Robert Peters: Holy Cow: Parable Poems

Copyright 1974 by Robert Peters

Contact address for permission to reprint and distribute:

The Red Hill Press
6 San Gabriel Drive
Fairfax, CA 94930

or contact the author at

for Jeff


what you've always wanted to come true
rockingchairs on the beach
the list of anonymous persons
the child in the burnt house
the word yes
Francis Bacon
the inhabited heart
the bull
the tree
Lesbia's Sparrow
the talented family
the jackhammer
the chair and the murdered poet
the poet as horse-back rider
the poem as toad
the poem in the field
the failed poem
the man who planted a potato vine in his navel
the latter-day saint
the actor
the hypnotized sheep
the hunter
what happened yesterday, in May
the dying old russian writer
the philosopher
the sandstorm
this morning's taste
the hangman and his darling
the little pornographers of power
the bodies in a ditch
the apocalypse
the potatoes
the voyage
the explorer, or, "yes, h. rider haggard"
the skull
the garden

Brueghel's Pig

the world runs
with a knife stuck through its hide
a wedge sliced from its back

what you've always wanted to come true

He brings his ears on a plate.
He is not Van Gogh.

He brings his balls.
He is not Abelard.

He presents his entire head.
He is not King Charles.

He brings his eyes.
He's not Oedipus in disguise

The Moon receives
these gifts. "Wise men,"
she says, and shakes
her cheesy sides.

She leads the men inside
to her moon house.
Everything is yellow and nice.
An old man is sweeping up.
There are no mice.

The Moon is imperious.
The men are delirious.
Missing parts, they lie
supine. The Moon
takes each one in turn
as her Valentine.


rockingchairs on the beach

tubular aluminum
frames and plastic
webbing rockers in
rows, insanely rocking.

mothers, amazed
wipe grit from their
eyes laughing

ride trapezes into
midair & fall

run away, automobiles
throw themselves into
reverse gear.

O chairs rocking
to the water
will there be
sweet gurglings
when the waves roll
over you and you go
under screaming?

you draw us
into positions.
we squat in
neat rows, our
feet are under water.


the list of anonymous persons

a list of persons, all
of them weird, at home.

take telephone book
names at random. now

a list of inside-page
disasters, a list of

supermarket contest winners --
first prize won by a cretin

whose mother held the pencil
in his hand. list of names

asking tunes over the radio
station, persons lubricating

cars at the volkswagen garage.

the music goes round
on the new auto tape stereo.

gasoline chugs towards
the faultless carburetor

releasing fumes. we toss
the list onto the back seat

settle down on flower
cushions, as stars groan &

rockets blasted towards them


the child in the burnt house

the child runs
through the burnt house.
he finds his father
charred, dead, huddled
under the stairs.
he recognizes the face
and kisses it. his
father's hand falls off.
the child, with the hand,
climbs to the burnt roof.
the stars come close.
they tell the child to sing.
but he can't do anything.


the word yes


slowly a great rain of piss
begins (god beats on
the galvanized lid of heaven
the stars piss, Danae yells
for a sponge, Castor and Pollux. . .)
the rain is orange, the skies
are hepatitis colored, word
balloons are full of
comicbook doomwisdom. yes.


the waters recede
communities of tongues/mouths
shout, the universe streams
through the loins of god
anew "urea! urea!" -- a paean
of joy! it all looks
new, but soon
the planets are furnace-dry, the
last unswingable vine drops
into place, from its place,
and (as) the last noose.


Francis Bacon

he's kneedeep
in a river, trees
on the banks crash
from the weight of
dumb branches. he feels
but doesn't see the current.
downstream, near the falls
baboons scratch their
bluestring cocks and balls
and simper. a gigantic
meathook shakes, turns
its point
towards its victim



they approach, they bite, any
push will start them towards

you. you won't know when
or which one needs your blood.

shoulders thrust back, neck stretched,
this movement of the jugular forward

is the signal (you invite them)
with his tongue one flicks your

eyeball, another with spit wets
your neck. you think

they're angels. then, the one who
drinks is lost, and as he drinks
you save him.


