Robert Peters: Bronchial Tangle, Heart System

Copyright 1974 by Robert Peters.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.

No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles & reviews. For information address Granite Publications, Box 774, Hanover, N.H. 03755

or contact the author at .

To My Parents and to Richard




gangsters/came to Eagle River
weeds by the shore
the canoe/slides easily down
fresh willows/swing over
this river wanders
there are dimensions/to this boat
I choose this door
the lake has an/anvil shape


locale is a symbol
what John Dillinger meant to me
Lucy Robinson
At twelve
to walk three miles


the sun draws in
let the brain/act the dervish
For Rimbaud
I pass demolished trees
Canticle of windwing
at confluence/of lake and river
whish and slash/of weedspear
shiver of breeze

shall you uncover honey / where maggots are?
- Charles Olson



Calm me, stone,
be navigator into deep
  without turning back
  without sleep
to the cobalt lake.

be slugworm
tracking a line
over my weeded mind.

Be leechsucker
to the vein

to the site
to the concealed lake
which I must reach, plumb

before war
before return
before the list
  names those
  I love
spring from

and at last
blast of a
ram's horn
I die.


Be with me
Richard, infant, son
in the burnt canyon
of meningitis
stolen away

As my blood slogs
and jells
jells deep in
the stripveins slackened,
purple, unstrung
beneath the tongue.



came to Eagle River
but not one singer
writer or painter

I can show you
where Dillinger sweated
at Little Bohemia

where Mayor Kelly
rubbed his belly
and shot
well bodyguarded
rounds of golf

where Capone's crew
sniffed danger
adjusted their nickers
masqueraded as berrypickers
in the less ominous
air of Eagle River
when the home zoo
grew too hot

and governors
Lafollette and Heil
paused awhile
patted their wallets
observed the state
of the wild blueberry crop
gathered votes
were startled to note
so few folk
in that beautiful
backwoods of
logged off, mined-out
land. And Herbert Hoover
chose the Brule
for hooking his trout
saw Eagle River as
nothing to shout about.


And yet
one could/can
up to his eyes
there, and the mind could/can
frenzied there,
poems choking
the throat.

Weeds by the shore
sand leading down
to gray clay and
cranberry shrub
bleeding crowfoot
wild geranium
slough plant sucking
for mud, water-
delicate spoor of
moss and fern.

Here I wait
hope for the
right smack of
canoe on water
hope for a voice
to shout
from a current
from a waterdrop.


The canoe
slides easily down
from the top
of the model A ford.

I launch it
regard the trees
shivering aspen
huddling wall

Is there blood?

I see headlamp eyes,
saliva, and a
hairy jaw...

My father's tracks
run through the woods



Fresh willows
swing over
narrow beautiful river
fresh from snowflow
down from Porcupine Mountains
Mesabi Range.



faint rubbery buds
starflower moss in the

water steaming
welling from

whirling and ashes

limpid and potent
flow and current


This river wanders
from tongue to tongue
from brain to brain

wanders also
    to acrid throat swallowing dung
    to reed marshes of the lung
    to song
    to dance,
    to an auricular

O glassheart of nightmare
waterlair. O lake
afloat on waste!


There are dimensions
to this boat as
there are to this

I spread my knees
and feel
the metal mouldridge
of the sides.
Cordstrand of trousers
hue of canoe metal
toe to toe.

Swollen now
bursting along the river
where water
newly freed from ice
is glazed by an
oleaginous dark . . .

if I could reach bottom
and rend it --
a cluster of underwater
broken on granite


I choose this door
choose through it
to travel
field, marsh, & pasture

to float
over skin

to reach the lake
clogged, as it is
rumored to be -- is,
with rushes
greenwax lilypads, fallen
river and forest and lake


The lake is
anvil shaped, its
edges roughened
clear, off-center --
as the boys said
it was, the boys who
fished there
each summer, who
boasted later
boys from town
with their own
canoes bought
not built
pretested on the

In the mind:
crippled trees
conceal the lake
a shape seen
through a haze, a
hammer, a rasping
wind. Foliage
brush and grass.

