the Voice

June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me,
Saying that now you are not as you were
When you had changed from the one who was all to me,
But as at first, when our day was fair.

Can it be you that I hear? Let me view you, then,
Standing as when I drew near to the town
Where you would wait for me: yes, as I knew you then,
Even to the original air-blue gown!

Or is it only the breeze, in its listlessness
Travelling across the wet mead to me here,
You being ever consigned to existlessness,
Heard no more again far or near?

  Thus I; faltering forward,
  Leaves around me falling,
Wind oozing thin through the thorn from norward
  And the woman calling.

– Thomas Hardy

The line “consigned to existlessness” was later changed to “dissolved to wan wistlessness”. I’ve chosen the earlier version because I like it better. The woman was probably Emma, Hardy’s first wife, whose death haunted the poet. The sussurrant S’s in the third stanza provide an appropriate soundtrack to the woman’s soft fading, as does the echoed “call to me, call to me” like words screamed into the wind. In the final stanza, the meter breaks down alongside the narrator’s mindset (accompanied by those ghostly indents).



June 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

We were very tired, we were very merry —
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable —
But we looked into fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry —
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and the pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

– Edna St. Vincent Millay

The repeated lines are the immoveable objects (the blunt narrative arc) of memory around which all other details swirl. There were apples. There were pears. A newspaper landed on a hand but fluttered away. Insignificant things, and Millay recounts them in such a deadpan manner that we wonder if they even matter. But of course they do. It’s always the details that anchor memories, that mean so much in so little.


June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

Is love
so evil?
Is Eve? Lo,
love vies,
evolves. I
lose selves,
sylphs of
loose Levi’s,
sieve oil of
vile sloe.
Love sighs,
slives. O
veils of
voile, so
sly, so suave.
O lives,
soil sleeves,
I love so
I solve.

– A. E. Stallings

There is a children’s game where Kid A mouths the words “olive juice” to Kid B who immediately misreads the lip movements as “I love you”. Hilarity ensues.

Summer Haiku

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

  P o o l
P e o p l
  e   p l o p!
  C o o l.

– Edwin Morgan

Summer strikes. People plash. Basho nods. (Someone pees in pool.)

Adam’s Task

June 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

“And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field” – GEN. 2:20

Thou, paw-paw-paw; thou, glurd; thou, spotted
  Glurd; thou, whitestap, lurching through
The high-grown brush; thou, pliant-footed,
  Implex; thou, awagabu.

Every burrower, each flier
  Came for the name he had to give:
Gay, first work, ever to be prior,
  Not yet sunk to primitive.

Thou, verdie; thou, McFleery’s pomma;
  Thou; thou; thou — three types of grawl;
Thou, flisket, thou, kabasch; thou, comma-
  Eared mashawok; thou, all; thou, all.

Were, in a fire of becoming,
  Laboring to be burned away,
Then work, half-measuring, half-humming,
  Would be as serious as play.

Thou, pambler; thou, rivarn; thou, greater
  Wherret, and thou, lesser one;
Thou, sproal; thou, zant; thou, lily-eater.
  Naming’s over. Day is done.

– John Hollander

There are four types of names at play here: the onomatopoetic (paw-paw-paw), the eponymic (McFleery’s pomma), the seemingly exotic (awagabu, mashawok), and names that describe the creature (lily-eater, whitestap). Curiously, McFleery’s pomma suggests that there is another man besides Adam walking around Eden. Ferdinand de Saussure might delight in witnessing how the animal’s names came about; they are arbitrary insofar as they spawn from Adam’s whim, but I’d like to think there are reasons behind each name. Paw-paw-paw must be a mammal, rivarn perhaps a stripy antelope-like thing, whitestap a nervous bird, and the glurd either an oafish ungulate or a big stupid fish.

the Ballad of Persse O’Reilly

June 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
By the butt of the Magazine Wall,

  Of the Magazine Wall,
  Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy

  To the jail of Mountjoy!
  Jail him and joy.

He was fafafather of all schemes for to bother us
Slow coaches and immaculate contraceptives for the populace,
Mare’s milk for the sick, seven dry Sundays a week,
Openair love and religion’s reform,

  And religious reform,
  Hideous in form.

Arrah, why, says you, couldn’t he manage it?
I’ll go bail, my fine dairyman darling,
Like the bumping bull of the Cassidys
All your butter is in your horns.

