Edwin Honig: Early Poems


On the Great River
Grammar of Memory
World View
Poetry & Pedantry
Green Sermon
Arey's Cove
Have You Watched Your Hand?
Noonday Prey
The Tragic Flaw
Ballads for Janus
Original Sin
My Witness, My Lady
A Grave Story

On the Great River

Blue bones, sunset, bleeding mountain. 
The brawling average and the Safeway 
Indian. Lorenzo, art is 
Homeless. Topophobia.

Santa Fe 

Hill and cross, the dustless plaza. 
Texas man, his teeth and luggage. 
Children Pérez, Sánchez, 
and García. Anglophobia.


Neon nightrest, bursting river.
On her skirts the mushrooms. Her mixed
Wine collapses every Sunday
Noon. Amnesia.


Adobe and sticks in the valley.
River-muck, tumbleweed, toad.
A horse turning turquoise in twilight.
My melancholia.

Grammar of Memory
If the light fail
redeem it -- 
out of no old book.
out of no false stare.
out of no hardihood
for racing the common horse:

but out of the punctual worm,
crashing the coffin lid,
whose great electric head,
breaking the hoggish herd,
stirs those long wide-world
river bells.

World View
The stir of a man through a whirlpool of air
Sucked the hawk backward and down.
Lithe waters caught fire, wild weather
Went whirling the three-o'clock sun around.
A decade of seaweed split open a boulder
The burning high tide gulped down.
In the hawk's high lingering stare
The spell of a man, shuttered by boughs, 
Became a fallen feather of sound.

Poetry and Pedantry

midnight summer sky's immensely light-blue-sandy-
(sandy less than powdery) no-wind-will-
cover hush is to the distant-
surf like a hugely 
still wide-
open pasture sniffed at by a pent-up sheep herd straining 
frantic for a way to enter it who 
dimly bleat in feeble puzzle-
ment -- crushed because they 
simply aren't

The self suspiring 
amid the quiet friendship 
of things unrelated, 
as hot cups 
and long-limbed tables, 
sees steam and stance 
rise to a seething breath 
of victory over all 
that self is not, 
a small vulnerable
in perishing communion 
with all it touches 
and contrives 
to let alone, 
with breakable 
slim tangibles -- 
all a known dust after,
by wind and death.

Green Sermon
in the green matter of the world 
it is a cause of delicate dependency 
the who upon the what 
the why within the how

so was it always in green time 
where feeding goes on undetected 
and the bird is with the worm 
gobbled up at last

here is it furthering for things 
to be and ape at being other things 
airy in the sea 
in the loud sky gushing free

here sweetness is suddenly 
the hush on all the nibbling streams 
swept by a minute's 
accidental harvesting

here bones don't settle down 
till stones are where they please 
and all is in the high days riding 
where nowhere always is

feathered by our luck and kind 
we feed on days till one day 
snatch us blind to be 
the greenest food of light

Arey's Cove
The hardened beach winks crystal 
Stung and clawed again.
Foam clings gray and trembles. 
Some thin breeze compels.
Half shells smooth as pearl 
Are drier than the sand.
A feather eddies up and stills.
Gold brow to glinting nails 
Alert, light spiralling
Her ears, her hair, she stands 
And stares. The moment ends.
No seas crash louder than 
Her wishing it again.

Blue horses suck the fences paintless
The young oak sings
Some day my acorns will be famous

Blue eyes the starlight rubs in gravel
The old house sings
The generations I unravel

Four rabbits leap the blue alfalfa
Snow down past the sleeping dog
Their blue tongues divide the garden
Their bite has sharpened on his growl

The old gate creaks
The miles I'll never travel

Blue winds strum the clover

The garden weeps
I'm still young but hopeless

A blue moon topples over

He stands by water calm 
as an early summer melon 
grown to bobbing head.

To drink, not a moment's job 
of played conceit lazy 
in the head's reflection,

but the good draught 
long as all life flowing 
through granite teeth,

through miles of hot canals 
past islands dark and struck aloud: 
a tide of whispering embraces,

a red corpuscle sea, 
to one world-wide tail 
lassoing the air.