No one would find you



Locale is a symbol
is a violet
which near path or walk
trembles as it unfolds

It can be photographed
and mapped
can be limned with chalk

as lodestone or magnet
can be transfixed
if at all
by art alone

by wailing
(honey or gall)
by a mouth
spewing shapes:
the gasping O

trying to recall
figures seen
as in a scrim
and that is all


What John Dillinger Meant to Me

The Wisconsin lodge
that Dillinger shot up
where he slept with
Evelyn Frechette
in a musty bedroom
hung with staghorns
is legend, has become

Last week there were
arbutus, this week violets,
and next there will be snow.

Here was Robin Hood,
thirsting, despising law,
loner, who by miracle
knew and fled,
left Evelyn behind,
she and her friend.

And snow follows snow.
Flickers peck the trunks
of evergreens seeking
grubs and nuts
kept there by squirrels.
Bears lie fallow,
the paps of summer
in their dreams. Skunks
garner oil, rub their
legs together to
quiet the seeping.

I did not see the pustules
on his jaw, the chipped tooth,
the crooked finger, the fact
that he had clap. His hands
were beautiful. His breath
as fragrant as one of
Solomon's lovers.
And his picture
On my bedroom wall,
pasted to the corrugated box
smashed flat and nailed
to the two-by-fours to
keep out cold! How immaculate
his stance before his flivver!
Felt hat back
on his head, shirt sleeves
rolled above the elbow,
trousers high on the waist,
a band, hollywood style,
set with pearls to hold them
tight. His legs spread wide,
and, held even with his navel,
his tommy gun. Again
the stance, a perfect V,
zodiac man.

What had gone wrong
at the forked bridge
outside the town? What
transpired at
sunday school? Was it
poverty? despair?
the wheel at the fair?

The gingerbread man
rides the stream
on the wet nose of the fox
Robin Hood romps in a costume
Arthur in armor.


Lucy Robinson

Lucy Robinson's
rimless spectacles
rode athwart her nose.
About her neck
were chunks of fur
which made it appear
that she had tiny rabbits on.
Masses of hair
hung down her face
(old curtains belted low
about the waist). Her
wrists were fat. Her
hands were knobs, the
knuckles bumps and knots
which creaked to open.
Her mouth seldom parted
when she spoke.

Through the musty curtains
she would come
shattering the sleep
of moths,
hums of flies,
raising dust.

Massive creature!
keeping the shoestore
in the parlor
of her decayed lath house,
selling one pair a day,
two before school began
and more for Santa Claus.

I see her with a box
fetched from a shelf
behind a cage. Dad
pulls me up, points
to a brightening shoe.

Lucy wheezes and the light
is dim. Her arthritic
finger latches in
behind my heel. A dead bird.
I feel its bill.

I want her hand free!
the size to be right!
the candy prize, and home!
The shoes will pinch and blister.
I shall have to break them in evenings
drawing water for the cows!

She stuffs dollars
into the tight mouse
of her hand, whiskers
on her knuckles twitch,
and whiskers on her mouth . . .

In that debris,
in the dust
a hunger now -- except for
an image, a lampwink,
a jewel, a gland
(faint radium pulse)
a spotted lung, striations
on a hand, an arthritic spur,
a claw quivering near a baseboard
hole...what have you done
Lucy Robinson ?


At twelve
I had myself baptized
induced my family to attend church
taught sunday school
mowed down various
adolescent heresies
with the jawbone of my
zeal, sang Solomon's songs
and erotic hymns
savored the cannibalism
of wafer and wine, made
the savior's wounds my own
displayed myself upon crosses
prayed myself into onanistic
sweats during pounding
thunderstorms, dressed in a
sheet, communed with my
lover, saw the world
entirely as glass.


To walk three miles
on a Sunday, a hick boy
strewn with the ids
of his ancestors

To see his first movie
Rose Marie I Love You.

Warbling away
those singers smothered
mountains with
layers of chocolate sound.

But my mother's hats
were not Jeanette's.
And I never saw my dad,
strawboss of a WPA
crew lead his troop of
men, shovels over shoulder
sing out his lungs
in a hairy-chested
marching song.




Meet me
in the dark
root cellar

earth a kerosene
light burlap
no thought of morning

to answer this
why without
flowers you

overwhelm me
with orchids
and violets

to the act of
my loving you
myself as

rigid earth in
the darkness

without blankets
for hours
in the musk

without caring
brought into it
into its particular

treasure the
pounding hooves
of goats the
red tongues of


It was
a mood
the black fog
throwing off
the burlap bags

Who could be
the pickle jars
sneering overhead
the stench of
rotting potatoes,
whiffed sensuality
fat wet mushrooms,
carrots, onions

Nor did
fantasy work.
it shrivelled
when you said
"don't be dirty."

