POETRY by douglas williams
CHARON BEGINS TO DREAM
A rare moment to use the corroded cleat,
And the musty mangled line
To moor my punt so sought
In the sustained traffic of death.
Scarcely I will pause at either shore,
Since out of shattered chaos
The inky Styx began to flow,
A river of laws to show in earth
What mortal man is taught from birth,
That all his breaths count up to none.
But this ichorous body,
Not yet subordinate to death,
Does not clamor for my service
Like the rest of the naked, shore-bound swarm.
He flowers his petition for passage
Into a drifting song,
And on his lyre, between plaints,
Reticulating scales open,
Music of its own world and space,
Very ancient music,
Music that slips over time’s hard folds,
Harpstrings studded with grains of creation,
Torches flickering on a third shore.
He looked me in the eye.
Souls keep distance from me,
Begging and fearing
They arrive with coins in mouth,
Foul and pale,
Driven by anxiety.
It’s tiring to keep the breast so tight,
To clench my ear in
The name of tenebrous order,
I can taste the dry fiber
Of my disregarded heart.
While he chants
On the slip below,
I’ll stand tall in my prow,
Billowing my black cloak,
But rest against my upright oar,
And temporarily silence my eyes
Into to the palm of his voice.
My divine indignation,
He will not pass,
He will not pass.
OLD CAPE COD
Mother Glacier shat as she retired For the Laurentian Shield,
Leaving this bending arm of sand In the indifferent sea,
I think it was a Tuesday,
Then we came
First by foot,
Waiting for white-tailed deer
In prismatic bogs,
Then tripped by ship,
Buried our dead in brittle pitch pine roots,
Cached corn in the slipping dirt,
Siphoned landscapes through brush and pen,
Romped in caustic marram grass,
Scraped the edges for the last few cod,
And had one hell of a dinner party.
I will fold you softly into this story for just a moment
This song carried over an ice age,
which is really more of a groan than a song — the ache of shifting land.
The story of the heaving, never silent ocean,
buttressing and thieving.
The sadness of passing time insisted by the failing dunes.
Watch it go.
It is also the story of a million silver blades of grass,
reaching over their shoulder in the wind today
and drawing circumferences in the sand,
as if there was nothing better to do.
We watch the September light pull down on the dune faces.
There is something like an old memory
that says we can be here, too,
in the thoughtless,
rising and falling of time.
We cooed over the crumbling sunset—
The mutating hues of a slow burn
That sent up brilliant tendrils from behind the sea.
The ephemeral ritual was an expected amusement
To be watched from our beachfire's smoky hemisphere
Of warmth and the earthen smell of burning oak and moss.
Near midnight I arose and left my company
And the fire's beating glare
So that I might better see the dangling gems of a clean swept sky
And eastern moonrise.
But it was not these light displays that stopped my soul.
Where hours earlier we celebrated the sun's wild vanishing
A distant fog was gathering.
On that line of laws to sever sea from sky
Was no day-harassing grey
But a cloud of true darkness,
No hint of color, or catching of townlights, or echo of the moon.
The spangled dome above
And the glittering surf before me
Evaporated into blackness
Where there should have been a seam.
I stood there and let my mind sink into this crevasse
And it seemed to steal all sound:
The surf's tumble and the fire's revelry,
Like light and me,
Had nothing to say to the new and lurking mantle.
Last night the coast road
(which writhes between sun-choked hills
and a cool nothingness belonging to the ocean far below)
Shrugged its tawny muscles and sent three boys to the sea.
The Pacific cliffs kneed their truck like a plastic ball,
And all the majesty of that chromium brawn which man had crafted,
Coughed moonlight in its final gasps,
Then cuddled with kelp and moved with the surf's easy sway
Pulsing out toward the world's end—or whatever the evening's non-horizon meant.
If you were to turn your eyes from that miserable sight
Where tragedy and mystery and cruelty conferred—
That place where the sinister road audaciously and carelessly kinks—
If you were to travel eastward under half moon,
With the unflinching method of a pilgrim's devout direction,
Over tall grasses, through empty hills where dances the solitary oak and twisted madrone,
Ignoring the canyons' enchanting dark descent full of redwoods and Santa Lucia firs
And the rogue cat or tusking boar,
You would find hidden in those mountains a mission chapel
Named for St. Anthony whose holy penury is redrawn in flaking stucco and aching beams,
All collected beneath the uneven peal from triptych bells high atop the baked facade—
An anvil has more hallowed a cry than those.
Within the cloisters of that desert mountain shrine,
A monk with certain knowledge of musical things
Once drew on the wall using a coarse ink of pig's blood and lupine
The Guidonian Hand to spell the sounds of the ancient chants,
There the Spanish brothers groaned with long El Greco faces to the bewildered natives
Every Easter eve a long and doleful sequence,
As if, with their forlorn tones, they could cast the shadow of Golgatha over the place,
While Christ lay in his black grave—a portal with such awful gravity.
Through the eyes of the old words they stood beside the wondrous chasm,
And sang within: “Aestimatus sum cum descendentibus in lacum—"
“I am counted among those who descend to the pit—"
No shattering earthquake, nor rending of veils, nor flattening of hills
To fit death's tortured commemoration.
Except for night and fog,
Who, in the far-off west, stewed a new darkness, Inviting and foreboding,
Swirling and propagating across the sea,
An approaching line that terrorizes and liberates,
A perfect darkness,
It envelops the body like a love,
It enlivens the soul with a vibrant fear,
To wonder, to test, to descend
Into the pure and living unknown.
the sun is setting through my clenched hands
I am a god, creating each moment
—and I am a slave holding on to every one.
I have become golden under the sun,
strong by black soil,
soused daily in rivers pulling down from hemlock hills
(do you know the eastern hemlock that craves hidden ravines?)
you cannot covet the rain, dark hills,
let go of water and flood the rivers
carry me away
from one dream