  His butter is in his horns.
  Butter his horns!

Hurrah there, Hosty, frosty Hosty, change that shirt on ye,
Rhyme the rann, the king of all ranns!

  Balbaccio, balbuccio!

We had chaw chaw chops, chairs, chewing gum, the chicken-pox and china
Universally provided by this soffsoaping salesman.
Small wonder He’ll Cheat E’erawan our local lads nicknamed him.
When Chimpden first took the floor

  With his bucketshop store
  Down Bargainweg, Lower.

So snug he was in his hotel premises sumptuous
But soon we’ll bonfire all his trash, tricks and trumpery
And ’tis short till sheriff Clancy’ll be winding up his unlimited company
With the bailiff’s bom at the door,

  Bimbam at the door.
  Then he’ll bum no more.

Sweet bad luck on the waves washed to our island
The hooker of that hammerfast viking
And Gall’s curse on the day when Eblana bay
Saw his black and tan man-o’-war.

  Saw his man-o’-war
  On the harbour bar.

Where from? roars Poolbeg. Cookingha’pence, he bawls
  Donnez-moi scampitle, wick an wipin’fampiny
Fingal Mac Oscar Onesine Bargearse Boniface
Thok’s min gammelhole Norveegickers moniker
Og as ay are at gammelhore Norveegickers cod.

  A Norwegian camel old cod.
  He is, begod.

Lift it, Hosty, lift it, ye devil, ye! up with the rann, the rhyming rann!

It was during some fresh water garden pumping
Or, according to the Nursing Mirror, while admiring the monkeys
That our heavyweight heathen Humpharey
Made bold a maid to woo

  Woohoo, what’ll she doo!
  The general lost her maidenloo!

He ought to blush for himself, the old hayheaded philosopher,
For to go and shove himself that way on top of her.
Begob, he’s the crux of the catalogue
Of our antediluvial zoo,

  Messrs Billing and Coo.
  Noah’s larks, good as noo.

He was joulting by Wellinton’s monument
Our rotorious hippopopotamuns
When some bugger let down the backtrap of the omnibus
And he caught his death of fusiliers,

  With his rent in his rears.
  Give him six years.

‘Tis sore pity for his innocent poor children
But look out for his missus legitimate!
When that frew gets a grip of old Earwicker
Won’t there be earwigs on the green?

  Big earwigs on the green,
  The largest ever you seen.

  Suffoclose! Shikespower! Seudodanto! Anonymoses!

Then we’ll have a free trade Gael’s band and mass meeting
For to sod him the brave son of Scandiknavery.
And we’ll bury him down in Oxmanstown
Along with the devil and the Danes,

  With the deaf and dumb Danes,
  And all their remains.

And not all the king’s men nor his horses
Will resurrect his corpus
For there’s no true spell in Connacht or hell
That’s able to raise a Cain.

– James Joyce

For Bloomsday, let us bypass the most famous day in literature and focus on its most famous night, Finnegans Wake, that endless onion of paronomasia and elusive allusions. “The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly” floats somewhere near the beginning of Joyce’s dream stream, and comes to us as Humpty Dumpty’s tale horribly water-warped.

Verses to Exhaust My Stock of Four-Letter Words

June 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

From the ocean floors, where the necrovores
  Of the zoöoögenous mud
Fight for their share, to the Andes where
  Bullllamas thunder and thud,

And even thence to the heavens, whence
  Archchurchmen appear to receive
The shortwave stations of rival nations
  Of angels: “Believe! Believe!”

They battle, they battle — poor put-upon cattle,
  Each waging, reluctantly,
That punitive war on the disagreeor
  Which falls to the disagreeee.

– George Starbuck

No four-letter words, but Roy Blunt Jr. in Alphabet Juice gives plenty of three-and-four-dot words. A scholar who studies the victims of Vesuvius? Pompeiiicist. The town where Dr. Livingston was found, presumably? Ujiji. My own entries are more whimsical. A frolic in Natural Artesian Water? Fijiing. That one is a Newton’s cradle of dots. There is also Wiiitis, muscle aches that occur when one plays too much Wii, which, before its I’s are dotted and its T’s are crossed, would look something like Wɪɪɪɪɪs, a trump to Starbuck’s four four-letter words — but not mine. Soporific ostentation? Pizzazzzzz.

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