I dropped free
dressed again
in the black house
of my own
but did not know it.



I wake
hear creaking
on the stairs
a nail scratches
a stovepipe

furred eyes and cheeks
hover over

Is it Dillinger?
Is it woodmaster adorned
with spruceboughs, moss?
Is it a monster?

My father
gazes down
projecting by
synapse, by a green dream
flouted --
his father drowned
in prairie grass, he
orphaned, school-less
tramping after
threshing crews, carnivals,
on a trail
blocked out
led by his brother
to Wisconsin
speech and singing
guitar violin
accordian mandolin
and a genius for
machines, for
building and repairing

In his hand
a pickax,
under his arm
a dynamite cache.



straining over a washtub
in an iceshed
of a house
chinked with moss
veiled with tarpaper

House alive with mice
in warm weather,
in cold with ice

Your stuttering washlines
strung up
through the house:
slab underwear (flat
salted fillets) sheets,
shirts, board-stiff
dresses, nightshirts

And pancakes
whipped out of batter
kept in a crock
fermenting on the back
of the woodstove

And peanutbutter (county relief)
extended by blendings
of bacon drippings . . .

Strip away all subsequent
events! Repeat those
gestures! Goad us
out to the pasture,
to the starved potato field
and the bean field
while you prod, curse
damn your life. . . .

A beast
crouches near --
fur of cedar and ash,
willowbranch for claws --
toothscraps from a
glacierbone -- licks
with hot tongue
the barn, the loghouse.
Licks at
patch of sandground
kept clear for crops
for sow, calf, and hens
breathing, freezing

as night (a peddlar)
a poisoned seed,
and a
wreathing fog
settles in
   soft underbelly
   soft thighs
tight against the throat
dark lovely throat
of night. I crouch again
waiting, hoping you are near.




My uncles were gassed
in the trenches
pissed out their fear
in the trenches

saw horses blown
to scraps, dragged
comrades from
barbedwire traps

fought off bronze rats

in Ypres, Belleau Wood,
Chateau-Thierrey, Verdun.


Don't be afraid, son,
you'll come back.

And when you're forty, home
from war, you'll rest
in a swamp of death,
dying all around.

I'll die then, and you
won't know. It's dirty.
No wishing on a moon. wow!

We're caught.
It ain't no limpid stream.

But you'll come back, son.
Don't be afraid. Wait.


Trailing piss
my uncles run
to place hands
to insert woundrags
to scream, blare
claw smoke
to latch the mask
no nose to
hang it from
throat, lingam
shot away, shapes
dangle from bones
running, running this
way, running.



That spring
the river drowned
its banks, washed down fields,
nests, stray planks
cats, dogs, porcupines.
It reached her farm
sloshed through her barns
and sheds, encircled
the log house on its mound
dropped towards the lake
never loud, fetching
in its wake three
occasions (two of which
I saw) universals in
this conundrum the if
and when:

Her eldest son
dead by the garage.
A bullet in his head
his leg drawn up

A fire smothered the summer.
Crews imported trucks, shovels
to fight the blaze.
Her farm was a base.

With mower rope she
tied herself to a joist
ripped her dress
from neck to hem
took advantage
of her menstrual flow
screamed to the god
of virgins she
was ravished, found
her victim in an aging man
who resisted her
advances, and who
went to prison, despite
his protestations
languished there
and died.

I found her in bed
the covers thrown back
a hole the size
of a fish's sphincter
below her navel. A
trace of powder
a folded rose of pain
rubbed smut against her.

He did it, she exclaimed.
That son of a bitch!
After all these years.

We found her revolver
under the woodpile
where she had thrown it.
We found it the next



He would enter
the enfolding woods
slip into shadow
and return late
often with game
it seemed
hours after
I had dreamed of him
into tree branch
into wolf
crushed by storm
or tree
bloodsmear on

Or with his brains blown out
by accident
or design:
well-distributed shell
the brain embossed . . .

But he always returned
silence his evidence
for the ephemeral whispers
garnered from the
blood cells of swamps
the ventricles of trees
the cavities of his own heart
from a flashlight cell.



The sun draws in.
Fifteen miles, it seems.
slides on the stream.

