The Ghost's Leavetaking (1958)

 Enter the chilly no-man's land of about
 Five o'clock in the morning, the no-color void
 Where the waking head rubbishes out the draggled lot
 Of sulfurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums
 Which seemed, when dreamed, to mean so profoundly much,

 Gets ready to face the ready-made creation
 Of chairs and bureaus and sleep-twisted sheets.
 This is the kingdom of the fading apparition,
 The oracular ghost who dwindles on pin-legs
 To a knot of laundry, with a classic bunch of sheets

 Upraised, as a hand, emblematic of farewell.
 At this joint between two worlds and two entirely
 Incompatible modes of time, the raw material
 Of our meat-and-potato thoughts assumes the nimbus
 Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs.


 Chair and bureau are the hieroglyphs
 Of some godly utterance wakened heads ignore:
 So these posed sheets, before they thin to nothing,
 Speak in sign language of a lost otherworld,
 A world we lose by merely waking up.


 Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost
 Fringe of mundane vision, this ghost goes
 Hand aloft, goodbye, goodbye, not down
 Into the rocky gizzard of the earth,
 But toward a region where our thick atmosphere

 Diminishes, and God knows what is there.
 A point of exclamation marks that sky
 In ringing orange like a stellar carrot.
 Its round period, displaced and green,
 Suspends beside it the first point, the starting


 Point of Eden, next the new moon's curve.
 Go, ghost of our mother and father, ghost of us,
 And ghost of our dreams' children, in those sheets
 Which signify our origin and end,
 To the cloud-cuckoo land of color wheels


 And pristine alphabets and cows that moo
 And moo as they jump over moons as new
 As that crisp cusp towards which you voyage now.
 Hail and farewell. Hello, goodbye. O keeper
 Of the profane grail, the dreaming skull.



November Graveyard (1956)

The scene stands stubborn: skinflint trees
Hoard last year's leaves, won't mourn, wear sackcloth, or turn
To elegiac dryads, and dour grass
Guards the hard-hearted emerald of its grassiness
However the grandiloquent mind may scorn
Such poverty. No dead men's cries

Flower forget-me-nots between the stones
Paving this grave ground. Here's honest rot
To unpick the heart, pare bone
Free of the fictive vein. When one stark skeleton
Bulks real, all saints' tongues fall quiet:
Flies watch no resurrection in the sun.

At the essential landscape stare, stare
Till your eyes foist a vision dazzling on the wind:
Whatever lost ghosts flare,
Damned, howling in their shrouds across the moor
Rave on the leash of the starving mind
Which peoples the bare room, the blank, untenanted air.


 On the Plethora of Dryads (1957)

 Hearing a white saint rave
 About a quintessential beauty
 Visible only to the paragon heart,
 I tried my sight on an apple-tree
 That for eccentric knob and wart
 Had all my love.

 Without meat or drink I sat
 Starving my fantasy down
 To discover that metaphysical Tree which hid
 From my worldling look its brilliant vein
 Far deeper in gross wood
 Than axe could cut.

 But before I might blind sense
 To see with the spotless soul,
 Each particular quirk so ravished me
 Every pock and stain bulked more beautiful
 Than flesh of any body
 Flawed by love's prints.


 Battle however I would
 To break through that patchwork
 Of leaves' bicker and whisk in babel tongues,
 Streak and mottle of tawn bark,
 No visionary lightnings
 Pierced my dense lid.


 Instead, a wanton fit
 Dragged each dazzled sense apart
 Surfeiting eye, ear, taste, touch, smell;
 Now, snared by this miraculous art,
 I ride earth's burning carrousel
 Day in, day out,

 And such grit corrupts my eyes
 I must watch sluttish dryads twitch
 Their multifarious silks in the holy grove
 Until no chaste tree but suffers blotch
 Under flux of those seductive
 Reds, greens, blues.


The Thin People (1957)


(before : The Moon was a Fat Woman Once)


 They are always with us, the thin people
 Meager of dimension as the gray people

 On a movie-screen. They
 Are unreal, we say:

 It was only in a movie, it was only
 In a war making evil headlines when we

 Were small that they famished and
 Grew so lean and would not round

 Out their stalky limbs again though peace
 Plumped the bellies of the mice

 Under the meanest table.
 It was during the long hunger-battle

 They found their talent to persevere
 In thinness, to come, later,

 Into our bad dreams, their menace
 Not guns, not abuses,

 But a thin silence.
 Wrapped in flea-ridden donkey skins,


 Empty of complaint, forever
 Drinking vinegar from tin cups: they wore

 The insufferable nimbus of the lot-drawn
 Scapegoat. But so thin,

 So weedy a race could not remain in dreams,
 Could not remain outlandish victims

 In the contracted country of the head
 Any more than the old woman in her mud hut could