the inhabited heart

a rat in a human heart
gorged on blood.
opposite the rat lived a cat
kept by muscle and fat
from reaching the rat.
above the cat near an auricle
dwelt a mouse hysterical
who flung herself
all day and all night
against the sides of her house.
through peepholes she could see
her enemy. opposite her was a void
to be inhabited eventually
by a humanoid.

the thumping rhythms of its heart
the mouse echoed with art --
which irritated the cat
as well as the rat.

the cat decided to act.
he began by eating the rat.
then he said to the mouse
thumping in its little
apartment house: "I'm
Romeo Montagu. I'm coming
to get you. Let down a vine,
my pet, and I'll climb up,
fair Juliet."

the mouse stopped thumping
and bumping and put on a
stomacher revealing (& shaping)
her boobs. (she didn't know
she was going down the tubes).
the cat perfumed his armpits
powdered his scrotum
and learned his lines
just as the writer wrote 'em.

he climbed the vine.
the mouse was too late
to change her mind, for
the cat grabbed her and ate her.

cat belched and farted.
he felt lion-hearted.

the rat
had grown strange enzymes
in his barrow.
he trained them to destroy
ligaments, nerves, & marrow.
they burst now
like time exposure flowers,
avenging their master.
(trust nobody had been
his motto). they attacked
the cat's whiskers.
they attacked the cat.
they consumed his fat and
then his viscera.
they left his growl
for last and found it
no better than a whimper.
"Excelsior!" they cried.

blackness generated itself
inside the heart. it had
scarcely lost a beat. in
fact, it felt tougher
than it had for years.
it had consumed its fears.


the bull

a bull nibbles on
a meteorite. his
throat drips juices.
forelock is sweat.
his feet are in cement.
blocks of saltlick
press against his
cock, gigantic muscle
dripping hairs
booming forth, back
and forth and back
again. zinc
drenches the earth.


the tree

you asked for an evergreen.
I brought you one.
you buried a watch
in the pot. the tree's roots
encircled the watch.
you replaced the moss.
the tree leaned
towards the light.

the ticking of the watch
increased. the tree
outgrew the pot. aphids
sucked the branches.
you still liked it a lot
but would not move it.
you began injecting it
with blood drawn
from your own veins.
you fed it snot.
you taught its roots
to crush meal worms.
you gave it cyanide.
it coughed and shook
its needles.
it made soft groanings
in the dark.

this easter, you wrote,
the branches grasped
the trunk. the needles
dropped. the tree
made faint screams
when it was touched. the watch
gave up and died. "The
way of the world." you said,
uprooting the pine.

you wrapped it, sent it,
said it was mine.
I washed it, oiled it,
cut out the watch. I
buried the tree. the watch
hangs over my bed, tied
by a thread; if you
want another tree
don't ask me.


Lesbia's Sparrow

she screwed John
lying on her side
Mortimer standing
Robert, so to speak, by hand,
Rachel with her lips
transfixed. she loves

but men give her money.
they fur her pelt for
the shenanigans she desires.
Rachel is all gravy.
fired by a wish
to seduce what the world
now offers, Lesbia has
three bank accounts
a karman ghia she admires
a pass to a ski resort.

she knows moreover
that the first, middle and
last exits are the same,
bits of truth stuck
here and there, a
colored leaf, a scream
or two, a tit in the eye.


the talented family


my father makes mandolins
of rosin and turtle shells.
my mother plays the violin.
my brother raises poodles for
senior citizens. my sister
has few brains. each day
she explains by letter
that she's getting better.
she knows that roses glow
when the desert hot winds blow.


"Come home," writes my father.
"There's so much to tell. I
want to nourish you as well.
Your talent's fine, though
only half as good as mine,
tee hee."


I trimmed my beard, washed my hair,
packed my bag, brought all my poems
inside, turned off the utilities
and thumbed a ride to Wisconsin.


my dad was dead: he'd tried to shoot
a rabid dog and missed. my mother's
face was covered with paste. her
breasts were bare. "Come in," she said,
in bed. She took her violin. She
lit a candle and played a little air
from Handel. "Your sister, I'm afraid
is off her rocker. Your brother's trade
in pets is through, he's screwing
the old women. Now, son, tell me
what you've done."