"My shadow turned and cut 
the corner like a knife. 
Need I say this twice?

It walked ahead, behind
my life. Note the device? 
Well? I said: My shadow..."


"All right, genius mine,
I get the point -- but" (sneeze)
"since when am I your shadow?

I'm your wife. And so? 
It's late, let's go to bed.
Snap off the lights. Please?"

The man next door who bawls at our dog 
Glares from his porch with jaws ajar.
His heart like china swaddled in straw 
Imagines a doctor bent to explore
The bulge of the thing, the chill of the thing 
Struck deaf and dumb, forgetting to stir.

On Sundays he swarms, glossing the roof, 
The nose, the gaudy warm flanks of his car. 
Teetering over the perfect motor, 
He nuzzles his head in the ladylike hum 
Of the thing that never while he attends 
Can be imagined forgetting to stir.

But some gray Sunday to come, I picture 
The lazy exhaust, the glittering cold,
While he lies bunched like a rag on the hood, 
His china blue heart cracked in his jaws, 
The motor beneath him, deaf and snug, 
Humming on velvet for hours, forever.

Hammocked in a net of shade, 
The cemetery sun deflects 
A beam that winks along the path 
In flecks of quiet endlessness.

Grim, alert, the twins emerge: 
Upstart spinster monuments; 
Pails scarcely swinging, they step out, 
White classical American.

Blueberries big as grapes are at 
The brims. Their bony fists clench handles 
As they join the mortal street. 
And the livelong summer fondles them.

How like them in fifty years 
(To one absurd, sun-struck as I) 
Their spinster nieces pass alert 
With berries plundered off their graves.

"I see you like our mountains." And can I say 
I do who dream of olive trees toughened
By the angry winds of Zion, a thorn-
Entangled memory of Isaac who 
On patient knees before the stone awaits 
His father's knife, but gets the broad-armed angel 
Thrusting him to life?

"Your mountains, sir?" I stare. Liking 
Mountains was a benediction on 
The earth, the hardening of lava and 
The twist and gush of rivers, to those who 
Agilely upon their fathers' bones 
Would lie and hear the sound of sons 
Treading on their own.

"Yes, I like them very much." And who 
Are we to quibble over heritage -- I, 
The testy newcomer, and he, old salesman
Of a lifting view? For, even to exchange our eyes, 
No angel ever would arrive to recompense 
His stony adoration, and no sweet son 
Bring my bones alive.

White, puritan, and muscular in heaps, 
the snow moves softly into places 
reserved for other things.

Solid weather, shroud of heaven, 
who can guess its purpose, oblivion 
packed, whole as sin?

Obstacle of the routinary, its sudden 
weight strains thc lawful brain 
of progress to rebellion.

Children grasping up the balls 
of holiday use it intensely 
as a gift in kind.

But the temporary vast monument 
of its mission inflicts dumb 
desert on the mind,

Muffling fields of cluttering invention, 
silence of an age that leaves 
all man behind.

Have You Watched Your Hand?
The hand that listened to a pocket clink 
With change was drawn to finger clammy coins, 
Exulting in the expert touch that told 
The shabby penny from its mates, until 
In each was traced the dead exact number 
And, like safecracking hand auditing 
Dark dials, quickly clicked the sum, knowing 
Better my dense pocket weight than I 
My rent and airy mind.

Then the notion struck, a minted fancy: 
Could not round copper, silver, lead, in any 
Pocket bottom dangling, rubbing backs, 
Of themselves produce the hand that weighs 
And strokes in them each finity inert 
And cold, and so stir up that mindless muffled 
Clink, a travesty of mastery in 
Subjection like a pet's?

The seed clutched up in widowed womb from hero's 
Ash, and soon turned foetus, popped out god -- 
Perhaps is such a thing-engendered hand. 
But coin-sprung monster come alive with drachma, 
Doubloon, ducat, under ruined cities stuffed, 
Could lead a death-free, palm-oiled life exchanging 
Glinting treasuries.... By God! Have 
You watched your hand? and does it burn to ransom 
Greece or Babylon?

