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Thursday, January 14, 2010

NOW VOYAGER, A Poem in Four Parts

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NOW VOYAGER,
A Poem in Four Parts



Part I


Were I a gentleman true, gallant,
The kind of chap with plumage in his hat,
Whose cape readies for damsel's distress,
I would say let us end it now; you are
Too young or, even better put,

I am too old for love with a beauty your age.

But let us face it!
No two-bit convention possesses me.

Long ago,
It was in the woods of Western Massachusetts,
I saw time tunnel down the trail before me.
I saw the nature of things,
The whirl into which all we know disappears.

And tonight faces of the dead startle me awake.
Family and friends float before me.

Oh the calamity!
Death holds both young and old alike!

Darling, the air in my bedroom
It drops 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, she was 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 dream a slip back to former ways, the drinking life;
I could taste the whiskey shots, the beverage
Dispensed that afternoon, it was Johnnie Walker Black.

The haunting goes on;
More of the dead, they parade before me.

Omar, tall, dark, forgive me here for I know
No better than the honest truth, 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,
Wag imaginary fingers
As if to demand I pick up pen and write.



Part II


But before one dream ceases another appears.
I see 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 opens a scene
Of low surf beaches upon which are long ships,
Vessels whose hulls have center masts
With single, rectangular sails, blood red,
And from gar boards up are stakes, broad-axed
Hewed, each board a color its own,
And each board nailed one upon the other,
The sides of those ships appear,
Like the bands of rainbows, red, orange, yellow,
Green, blue, indigo and regal violet.
Color upon color runs the length of keels,
Which themselves are crowned gold
Each has its own fierce, dragon-head prow.


Rudders are mounted at right, and within each craft
Upon rows and rows of chests sit oarsmen.

The ships are set to sail,
Yet the entire assembled host
Seems as if stuck in stone,
Like sculpture done in high relief. Nothing moves.
The waves have stopped, they break not.

What a night! It is,
It really is, what a remarkable night!

Never before have I beheld,
Have I seen such Technicolor panorama.
The closed world of family and friends
It falls to vision from other time and place.
My bedroom warms. And a seemingly true,
But sixth sense intimates Spring,
I bear witness to a prelude,
The dream carries me and I sense the long days,
The glory of Scandinavian summer awakens before me.

Light, bright, bright day dawns, and it thrills me.
I ready for adventure. I am happy,
I am exhilarated beyond normal human confines.

And, then, a bearded visage looms before me.
It is strange, it wears a helmet,
The likes of which I had never before encountered,
A four part iron dome with a sharp spike atop,
A braided chain surrounds its eye sockets,
It gives a spectacle-like appearance to the visor.

Down the back of this visage’s neck,
Mounted from the edge of his helmet,
A chain-mail curtain falls
Directly to the shoulder of a thick, hide tunic.
A strap from ear guard to ear guard
Runs behind his beard, holds his helmet in place.

He says, "Action! Please!" At once, as though
My dream be some kind of cinematic construct,
I hear birds of the air singing, those who were eating,
Eat, and those who were conveying material
To nest, convey it.

The shipyard has come to life, the din now terrific.
On horizon's plane I hear low thunder.
I see the spray of waves sparkle in the daylight.

I wonder do I sleep or do I wake?



Part III


"Today", the specter says,
"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 hands me a leather roll to unfurl.
It is a runic manuscript and though
The writing, its script is olden Svenska,
In my dream I could read it!

"My Darling Brunet," the salutation goes,

"I am your countryman, a remote ancestor,
I tell you true, and whether you believe me or not,
Or how you choose to act,
The matter 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 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,
It dwarfs so much noble human endeavor.
The business these ships portend had once been mine.

"The business the ships portend had been mine.

"And now voyager, you, like we before you,
Pursue the world to bring it to your feet,
You seek new riches and hope
To bring them 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,
Allow me this 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 crossed a vast,
Unnamed landmass between Europe and Asia,
Harnessed captives to forge the rivers,
Fought numberless skirmishes,
We 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 who defy us.

"The greater bloody smell that filled our nostrils,
The more the madness drove us to fight and conquer.

"And when we lit the funeral pyres,
Made from the ships of our current travel,
And burned the bodies of our fallen comrades
Into the heaven that awaits the warrior,
Our hair became matted thick,
We were crowned with the ash of the departed.
In the smoke from those fires
We breathed in the spirits of heroic conquest.

"We were men of prayer and momentous belief,
Utterly we turned our will and
We turned our lives over to care of Father.

"And I ask, again, how yours may compare to ours,
How may yours compare 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 Bosporus,
And battled foes on the plains outside Byzantium,
Our work was in the employ of oriental Emperors.

"We had vanquished the expanse of land
We ruled 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 were ours.
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,
Our ships returned laden with pelts, fur, which we
And our people used to win our great fight against Winter.

"We had returned home rich beyond measure.

"Now I am but a shade, truly ghost of former self.
No one need tell me how great the events
How the gravestone script commemorates
The immortality of your ancestors’ deeds and mine.

"Yet nothing matches the warmth, the memory,
My dear wife’s body lay in bed, her sleeping next to me.

"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 is
More lasting memory and real worth for me,
In the way dappled sunlight
Had illuminated my son's head,
Than is upon all the runes in the homeland today.

"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, vanity,
And once we recognize the transitory,
The fleetingness of all we savor,
We may seize the instance and know treasure.

"I am a shade. My victories mean nothing.

"Were I only able to spend
An hour more in bed with my beloved,
Could I once more bear living witness
To sun’s light across tree tops at height of day.

"If only it possible to play, to tumble,
To crawl along with my toddler son,
Were we to have opportunity for our knees
And our hands to be upon this earth once more.

"Goodbye! Sweet woman, Goodbye!

"Farewell! Farewell! Remember me!"



Part IV


He vanishes. The dreamscape turns green.

And the color now before me matches the color,
The verdant, the summer green of those
Preserves of forest that stretch
For mile upon mile along the River Deplanes
The green that equals the color, the wood,
The forest which circles the cemetery stone,
The burial ground of the Chippewa Chief
Whose bravery saved the pale skins at Fort Dearborn.


The green is the color of the burial plot,
The Indian Burial Ground where I played in my youth.

And out from this world of green voices,
Which I hear but do not see, they declare,

"Go slowly, my lovely moon, go slowly.

"Time chases upon our heels,
Before long it quickens its pace to furious gallop.
All earthly stores succumb to this onslaught.
In a wisp, like the language of our monuments,
We cease, and we are remembered no more."

And now over and against this green
A spectral chorus appears,
And from amongst the ensemble,
A single ghost figure steps to the fore, and says,

"I am here to repeat 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, it 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 not number our kisses.
There are people with evil eyes,
Workers of black magic,
Who would wish to bewitch us.

"They should not know how many."
 
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