.
There are people with malevolent eyes,
Workers of black magic,
who would wish to bewitch us.
‘They should not know how many.’