Abel the Water Bomb

It is the end of time and I still encase my eternal mind, coveting its tiny
ticking sleep. The hazards of staying afloat, a disused water bomb, the 
scintillating wreckage all about me -- things remembered, outward now -- 
miraculously take on their own absurd reality. It is at least a start. Look, 
isn't it growing light already?

Now in my heart day breaks 
where the world wakes 
and all light seems wheeling home.

Father death, unnatural mother, 
you who made me late for life, 
early born for night, my home, 
to scrabble over one dried-out bitter loaf 
for which my life was taken in God's fold;

You who've unfused me, disabled me 
for all the scintillant proud pleasures 
promised in the life I never learned, 
created darkness for a home 
and birthed me there, guileless 
grazing shepherd, victim-to-be;

Unnatural mother, father death, 
who've used me, man's first martyr, 
dead child of favored potency, 
for a worldly legend of abuse, 
a small blood-crawl of uselessness 
most coveted in dark time;

Dear, dumb parents of forever, you 
who've wracked me on my brother's shadow, 
he who always died
steeped in his deeds, 
daylight's ruddy prince, 
hero of heretofore, 
hereafter's swallower.

Back in his golden agelong world of day
towers first began to tilt, 
floods wavered and began to fall. 
One waterfall death wrought 
still falls beautifully for newlyweds. 
The rock beneath it chips, erodes, 
the helpless flood still rolls down, 
pounding toward his memory -- 
animal and alive as sallow serpents 
trying to erase the world, 
fill all oceans with the nullity 
of a heretofore forever.

And I, disused, barely afloat, 
my own mind's litter, 
become the world's one small-eyed hope 
it will survive.

Unnatural mother, father death, 
who made me: 
dark was my coming hither, 
and in the dark home, 
engendering from his bloody corded arm 
this fuse of murdered love,

I, first and last the lapsing ruminator, 
now bound toward my brother's home, 
hum silently:

In my heart day breaks
where the world wakes 
and all light seems wheeling home.

I must ask you to be still 
for once -- 
for there is mockery in your words

that mean to love that cannot 
even hate outright, 
so much you hate yourself:

a phosphorescent thimbleful 
of pride borne shakily 
in self-starred night,

a nose ring of moral cannibal, 
searching for a guilt 
delicate enough to eat

by teeth herbivorous as faun's, 
quivering a harsh nose jangle 
at his own beast smell --

be still, I say! 
I will not let you munch 
my flowering will away.

Noonday Prey
The streets are turmoil 
with implied disaster 
as pedestrians assailed 
by autos topple 
on the walks 
in strict disorder, 
like crabs shored up 
by waves, unscrambled 
by a seaward-pulling 
fate that points 
to timelier graves.

Pigeons in retreat 
yield up their pavement 
pasturage to line 
a nearby rooftop 
where with mannerly 
restraint they improvise 
the shoulder hunch
of buzzards busy 
with delight 
at multitudes 
of staggering prey.

I cannot remember 
anything worse 
in many an eon

of the soul's 
unkempt struggle 
with its god

than the philosophic 
gentry peddling 
their tamed swan

for that true 
and native bird 
who once screamed

disdain at the tidy 
swan-infested lake 
then raised a red wing

and besoiled itself -- 
  the celebrated

The Tragic Flaw
Deep in the jewel box where it lay 
The new-born infant stared with onyx eyes 
Asking to be read behind each 
Eyelash sprouting from its minute 
Full-grown head.

As I watched the carved magnificence,
The glowing midget cheek, the pared
And half-moon nails, the spiral
Junctures where the flesh turned
To hidden rose,

I heard the doctor's cough nearby
And felt behind his guarded hand
Those thumping homespun mouthfuls
Garrulous and out of place
As virgin jokes.

Then I knew the child was mine,
Its box the casket of imagined form,
The contents effigy of hopeless
Momentary life regained, immaculate 
And still-born.

And the doctor, offhand, coarse,
Prattling of something else,
Audience-catharsis to the act, waiting
Ubiquitous to swallow it in the grave
Of a laugh.