 Keep from cutting fat meat
 Out of the side of the generous moon when it

 Set foot nightly in her yard
 Until her knife had pared

 The moon to a rind of little light.
 Now the thin people do not obliterate

 Themselves as the dawn
 Grayness blues, reddens, and the outline

 Of the world comes clear and fills with color.
 They persist in the sunlit room: the wallpaper


 Frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflowers pales
 Under their thin-lipped smiles,

 Their withering kingship.
 How they prop each other up!

 We own no wildernesses rich and deep enough
 For stronghold against their stiff

 Battalions. See, how the tree boles flatten
 And lose their good browns

 If the thin people simply stand in the forest,
 Making the world go thin as a wasp's nest

 And grayer; not even moving their bones.


Hardcastle Crags (1957)

(before : Nocturne)


 Flintlike, her feet struck
 Such a racket of echoes from the steely street,
 Tacking in moon-blued crooks from the black
 Stone-built town, that she heard the quick air ignite
 Its tinder and shake

 A firework of echoes from wall
 To wall of the dark, dwarfed cottages.
 But the echoes died at her back as the walls
 Gave way to fields and the incessant seethe of grasses
 Riding in the full

 Of the moon, manes to the wind,
 Tireless, tied, as a moon-bound sea
 Moves on its root. Though a mist-wraith wound
 Up from the fissured valley and hung shoulder-high
 Ahead, it fattened

 To no family-featured ghost,
 Nor did any word body with a name
 The blank mood she walked in. Once past
 The dream-peopled village, her eyes entertained no dream,
 And the sandman's dust


 Lost lustre under her footsoles.
 The long wind, paring her person down
 To a pinch of flame, blew its burdened whistle
 In the whorl of her ear, and like a scooped-out pumpkin crown
 Her head cupped the babel.

 All the night gave her, in return
 For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat
 Of her heart, was the humped indifferent iron
 Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set
 On black stone. Barns

 Guarded broods and litters
 Behind shut doors; the dairy herds
 Knelt in the meadow mute as boulders;
 Sheep drowsed stoneward in their tussocks of wool, and birds,
 Twig-sleeping, wore

 Granite ruffs, their shadows
 The guise of leaves. The whole landscape
 Loomed absolute as the antique world was
 Once, in its earliest sway of lymph and sap,
 Unaltered by eyes,

 Enough to snuff the quick
 Of her small heat out, but before the weight
 Of stones and hills of stones could break
 Her down to mere quartz grit in that stony light
 She turned back

Child's Park Stones (1958)

 In sunless air, under pines
 Green to the point of blackness, some
 Founding father set these lobed, warped stones
 To loom in the leaf-filtered gloom
 Black as the charred knuckle-bones

 Of a giant or extinct
 Animal, come from another
 Age, another planet surely. Flanked
 By the orange and fuchsia bonfire
 Of azaleas, sacrosanct

 These stones guard a dark repose
 And keep their shapes intact while sun
 Alters shadows of rose and iris---
 Long, short, long---in the lit garden
 And kindles a day's-end blaze

 Colored to dull the pigment
 Of the azaleas, yet burnt out
 Quick as they. To follow the light's tint
 And intensity by midnight
 By noon and throughout the brunt

 Of various weathers is
 To know the still heart of the stones:
 Stones that take the whole summer to lose
 Their dream of the winter's cold; stones
 Warming at core only as

 Frost forms. No man's crowbar could
 Uproot them: their beards are ever-
 Green. Nor do they, once in a hundred
 Years, go down to drink the river:
 No thirst disturbs a stone's bed.




(before : The Earthenware Head)




Fired in sanguine clay, the model head

Fit nowhere: thumbed out as a classroom exercise

By a casual friend, it stood

Obtrusive in the long bookshelf, stolidly propping

Thick volumes of prose –

Far too unlovely a conversation piece,

Her visitor claimed, for keeping.


And how unlike! In distaste he pointed at it:

Brickdust-complected, eyes under a dense lid

Half-blind, that derisive pout –

Rude image indeed, to ape with such sly treason

Her dear farce: best rid

Hearthstone at once of the outrageous head.