I played a tune upon a yellow
ocharina. I played another
upon a comb. I sang by blowing
through my fingers. I recited
a poem. "Stop," she said, "spare
me your logorrhea. I'll have
an attack of diarrhea. Please
play me more upon your ocharina."


I played until she died.
I went outside.
I uprooted the nearest tree
and threw it as far from me
as I could, into the lake.
I saw my father's face. I
set fire to the house.
strings snapped in the flames.
I thought I saw my brother.
I took my bag and hitched a ride
west to California.
as you can see, at last I'm free.


the jackhammer

his jackhammer broke
through the stonewalls
and came to a yard
full of bones
whose are these he
asked matter of factly
since his flight was from
reality. there was a pear
tree, there was a well.
oh beautiful moss and
shrivelled november pear
fruit he thought and
fell to his knees and thanked
god for his jackhammer. he
drank from the well. dear
bones, he said, where is your
skull? are these my own
bones, were they an indian's,
did they move with my
ancestors, germanenglish monks
rotting here? not fair!
he said, gathering a tibia,
a scapula, a set of finger
bones. perhaps these were
holy (we read our own pro-
pensities, who is not a be-
liever, who would eat his own
marrow if he could) these
gathered bones (he thrusts them
down inside his shirt) these
bones how shall I protect them,
I was sent to retrieve them,
what was I in a past life,
who is a christian this or
any other morning?
what will I be
before night? this leg bone
is my wife, this fractured pelvis
a son, and a daughter, and a
lover. hallucinations have
the substance of timber, the
matter of bone. where then is
the mystery? beneath the roots,
meeting the skull, the shrivelled
pear tree, my nerves, integumen
and marrow.


the chair and the murdered poet

he is broken
over a chair, that's what
he deserves says the thief
taking his time.
the chair begins to walk
carrying the body, the
legs slip in the blood.
preserving him, says
the thief to no one,
naicin & formaldehyde.
beliefs run out of the
dead man's ears, their
hands enraged push the
chair from behind
as it dances. stop
stop says the thief
I'm tired of it all.
the chair lands on the
live man, after tripping him,
the chair's arms dump
the dead man on top of the
stomped dead thief. his
heart pumps its last blood,
teeth form clattering
in the wood of the chair's
seat. I need food said
the chair, now I am tired.
it snores, everything
has happened before.


the poet as horse-back rider

insane with the flexed motion
its ragged speeds, of the circle
he rides the pony around and around.

the lather of the driven hide
soaks his ass and legs.
in the hollow of the taut back
he bounces towards what
he has never seen: the round eye
stricken, horse-bloody
in its grains.


the poem as toad


you lie there safe
in the muck, your smug mouth
full of jewels, your
haunches tight against
your sides. you've stopped
playing by the rules,
poeticule! come out
or I'll drop rocks
on your hinder parts.
I'll excavate your marsh
and fill it with trash.


I invent a toad-catcher.
it's taken all my skill.
I've stuffed a vitamin pill
with bad lines from other poets,
pulped them and filled the
capsule. the pill is a
large mosquito.
in its thorax I've set a


toad snaps up the mosquito.
I leave the scene
and return with kerosene.
I pour it on and light a fire.

the flames burn well.
they bring the pond to life:
toad-flambeau, toad-suzette!
the fire's burn, alas,
is brief. it sputters.


I go inside and burn
my manuscripts. my published
poems I slash to pieces.
I flush toad's mealworms
down the toilet. he's the one
who's spoiled it!


night comes. 2 a.m.
a thumping on the floor.
it's toad!
he hops in bed with me.
he snuggles down, he
purrs. he strokes my face
with his tongue. I feel him
grow. he takes me in his
arms. he's a prince.
I turn out the light.
I decide to let him stay
for the night.


the poem in the field

this meadow's so romantic
I won't / can't use it
the open field
the rabbits scurrying
the fawns nibbling asters
the chipmunks quibbling over
acorns, charles olson's
swollen fingers, green
dribbling tissue down
among the sheathed roots

what's a poem?
taking its time

an elk dreams of
lost motions, whiffles,
its pine-drenched ground
swings through the trees
with a bellow
the elk snorts
shakes his head
lifts a powerful hoof
and waits

yes, we were talking about poetry


the failed poem

the well has a cracked lip
the rope for the brucket is frayed.
the winch is frozen.

this poem won't talk or sing, it won't do anything.

here comes a tractor.
it destroys the farmhouse
and demolishes the well.

when a poem won't work
bury it.


the man who planted a potato vine in his navel

some said it was
a miraculous potato-tree-of-Life

others said he was
an asshole and should
cover the vine with a shirt.