Bones and ice:
my knuckles
ache. Blisters form
bacterial water.

And stone
ahead of me.

I hear it thud
sink through


caught up its ragbag

needles clicked
clots of silk

and wool
yellowstar on a field

of green
basket of geranium

on blue
repeated, purled

a moment, a stitch
a month's meal

a squeal. An
impaled throat.


Let the brain
act the dervish
on a dancing floor

Let the breath sour
over the heat of
illusion and vision

Let the fingers tremble
as the hand deflects
the claws of harpies
the wing-tips of angels:

the red ant
bites, pierces skin
hungers for honey,
A gram of substance
sets its burn . . .
miles of drift and


For Rimbaud


I see the lateen sail
spread above the dahabiah --*
if that's what it was
you sailed upon
sick with gangrene
your heart choking
knocking delirious
against the infected
fern of your lung --
as flies swollen
scattered over the
awning, black
in a benzedrine sun.


You lay, lost
to the arrogance
that could once
melt fetor with a ray,
sank all ordinary rules of
act and drove the pin
in towards Apollo's
golden ass, thighs of
velvet, swallowing up,
feeding on tarnish,
the patina savored
by Verlaine.


I would take you in,
poet, iconoclast.
For you made the
supreme ignoble gesture
of the fig, told
the ancient tart to
go and fuck herself
with a stick, repudiated
art, and showed thereby
your insanity for it.


Green flesh supurates
shines with the glow
of a dungbeetle
scarab in a tomb
enraged by the linen
wrappings, the pennies
placed upon the eyes
medicinal cotton
stuffed up
all the apertures.


I would walk on water
to your boat, still its
fever, secure its haulers
once again, tell the muse
of your whereabouts
and bring syringes, oil
and salve, poultices
for the throat.


Eagle River, Wis. is Paris,
Eagle River is the Seine,
the old Lutheran church
is Notre Dame.


I feel that I have sailed
there, and do sail
propelled by breeze
my flag the bra
of a whore
whose fancy bleeds,
drops rancid
metaphors, stinks
for this latter day
her jewels
radiospastic pearls.


A leech sucks at
the back of my neck,
and a fat one sucks
tight up in my armpit.
I feel the rubbery mouth affixed
swelling, and hear
belching. One leech
is the size of a mole
on a face, another
of a pumpkin seed.
This choice substance
that I cough up -- rusty
albumin -- that I examine
and roll in this paper
towel -- may it infect them!
This blood, that they
have a right to expect,
is human.

* a large passenger boat used on the Nile, originally equipped with lateen sails




A buckwheat plant
greenleaf heart
and blossoms
wave in a streaming
sun, ripening.

Tomato, corn and vine
undulate, promise
fruit, ears, and
juices alkaline.


Paddle trails
at the keel.
Air does not
blind me now

nor does it dazzle
nor astound
nor squeeze the

the hair of trees

Nor do the fresh
fern fronds
(slight croziers)
as they burst up
beside the banks
crack alarmingly
through winter ground

five more miles
by the sun.


I pass demolished trees
where a storm
has splattered them.
debris is kindlingspun.

I slide beneath
tamarack and spruce.

The dipping of a spoon
into a springful of water.

Grabbing branches
I slide the boat along
pass through
bronchial tangle, heart

The air is sweet
with alchohol and blood
no houses near
no farms

A spray of water

A branch of hemlock
strikes my face

I skim through
what I have been.

I come to a meadow
faint frozen green
red moss-spoors
the sky smoky
anger in the clouds
blue, a dram of it, and red

the blue vanished
the sun faint

I beach the canoe
birds arise,
The canoe wavers
at sapling anchor
strains for midstream
and lake, muskellenge
in cold waterbrake.

And beneath my feet
beneath the marshgrass
routes for ferrets
tracks for snouts, mouths
feeding on veins
from capillary streams.

My boots are soaked
past the laces

I am in past my knees.



A gray crane on a rock.
Pink air surrounding.
Feathers hang
from a scraggly neck.

The canoe strikes a rock.
The crane glares
He might be stuffed
except that an eye blinks
rolls in upon itself.

I wait.

Crane scrapes his beak
on his wing, blinks.

I grab a stone
warm it in my hand
fling it.

A bone cracks.
A red eye swims.
Feathers fan in the wind.


