Smoke from This Altar (1990) (4 page)

BOOK: Smoke from This Altar (1990)
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Some half-completed effort to create

From fires that fused these hills and left them devastate.

These blasted rocks, so lifeless, numb, and stillA land of mighty cliffs that stand aghast

Upon the desert's brink, without the will

To face the yucca's mute battalions, massed

Like nightmare creatures from the ages past Returned to conquer fiefs they knew of old;

These crumbling walls, and rambling ramparts vast, And tumbled stones from nature's shattered mold
Their solitude is mine, and all their moonlit gold.

Like clinkers from an ash-heap of the gods
Or toys of Titans, torn and tossed away; Grim monuments to war against the odds

Of storm and rain, or winds that wildly play Across the cacti-studded sands to flay With violence, and seek to overwhelm These rocky spires that neither bend nor sway; Time has no meaning here-Space holds the helm, And years, like clouds pass by, while silence rules the realm.

The canyons weave their winding arabesque While cliffs like frozen thunder stand aside

And weather-molded stones, in shapes grotesque Lean lonesomely above the desert's tide;

These hills are mine . . . their wasted flanks confide, Their ghostly fingered dawns reach out for

me, For we are kin, and time shall not divide

My heart from this, our voiceless colloquy But let us rest alone for all eternity.


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>MY THREE FRIENDS

I have three friends, three faithful friends, More faithful could not beAnd every night, by the dim firelight, They

come to sit

with me.

The first of these is tall and thin

With hollow cheeks, and a toothless grin; A ghastly stare, and scraggly hair, And an ugly lump for a chin.

The second of these is short and fat With beady eyes, like a starving ratHe was soaked in sin to his oily slain, And verminous, at that.

The crouching one is of ape-like plan, Formed like a beast that resembled man: A freakish thing, with arms a-swing,

And he was the third of that gruesome clan. The first I stabbed with a Chinese knife, And left on the white beach sand,

With his ghastly stare, and blood-soaked hair, And an out-flung, claw-like hand; The fat one stole a crumbling crust, That he wolfed in his swineish waySo I left him there, with eyes a-glare,

And his head cut off half-way.

We fought to kill, the brute and I, That the one that lived might eat, So I killed him too, and made a stew, And dined on human meat.

And so these three come to visit me, When without the night winds howl The one with the leer, the one with a sneer, And one with a brutish scowl; Their lips are dumb, but the three dead come And crouch by the hollow grate The man that I stabbed, the man that I cut, And the gruesome thing that I ate.

Their lips are sealed, with blood congealed, But they will not let me be, And so they haunt, grim, ghastly, and gaunt, Till death shall set me free.

I have three friends, three faithful friends, More faithful could not be And every night, by the dim firelight, They come to sit with me.


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>IN AN OLD TEMPLE

Into that stillness I could never thrust

A lance of sound so harsh as human word, To stir the sleeping echoes from the dust That now are lying empty and unheard;

I could but whisper softly to the ghosts And linger there a moment as in prayer, Adding another to the voiceless hosts Unnumbered ages have abandoned there.



There is a beauty in this beyond believing,

A strength that is stronger than the hands of men, There is a glory in this that is greater than grieving That brings a stillness to my heart again; There is a power in this beyond longing or laughter, A grandeur unmeasured by cloud or sky

There is a sounding here, and an echo afterA sounding of surf and a sea-gull's cry; There is an ending here, for the time, of emotion Of sorrow and sadness, of envy and fear;

All these are forgotten beside the wide ocean, That gray rolling splendor, cold and austere.


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>IF THERE IS BEAUTY

If there is any beauty after this Or any quiet joy, or imagery Of happiness that we may share, then we Must never hesitate, nor be remiss; If in the after years the deep abyss

Of sorrow draws you close, and mournfully The old d reams die, then you must turn to me And to this love that needs no emphasis.

If, when tomorrow comes, the things you knew No longer are, but like an empty town Whose windows catch the fading sunset flame, Your eyes reflect your loneliness, and you

Watch one by one the swifter years go downThen turn to me, for I shall be the same.


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>SHIP ACROSS THE SKY

White wings across the morning, Dark sails against the moon, Scudding along in the spindrift While the trade-winds croon; Dark hull against the blue, White spars across the skyLike a song from out of the distance And clear as a sea-gull's cry;

Hull down against the horizon And royals across the gray, I saw it fade into the distance Sailing my dreams away.



It did not matter who or what he was Before he came to these sun-spattered hills, Or why he chose that wind-tormented ridge

The scene of his grim struggle with the soil; He seemed to love it there, the sky so near

It almost touched the gnarled and twisted trees. And often when the rain in frenzy heat Against the staring windows and the roof, Flooding the planted fields to leave them bare, And mark another year of fruitless toil, We'd see him out beneath the lowering sky Undaunted by the storm, while lightning leaped From pinnacle to pinnacle of


While thunder rolled and rumbled off away Sulking and sullen like a baffled hound, To lose itself in distance down the hills

Like the whimper of far-off trumpets, or waves Growling among the boulders worn and old. On sunny days he'd

watch the racing clouds Go drifting down the sky like scattered foam
Like ships," he'd say, "Like sailing ships at sea, Bound outward for some port they cannot guess."