"God's been good to me," he informed the editor
of the local paper.
"My vine blooms this week."


the latter-day saint

he strips and adorns himself
with vines and ferns.
he fills his ears with mountain laurel
honey and climbs a pine. the sun
has turned him brown. he looks
like an iriquois.

at the beach, at home, he knows
that someone is biting the nipples
of the boy he loves, a thief
has stolen his clothes,
his fifteen rental units
are on fire, a hood has slashed
his tires, his life insurance
business is defunct, his estranged
son sent by his estranged wife
comes to take his life.

he's in love with a hummingbird.
his attraction is conceptual, although
the physical experience he gets
is far more stimulating than
that he's had with other pets.

each day the bird whirrs to the pine,
zings and spins until it finds
his ear and zeroes in. it sips honey,
drinks perspiration salt, takes
saliva from his lips, then zooms
and does a somersault, plummets
and settles briefly on his head.

whether the bird acts out of tact
or gratitude, the man can't say --
nor does he care. And he'd admit
the whirr and beat sometimes
do frighten him.

eventually, of course, the
tÍte-a-tÍte must end. the man
will lose his little friend.
the man will grieve and find another way
to modify his features, to
make himself attractive to other
forest creatures. and when
at last the world learns of
his antics, they'll at first
regard him as insane and quaint,
and later they'll renege
and canonize him saint, and
raise his pay.


the actor

I think I'm Greek my
helmet has a noseguard, and
the scenes on my tin
breastplate are of
Zeus' various transfor-
mations. there's a tin
cobra coiled about my arm;
I pretend it's silver.
I anoint my wrists
with oil rendered from
peacock liver. a
workman brings on a
tree and a false hill.
I mount the hill
and wait for the curtains
to part. it's half-past
eight. I pose.
the dust smarts my nose.
sea waves lap the stage.
the moon is in eclipse.
a dolphin emits a squeak.
venus rides around on a
half-shell then sinks.
a ship of corpses crashes
on a reef. someone calms
the waves. I think it's
Socrates. "Belief," he says
before he sinks.
I make a speech. my words
return as tragic and comic
faces. they spit on me.
this is not what I meant to be.


the hypnotized sheep

his sheep are too smart
for him. they sleep
with their eyes open, a
glazed illusion of
that he will knife them
in their sleep, for meat
and wool. nightly
with his fanged dog he
travels over the mountains
to find them: he takes
to wearing sheepskins to
decoy them. ravens living
off seeds in warm sheep dung
warn them of his approach.
it becomes impossible to
round them up for shearing
or for the market.

his tactic changes: one by one
he hypnotizes the sheep,
divides them into lions
leopards, mink. each sheep
has other attributes, some
roar, others growl, develop
a taste for fish. they
forget they are sheep and
when they sleep they
close their eyes. he
bundles them off to market.


the hunter

in the veldt of his mind
a gazelle grazes
numerous sweet leaves
of panic,

the hunter is forced to move.

he feels shame and
loses it. he sheds his skin.
vultures descend.

the gazelle, virginal and slim,
can't save him,


what happened yesterday, in May

his tongue grew roots, simplifying
the old ones -- they atrophied, developed
a crust. his cock fastened itself
to his right foot: it happened as he
was kneeling. over his head, each
in a comicstrip balloon: radiation,
war, cancer, dope, vd -- a few heh-hehs
and ho-hos thrown in. his skin turned
green: I found a little hill
          I sat on it very still
          I said to myself smile
          you'll be here awhile.