With goodwill she heard his reason,


But she – whether from habit grown overfond

Of the dented caricature, or fearing some truth

In old wives’ tales of a bond

Knitting to each original its coarse copy

(Woe if enemies, in wrath,

Take to sticking pins through wax!)-felt loath

To junk it. Scared, unhappy,


She watched the grim head swell mammoth, demanding a home

Suited to its high station: from a spectral dais

It menaced her in a dream –

Cousin perhaps to that vast stellar head

Housed in stark heavens, whose laws

Ordained now bland, now barbarous influences

Upon her purse, her bead.


No place, it seemed, for the effigy to fare

Free from annoy: if dump-discarded, rough boys

Spying a pate so spare

Glowering sullen and pompous from an ash-heap

Might well seize this prize

And maltreat the hostage head in shocking wise

Afflicting the owner’s sleep –


At the mere thought her head ached. A murky tarn

She considered then, thick-silted, with weeds obscured,

To serve her exacting turn:

But out of the watery aspic, laurelled by fins,

The simulacrum leered,

Lewdly beckoning. Her courage wavered:

She blenched, as one who drowns,


And resolved more ceremoniously to lodge

The mimic-head – in a crotched willow tree green-

Vaulted by foliage:

Let bell-tongued birds descant in blackest feather

On the rendering, grain by grain,

Of that uncouth shape to simple sod again

Through drear and dulcet weather.


Yet, shrined on her shelf, the grisly visage endured,

Despite her wrung hands, her tears, her praying: Vanish!

Steadfast and evil-starred,

It ogled through rock-fault, wind-flaw and fisted wave-

An antique hag-head, too tough for knife to finish,

Refusing to diminish

By one jot its basilisk-look of love.



On the Difficulty of Conjuring Up a Dryad (1957)

 Ravening through the persistent bric-à-brac
 Of blunt pencils, rose-sprigged coffee cup,
 Postage stamps, stacked books' clamor and yawp,
 Neighborhood cockcrow---all nature's prodigal backtalk,
 The vaunting mind
 Snubs impromptu spiels of wind
 And wrestles to impose
 Its own order on what is.

 'With my fantasy alone,' brags the importunate head,
 Arrogant among rook-tongued spaces,
 Sheep greens, finned falls, 'I shall compose a crisis
 To stun sky black out, drive gibbering mad
 Trout, cock, ram,
 That bulk so calm
 On my jealous stare,
 Self-sufficient as they are.'

 But no hocus-pocus of green angels
 Damasks with dazzle the threadbare eye;
 'My trouble, doctor, is: I see a tree,
 And that damn scrupulous tree won't practice wiles
 To beguile sight:
 E.g., by cant of light
 Concoct a Daphne;
 My tree stays tree.


 'However I wrench obstinate bark and trunk
 To my sweet will, no luminous shape
 Steps out radiant in limb, eye, lip,
 To hoodwink the honest earth which pointblank
 Spurns such fiction
 As nymphs; cold vision
 Will have no counterfeit
 Palmed off on it.

 'No doubt now in dream-propertied fall some moon-eyed,
 Star-lucky sleight-of-hand man watches
 My jilting lady squander coin, gold leaf stock ditches,
 And the opulent air go studded with seed,
 While this beggared brain
 Hatches no fortune,
 But from leaf, from grass,
 Thieves what it has.'




Green Rock, Winthrop Bay (1958)

 No lame excuses can gloss over
 Barge-tar clotted at the tide-line, the wrecked pier.
 I should have known better.

 Fifteen years between me and the bay
 Profited memory, but did away with the old scenery
 And patched this shoddy

 Makeshift of a view to quit
 My promise of an idyll. The blue's worn out:
 It's a niggard estate,

 Inimical now. The great green rock
 We gave good use as ship and house is black
 With tarry muck


 And periwinkles, shrunk to common
 Size. The cries of scavenging gulls sound thin
 In the traffic of planes

 From Logan Airport opposite.
 Gulls circle gray under shadow of a steelier flight.
 Loss cancels profit.

 Unless you do this tawdry harbor
 A service and ignore it, I go a liar
 Gilding what's eyesore,

 Or must take loophole and blame time
 For the rock's dwarfed lump, for the drabbled scum,
 For a churlish welcome.


 On the Decline of Oracles (1957)

 My father kept a vaulted conch
 By two bronze bookends of ships in sail,
 And as I listened its cold teeth seethed
 With voices of that ambiguous sea
 Old Böcklin missed, who held a shell
 To hear the sea he could not hear.
 What the seashell spoke to his inner ear
 He knew, but no peasants know.

 My father died, and when he died
 He willed his books and shell away.
 The books burned up, sea took the shell,
 But I, I keep the voices he
 Set in my ear, and in my eye
 The sight of those blue, unseen waves
 For which the ghost of Böcklin grieves.
 The peasants feast and multiply.