Ballads for Janus


Two men were sitting in a dark quiet room
figuring out their lives,
coming to no conclusion.
One said, I want to rule the earth.
Other said, I want to limit birth.
One said, I need a thousand wives.
Other, turning on the lights,
said, Brother, you're my enemy.
One took out a gun,
aimed at the other's head.
Other moved faster, shot him dead;
standing in the room, tired,
said, Now I'm done,
shot himself like he shot the other one.


Two men were walking in the middle of the night.
One turned left, other turned right.
One went through hell, sweating like a fool.
Other smelled lilies, in a pool.
One lost his arms grabbing at shadows.
Other kissed girls on their toes.
One lost his face, walking through a wall.
Other lay with ladies great and small.
One met the other waiting at the end.
What did you find, my lucky friend?
Lilies, pools, a thousand wives.
Hell, walls, a thousand knives.
Grinning, they broke each other's head.
One hadn't lived, the other was long dead.


In the golden old days the twins sat down,
played on lutes while all danced around.
A little later when the earth was proud
they sang to kings while others bowed.
Then came days when the whole earth groaned;
they tinkled like beggars and were stoned.
Came an age of wolves and fools;
one walked hungry, other in jewels.
Camps now are set for the mad and the sane.
They shoulder each other, they are one again.

Here it is, the safe distance, 
the utter wall, and in the center 
the round idea of comfort abandoned 
like a pillbox by the enemy, 
apertures no longer bristling 
with offense, but being suddenly 
disarmed of menace, looking silly 
as a toy mistaken in its use.

Prowling in the uniform 
of an enemy turned friend, 
I find myself lone marauder 
of a landscape shrunk 
to garden size by a future 
suddenly arrived, -- devised, 
with time's collusion, as heir 
apparent to this patch of peace.

A century of weight is leaning 
on the wall: a rowdy sky 
disseminating cynical horizons 
perpetrates a hoax of clouds 
over the tongue-tied land, 
and my garden waiting new 
and barren as a billiard table 
asks me how to grow.

Disarmed by freedom, I myself 
become the arm of freedom, 
pressure on a space to be, 
filling earthworms with devout 
commotion, penetrate the round-
house of idea to find seeds 
in crude love-notes promising 
lifetime harvests in a year.

Original Sin
Death around the corner 
and death beneath the skin 
have nothing at all to do, Sir, 
with where I saw it begin.

A child with tested eyes 
taught me where to look; 
It wasn't in upside-down skies 
or behind the coat on a hook.

It wasn't under the bed, Sir, 
or rasped from the radio, 
or in the night of furniture 
that creaked until dawn, no

It wasn't in the usual places, 
Sir, that's what surprised me too; 
the window where horror gazes 
framed this unfabulous view:

A head closing in from above 
first wearing the maternal grin 
hardened his eyes to love, 
told him that life is to win

From another his bread and butter; 
where love is love of the womb 
to lose is to face without supper 
the selfless walls of his room.

From hot home of the flesh, 
cool doom of quickening sin 
woke death up with the wish, 
Sir, to be severed under the chin.

My Witness, My Lady
We were listening to sounds the circus made 
When the darkness twisted out of his head.
"Look how his bloodstream is oozing away!"
Cried the lady hugging her heart-shaped purse,
Her back to the horses parading with streamers
And steam in their tails. I was afraid
Nobody else had seen him erupt
But me. He never whimpered at all

Between the lady and me, a column
Of silence facing the horses and drums.
But had she really perceived, I wondered
Without changing direction or biting my lip.
When I brought down the hammer again (the crowd
Was cheering the quivering thighs of a drum
Majorette), had she perceived the plump
Little echo made by his wound the moment

She cried, the moment I pulled the hammer
Away? Because it was then in a panic
Of pity I saw her again through the loop
Of his arm as he rested a hand on a hip.
Torn by the instinct to scream and the fear
Of dropping her purse if she opened her arms
To help and the anguish of missing behind her
The loudest part of the circus parade,

She did nothing but shut her proud little eyes,
Turn on her hard round heel and shuddering
Walk away. Later I wanted
To find her and tell her, "My witness, my lady,
You who were so afraid, do you know
How we triumphed, your victim and I, the rest
Of that day? How all those loud steaming horses,