the dying old russian writer

to die, that's why
he was brought here

it's not the beard we
fear, nor the stench

(he's a count, not a
peasant) it's the con-

fusion of what he
represents: is he an

aristocrat? he says people
deserve his lands, books,

accounts: his family sucks.
we are his family, a question

of obligations he can't
recall writing his books, he

can't revive his lust.
he's a mask with brittle

teeth, his eyes globs of pus
his hands drift off (towards

stars?) hoping to grab what has
eluded him. there is (was) never enough


the philosopher

he's an old man, an
old philosopher. he dies.
we embalm him and
wrap him in flannel.
we put him outside
on a wooden platform
near a limpid river channel.

he's dead for hours,
among the hydrangeas, castor
beans, and other commemorating
flowers. we read his works.
they're full of quirks: too
Kantian, too Platonic, too
erotic we laugh, go crazy,
get it on. an orgy. the wind
plays with his dead hair.
we show his dead eyes a
picture of Schopenhauer.

he stirs and yawns.
slowly, he undoes his bonds.
he leaves his ankies tied.
he looks a little dried
from the formaldehyde.
he resembles Freud. like
Socrates he sits
among his acolytes. one leg
dangles over the bed.
"Talk, talk, talk," he says,
"and fuck. That's all you do,
that's all you care about."

"Right on!" we shout, wondering
what the miracle is all about.
he throws off his clothes.
he fingers his groin. his cock
rises like Lazarus from the grave.
he doesn't miss a stroke.
we chant in rhythm with his
beat. he dies and lies back
down. angels the size of
fireflies materialize
from his sperm. each angel's
face is a famous philosopher.

the angels flutter in a ring.
they clap their hands and sing.
they drop their angel clothes
and enter the old man's body.

          he flies to the sky.


the sandstorm

some sandstorm I
said. out of the
puke of monsters
& politicians spring
little dustweeds
you think they're
green, well
they are brown, puke
tan, in fact. oh
come to the party,
do, come like
lawrence of arabia
like the children
of israel like the
sinatras in palm
springs, oh, the
sandstorm, o the
sandstorm weeds!


this morning's taste

a snail slithers
through its own wet.
a cat paws sand
near yesterday's deposit.
a violet turns
towards a moist leaf.
the pepper tree
trembles. believing
the earth round
but wanting it flat
we rise from sleep
repeat dream-swimming
motions in a mirror
hope to erase
night's acrid hunger:
wings clipped, bodies
in a cage still humping
meat and feathers.


the hangman and his darling

how to demolish
a straight line?
well, refurbish the circle
and the arc,

then throw a rope
over a rafter
and see the moon wink
its last through the
upstairs window

think of saffron navels
breasts, alabaster
posteriors -- the first
thought suffices
for the last

fashion a noose.
the eye grows solid
a hardening egg, the
mouth an abyss.

the hangman roars
over the hill
with his darling.


the little pornographers of power

a summer for mushrooms --
stems and bits, pink, white, brown
killing daisies and asters,
grass and thistles. undergills
bronze with wet. they push
through the earth. toads,
newts and lizards flick tongues
against the meat.

who will take over
when the food fails and
the eyes of the army
are pink with hallucination?

skulls are breathing, sunf
as the moon swims
over in its usual fashion.


the bodies in a ditch


there is a river
of blood, a
declivity beside
the river where
women clutch children
and are herded
and shot.
wears a menstrual
          in his mouth
the cankered rose
congealed into
death & poison?


bodies lie in
broken reeds
among pigdung
and dropped chicken
feathers. in
a runlet
sewage moves
towards the sea,
moves through
a marine's brain,
through the
solar plexus
of a company commander.


there is an answer
no prayer strikes
out of rock. blue-
bottle flies
fight over, eat
human suet, meat


the apocalypse

I'd like to think
that quiet blaze
will last
until the world
swims in love
and wars are pimples

on the ass of some
giant cretin
in the himalayas.

he screams
once a year, at
christmas, say,
when the long tongues
of the oxen
stroke a fresh wet child

the light
has been in my head
a thousand years.