Canticle of windwing

Beaks drawn
in a blaze of
opaling whitebirch

Canticle of windwing
clash of trees, animal scream
forest beating
ice shivering in thaw
antler piercing a skullbone

Glazed eyes
opalescent dregs
of winter

Who is the intruder?




Here, under the soft pad
ridges of the smallfinger
starts the linear self --

all runs in a line
circling, ovaling
from here.

Fingers sort over --
woodgrain fingerprints

what the mirror
does not discover

Fingers sort over
unlock the hammer,
strike on. . .

can a thumb trace
brain fissures?


Set to shiver
dermis catches
an electric snap
(feel it) faintly
on fingertip, gluefast
on suction foot

octopus sense
of the sea-tide, lakeblood

rippling belly of a spider



in the water.
fishforms spangling
streak past
green weeds.


Below the flowage
more calm water
and the first

margin of dusk
on the fallowland

the brain
glassy. Burnished
tangling trees
          burnished sky.




Pikeweed, pale green
trails from my hand
canoe drags
greenroots after
mesh of water, fisherman

on cobblestone
on world, rattle of throat, of
petrifying heart.
weeds clamor in the dark.


A muskellenge
strikes for my hand
swirls and sinks. Water
and a stone
mica-shining below.


Legs braced towards prow
and keel.
I am stripped
crave for a voice, for
a hunter, for a
soldier, for Rimbaud,
a swimmer
             to direct me
towards Acheron.



At confluence
of lake and river
acquatic marsh

river drops
beneath a bush

which I lift.

oscillation of water
stirring for breath

Navel of a world!


With paddle,
on knees
I slash weeds
strike blackseed
grassforms, stems
and needles
am mired again, see

a forked branch
over the side.
tentative arms:
a figure on its back
with its knees bent.

I raise it
bring it high
loaded with scum.

Mud wells up
a pickerel
rolls over
white rotfuzz
rolls on its back.

I shove the branch
deep into muck.


Whish and slash
of weedspear
scrape and tear of
lilypad and branches.

The prow
rises up
out of the water.

Paddle drips
blue silt.

Air, sharp diamond
pricks my throat.
My shirt is soaked.


Shiver of breeze.
Open water achieved.

I rock
in a brainful of weeds
arms crossed over
bent forward.

I see
the northsky
slide with icelight
in daylight.

A wind clatters,
shakes reeds and grasses
with ice.

encased in water

The canoe fans, turns
upon a vitrescible wave
the color of cinnamon.

The sun blisters forth

as the reedbeds begin again
before the ashcolored trees
rise and firtrees bleed
green. A tangle within
a body, within a chest, a

A merganser honks, banks
drops a shadow
strikes to the north

A claw draws up a black lamp
towards Cassiopeia.


First Edition

Cover Photo: wedding picture of Dorothy Keck & Samuel Peters, North Dakota, Sept., 1923.

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 74-208-51

Other books by Robert Peters

Songs for a Son, W. W. Norton, Inc., 1967.
The Little Square Review #2, John Ridland, 1967.
Pioneers of Modern Poetry, w. George Hitchcock, Kayak Press, 1967.
The Sow's Head and Other Poems, Wayne State U. P., 1969.
Connections: in the English Lake District, Anvil Press, 1973.
Byron Exhumed, Windless Orchard Press, 1973.
Red Midnight Moon, Empty Elevator Shaft Press, 1974.
Holy Cow: Parable Poems, Red Hill Press, 1974
Cool Zebras of Light, Christopher Press, 1974.
Selected Poems, forthcoming, The Crossing Press.
The Gift to Be Simple, forthcoming, Liveright, Inc.

The Crowns of Appollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art, Wayne State U. P., 1965.
The Great American Poetry Bake-Off, forthcoming, The Crossing Press.

Fuck Mother, Produced Cubiculo Theater, New York, 1970.

Victorians on Literature and Art, Appleton Century Crofts & Peter Owen, 1961, 1964.
America: The Diary of a Visit, Edmund Gosse, w. D. Halliburton, Purdue U., 1966.
The Letters of John Addington Symonds, 3 vols, w. Herbert Schueller, Wayne State U. P., 1967-1969.

Acknowledgement: some of these poems appeared earlier in Choice, Mosaic, The Mad River Review, Bovis 2 (Cambridge, England), New Measure (Oxford, England), Opus, the New York Times, and The Sow's Head and Other Poems.

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