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>I CAME TO CREATE

I came to create on a larger scale

To shape a universe of stars and suns,

To chart the comet's course, and map the runs Of hurtling meteors down the midnight trail;

I came to carve out mountain-tops, to flail Sun-burnished clouds to splendid shapes; I came To write across the sky in words of flame

A stronger, sweeter song, a grander tale.

I came to walk with gods and found them men So blind with greed they had not paused to see How hunger walked with hopelessness againI came to create and remain to plea For those without the words to speak, for all The disinherited-is this so small?


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>LINES TO A SEASON

How quietly the year has passed away

Into that nothingness from whence it came, And now the slowly drifting days are gray Like powdered ashes near a dying flame;

The maple trees bewail their fallen crown

And autumn trails away like smoke at dawnThe grass has faded to a dusty brown, And I am lonely for a summer gone.

Each sunset tinted leaf is like a day Blown from the tree of unrelenting years, Leaves fall, and flowers die, lives float away, And we are bitter now, with unshed tears.

A dying sun is setting through the grayHow quietly the year has passed away!


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>I SHALL GO BACK

I shall go back-I cannot longer stay

The dark gods grumble in the storm tonight, The low winds moan, and out beyond the light A dark sea rolls and mumbles in the bay;

I shall go back-I've been too long away

From dim sea dawns and combers crested white, From ashen brows of cloud, from sound and sight Of all the things I knew but yesterday.

Out there the hollow-hearted moon will glow Upon the gray, mist-haunted seas where men Have left no scars of wars, no beaten track;

No blaring streets, but green sea gods belowNo ordered ways, but fog and storm again, And time to work and dream-I shall go hack.





I have read Shakespeare, Shelley, and Poe What profit is in these?

I sit alone wherever I go And strive to look at ease. I crouch alone beside the wall To avoid their eager lookBut no matter how I stall They'll ask about that book.

I cannot check my sheepish blush, My color comes and goes, I redden to my finger-tips And sometimes to my nose.

But they will leer and sneer at meTheir eyes triumphant shine, Tho for every book they've read I've read forty-nine.

I wish I had their awful cheekI'd let them have their fling Then stories I'd tell of Boccaccio

Not quite the proper thing;

Of Homer and Horace and Catullus Hudson and Halleck and Hoffenstein For every single book they've read I've read forty-nine.

No other title do they know, The refrain is scarcely new Tho the chances are their knowledge Came from a book review; They ask me if I've read itI humbly whisper "No" (Thank God, again I've said it!) They clap their hands and glow.

I've read John Donne-I like to drift Thru Plato, Plutarch, and Euripides; I know Spinoza-I've read Dean Swift,

And Stendhal, or Sterne, or Maimonidies. I've read Wycherley, and read Sam Pepys Not quite so funny, but subtler

In spite of all that I'm down in the deeps I know nothing about Rhett Butler!

I'm familiar with Falstaff, Dido, and Puck But no one gives me a tumble I've done my reading-I'll have no truck

With the thousands who chortle and rumble, And talk about Butler and Scarlett O'Hare.

Did she right? Did she wrong? they gasp and exclaimIf she'd morals or not, I don't seem to care

But I'm plucking the coverlet over that name.

I'm almost a social outcast now For no matter where I go, They crowd around and ask me Be it concert, party, showI hesitate as in a dream One would almost think I'd sinned But if another asks me, I will scream NO! I haven't read Gone With The Wind!


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>IN PROTEST

Do not tell me-let me wonder Why the populace must blunder Over my name?

I have waded dumbled through Names as had as Ruth Suckow, And if mine's quite in a Frenchy way, What about Bill Rose Benet?

I have bowed with proud head humbled When over Bjorkman I have mumbled, Or when I failed to end with "o"

The name of Dion BoucicaultTo my shame;

But whenever I speak of Heinrich Heine His name is rhymed with Carolina; There still are names too tough for me, But I ring the Belloc with Hilaire; I've listened to recondite rabble

Who put the "T" in Tietjens, and put the "cab" in Cabell, But soon the guys will be in armor Who persist in saying "Larmour" For I am hot upon the spoor

Of all who fail to say L'Amour Which is my name.


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>QUESTION

Here's to the lands untraveled And the roads I've never known, To the high, lost lakes in the mountains The islands that linger alone; Here's to the hands I've never held, And the lips I've never kissedTo all the things I might have done,

And all the things I've missed. Here's to the eyes that look into mine, To the urge that's burning bright;

For my pulse heats strong and my heart is warm,

And . . . what are you doing tonight?


Smoke From This Altar (1990)<br/>A WAIL FROM A PULPETEER

If I could end this servitude

To need for coin, so gross and lewd, I'd face the world with fortitude No doubt.

If I had four and twenty blonds A diamond and a stack of bonds, Some caviar, and beer in ponds I'd flout

Inferior scum who write for cash Neglect their "art" and deal in trash, And from my pen they'd feel the lash of blame.

In pleasant comfort, quite content, I'd sit secure-and scorn I'd vent While they wrote tripe to pay the rent Of shame.

I'd lash those literary lice

With patronizing "good advice" I'd wreck their pulpy paradise And write Of "selling souls" and "prostitution"

With violent words and elocution

I'd demand their bloody execution

The blight!

But all the phrases that I sculp Are buried in some woody pulp And as my weary sobs I gulp

BOOK: Smoke from This Altar (1990)
5.95Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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