I want to burn
the lightyear
of a star
spinning far
any probing.


the potatoes

you eat
whatever you can.
after a point
you give up
the search for
fresh red endive,
artichokes & avocadoes.
you unearth
potatoes again,
by hand, by the
same hand that
isolates the self,
and removes
the fruit
the plant undisturbed
the root system
kept intact,
white tubers never missed,
white tubers to
keep one sane


the voyage

after eight days on the water
in a boat with sails: o
satisfaction! winter
sludge seeps over.
the trees are bare. globs
of mistletoe and empty nut
caches drilled into dead
trees by jays & squirrels

who grins there, who
chokes the river with
paste pearls & mud, who
stifles bird throats?

the chef is dead,
speared by a citizen
the concertina man
sets fire to his
bellows. the swimming
pool is kerosene. a
trained seal gives
a victory sign before
going under, for good.

bring a dead violet
some grass, open the
latch. see the grin,
mushroom-hued, skull as bald
as cleopatra's navel.

what does it say, love?


the explorer, or, "yes, h. rider haggard"


I find the village, the
usual bamboo, shrubs and
blood, rampant pigs and dogs

the straw house
of the chief, horns
over the door, smoke,
his wives seated
on a log, in a row

a white pig
runs with a knife
in its throat, a
peacock spreads its
tail, a medicine man
shakes shells and a
tambourine of skin, he
grins hideously

I say I'm writing a book
and ask for
flower imagery, weeds
and a few spells.

the natives sense
I won't shoot, in proof
I dismantle my bazooka

the wives laugh.
folds of skin like
clits hang between
their filed teeth.
"let me see the chief."


inside a sacramental
blaze, a throne,
a sunburst of wire,
sumptuous pineapples
and other fruit
small birds scatter
through the smoke-hole
in the roof, a gongsound
shimmers and dies.

the wife
clangs her bangles
and whirls.
she whirls
around me. I
can't see.

"Where's the chief?"
I say. "I want to
honor him." I kneel
on the sparkling floor.

"He not far." she points
to a large apothecary jar.

a foetus in brine,
a foetus wearing a
crown! fire
engulfs the jar.

the wife paints my face,
she bites my lip and
sucks blood. she
grabs me, inserts me
and I come. The
fragrance of formaldehyde!


the jar has dried:
the foetus is a
shrivelled prune.
the wife seats me
on the throne.

thunder, fire
an egret feather, a
shower of gold.
I am shackled
to the throne!


the skull

a skull
just floated past
over the roofs
of these groovy
beach houses
towards the sea.
it hovers,
lets its jaw drop
then drifts off.
hair floats
behind it
trimmed with

when elbows
are missing
and the knees draw
into the face
there's little
left to kiss
or to fuck

this is a day
for cold spines.
the ocean, so
full of death,
is clattering
first into gelatin,
then into bone.
each of us
is alone


the garden

a lion roars at a rose
and is calmed. a stork
considers a nest on the
highest rock, and departs.
deer sleep in the shadows of
each dream. there is a silver
heart. nude men and women
dance around an orange tree.
the ladies wear chokers,
the men have tied mistletoe
to their balls. there is a
stream for langorous swimming.
there is a wall and a toad
with jewels in its head.

not a rose drops, not an orange,
not a leaf. the heart sleeps.
he and she are linked.
there is ichor, which they drink.
the lion yawns.
the dancing stops.
who can prove this false?
loving creates itself



A number of these poems, sometimes in other versions, have appeared in the following magazines: Crazy Horse, Specimen 73, Kayak, Invisible City, Statement, Panjandrum, Artifax, The Smith, Granite, The Back Door, West Coast Poetry Review, The Seneca Review, The Little Magazine.

Other poetry by Robert Peters

Songs for a Son, W.W. Norton, 1967.
The Little Square Review, John Ridland, 1967.
Pioneers of Modern Poetry, with G. 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.
Eighteen Poems, privately printed, 1971, 1973.
Red Midnight Moon, Empty Elevator Shaft Press, 1974.
Cool Zebras of Light, Christopher Press, 1974.
The Gift to Be Simple, forthcoming, Liveright, Inc.
Selected Poems, forthcoming, The Crossing Press.

The cover drawing is by David Wilton (Gleep).
The colophon on the final page is by Carol Yeh.

Typed by John McBride & printed by Gemini Graphics
Distributed by Serendipity Books
1790 Shattuck Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94709

Back to the CAPA homepage