 Eclipsing the spitted ox I see
 Neither brazen swan nor burning star,
 Heraldry of a starker age,
 But three men entering the yard,
 And those men coming up the stair.
 Profitless, their gossiping images
 Invade the cloistral eye like pages
 From a gross comic strip, and toward

 The happening of this happening
 The earth turns now. In half an hour
 I shall go down the shabby stair and meet,
 Coming up, those three. Worth
 Less than present, past---this future.
 Worthless such vision to eyes gone dull
 That once descried Troy's towers fall,
 Saw evil break out of the north.



The Goring (1956)

 Arena dust rusted by four bulls' blood to a dull redness,
 The afternoon at a bad end under the crowd's truculence,
 The ritual death each time botched among dropped capes, ill-judged stabs,
 The strongest will seemed a will toward ceremony. Obese, dark-
 Faced in his rich yellows, tassels, pompons, braid, the picador

 Rode out against the fifth bull to brace his pike and slowly bear
 Down deep into the bent bull-neck. Cumbrous routine, not artwork.
 Instinct for art began with the bull's horn lofting in the mob's
 Hush a lumped man-shape. The whole act formal, fluent as a dance.
 Blood faultlessly broached redeemed the sullied air, the earth's grossness.


 Ouija (1957)

 It is a chilly god, a god of shades,
 Rises to the glass from his black fathoms.
 At the window, those unborn, those undone
 Assemble with the frail paleness of moths,
 An envious phosphorescence in their wings.
 Vermilions, bronzes, colors of the sun
 In the coal fire will not wholly console them.
 Imagine their deep hunger, deep as the dark
 For the blood-heat that would ruddle or reclaim.
 The glass mouth sucks blood-heat from my forefinger.
 The old god dribbles, in return, his words.

 The old god, too, writes aureate poetry
 In tarnished modes, maundering among the wastes,
 Fair chronicler of every foul declension.
 Age, and ages of prose, have uncoiled
 His talking whirlwind, abated his excessive temper
 When words, like locusts, drummed the darkening air
 And left the cobs to rattle, bitten clean.
 Skies once wearing a blue, divine hauteur
 Ravel above us, mistily descend,
 Thickening with motes, to a marriage with the mire.

 He hymns the rotten queen with saffron hair
 Who has saltier aphrodisiacs
 Than virgins' tears. That bawdy queen of death,
 Her wormy couriers are at his bones.
 Still he hymns juice of her, hot nectarine.
 I see him, horny-skinned and tough, construe
 What flinty pebbles the ploughblade upturns
 As ponderable tokens of her love.
 He, godly, doddering, spells
 No succinct Gabriel from the letters here
 But floridly, his amorous nostalgias.


The Beggars (1956)

(before : The Beggars of Benidorm Market)

 Nightfall, cold eye---neither disheartens
 These goatish tragedians who
 Hawk misfortune like figs and chickens

 And, plaintiff against each day, decry
 Nature's partial, haphazard thumb.
 Under white wall and Moorish window

 Grief's honest grimace, debased by time,
 Caricatures itself and thrives
 On the coins of pity. At random

 A beggar stops among eggs and loaves,
 Props a leg-stump upon a crutch,
 Jiggles his tin cup at the goodwives.

 By lack and loss these beggars encroach
 On spirits tenderer than theirs,
 Suffering-toughened beyond the fetch

 Of finest conscience.
 Nightfall obscures
 The bay's sheer, extravagant blue,
 White house and almond grove. The beggars

 Outlast their evilest star, wryly
 And with a perfidious verve
 Baffle the dark, the pitying eye.





 Sculptor (1958)


For Leonard Baskin

 To his house the bodiless
 Come to barter endlessly
 Vision, wisdom, for bodies
 Palpable as his, and weighty.

 Hands moving move priestlier
 Than priest's hands, invoke no vain
 Images of light and air
 But sure stations in bronze, wood, stone.

 Obdurate, in dense-grained wood,
 A bald angel blocks and shapes
 The flimsy light; arms folded
 Watches his cumbrous world eclipse

 Inane worlds of wind and cloud.
 Bronze dead dominate the floor,
 Resistive, ruddy-bodied,
 Dwarfing us. Our bodies flicker

 Toward extinction in those eyes
 Which, without him, were beggared
 Of place, time, and their bodies.
 Emulous spirits make discord,

 Try entry, enter nightmares
 Until his chisel bequeaths
 Them life livelier than ours,
 A solider repose than death's.