Robert Peters: The Sow's Head and Other Poems

Copyright ©, 1968 by Robert Peters,
Detroit Michigan 48202. All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced without formal permission. For permission to reprint contact the author at

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 68-24447

"Present Artifacts: Jenks Lake, California" appeared. earlier in Ikon (Leeds, England); "Christmas Poem" in Reactions (S. B. Gazette), The Little Square Review #2, and Kayak; "Gordon at Khartoum" in The Fiddlehead; "In the Forest: Rock Figure in A Stream" in New Measure (England); "Someone Comes Stalking" in Bovis 2 (England); "Wine Bearer" in Xenia and The Little Square Review #2, "The Phantom on the Roof" in Reactions; "Love Poem to Jean" in The Little Square Review #2; portions of "Campanella 65: A Set of Explosions" in Ante and The Little Square Review #2; "What John Dillinger Meant to Me" in The Mad River Review; "Few of Us Feel Safe Anywhere" in Ante; and "The Sow's Head" in Poetry UCR and The Little Square Review #2. The drawing of animals hanging in a butcher shop window is by Meredith Peters (age 13), and the Colophon of Weeds is by Robert Peters II (age 15).

Robert Peters received his education at the University of Wisconsin (B.A., 1948; M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1952) and has served on the faculties of the University of Idaho, Boston, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wayne State. He is currently professor of English at the University of California, Irsine. He spent the 1966-67 academic year on a Guggenheim Fellowship studying and doing research at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University.

The manuscript was edited by Elizabeth Pass. The book was designed by Richard Kinney. The type face for the poetry is Caledonia, an original design by W. A. Dwiggins, cut in 1940; and the display face is Bulmer italic.
The book is printed on S. D. Warren's Olde Style Antique paper and bound in Elephant Hide paper over binders board. Manufactured in the United States of America.

Other books by Robert Peters


Songs for a Son (New York: W. W. Norton, Inc., 1967).
Pioneers of Modern Poetry, with George Hitchcock (San Francisco: Kayak Press, 1967).
The Little Square Review #2 (Santa Barbara, 1967).
Connections: The English Lakes (Santa Barbara: Peter Whigham, 1968) .


The Crowns of Apollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, winner of the Hilberry Publication Prize, 1965).


Victorians on Literature and Art (New York: Appleton Century Crofts, 1961; London: Peter Owen, 1964).
America: The Diary of a Visit, Edmund Gosse, with David Halliburton (Lafayette: English Literature in Transition, first edition, 1966).
The Letters of John Addington Symonds, with Herbert M. Schueller, 3 vols. (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1967-69).

[text from jacket sleeve:]

The poems of Robert Peters in this small volume are products of his confrontation with absurdity and despair, angst and disease which he perceives in nature, institutions, others and himself. His outlook moreover is frequently punctuated by a whimsical turn of phrase or choice of subject matter as well as a profound awareness of moments of beauty, joy and love.

His statements have an appeal for sensitive adults in an age in which each is confronting his own private despairs and perhaps is seeking an articulate spokesman who is able to give voice to a word of beauty mingled with tears.

Robert Peters received his education at the University of Wisconsin (B.A., 1948; M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1952) and has served on the faculties of the University of Idaho, Boston University, Ohio Wesleyan, and Wayne State. He is currently professor of English at the University of California, Irvine. He spent the 1966-67 academic year on a Guggenheim Fellowship studying and doing research at Trinity Hall, Cambridge University.

Peters' poems and articles appear frequently in literary publications and among his books are Songs for a Son (1967), The Crowns of Apollo: Swinburne's Principles of Literature and Art (Wayne State, 1965), Victorians on Literature and Art (1961), and, with Herbert M. Schueller, he is the editor of The Letters of John Addington Symonds (Wayne State, 1967).

Jacket design by Richard Kinney
Wayne State University Press
Detroit, Michigan 48202

For John Ridland

A shriek ran thro' Eternity
And a paralytic stroke
At the birth of the Human shadow
- William Blake
The First Book of Urizen


Part One

1. We Have Settled
2. The Sharer
3. So Far, Few Wolf Children Have Been Authenticated
4. Christmas Poem 1966: Lines on an English Butcher-Shop Window
5. Present Artifacts: Jenks Lake, California
6. State of Mind
7. Towards Gaza: August 1966
8. Gordon at Khartoum
9. And Down Their Carved Names The Raindrop Ploughs
10. In the Forest: Rock Figure in a Stream
11. Salt Lake City Heat
12. Strain Towards Bleeding
13. Tell It Like It Is
14. Someone Comes Stalking
15. The Phantom on the Roof
16. On the Way to Eleusis Where We Have Never Been
Campanella 65: A Set of Explosions
17. Sea Drift
18. Arrogance
19. Glory to the Father
20. Academy Awards
21. De Dignitate Hominis
22. Present Traceries
23. Parable of the Astronomers
24. For Emanuel Swedenborg

Part Two

25. Premonition
26. Love Poem to Jean
27. The Estrangement
28. Wine Bearer
29. Blue Boy
30. On Securing a Friend's Slipped Contact Lens
31. Community
32. Plague of Frogs
33. What John Dillinger Meant to Me
34. Few of Us Feel Safe Anywhere
35. The Butchering: Eagle River, Wisconsin
36. The Sow's Head

Part One
We Have Settled we have settled down to that moment before the scream erupts assaulting our ears. shall we wear raccoon fur or skunk stripes? act hogs or moles quaking in wet grass scratching at cocks sniffing fleece nibbling at what seems friable, is hardpan trimmed with frost?
The Sharer Where is a listener? Bring him to me. I shall wait for him in this boat, by this pier. Note then what weather falls, what clover blooms, what leaves swirl upon the floor as steel bites muscle. I can tell you where he is hiding, my sharer. Under a sun drenched with sharkblood. Around him scintillate mackerel scales, and the globed eyes and gashed lips of humped fishes mutilated by lobsters. Hear the tide fail. Whispers desert the rocks. The weeds retreat with a slosh. Is he cringing? What does he fear? Nothing is accurate. Nothing follows the drop of the holy plumbline, there or here. I watch for him. There is a slice of faded lung embroidered with phlegm. I watch for him. My thumb burns contains a bronze sliver which I can't extract, was there from birth, radium flower winking. He is to be here. To wait on this quay where the greens dissolve melt and blaze. I move, move towards him as he bares his teeth inserts a wren's legbone through the red meat of his nose. I want to walk Vesuvian streets among the sunrays. I long for whatever is uncontaminated civilized. But there are ashes on the mountain, settling down; and a dog growls moves hang-dog through these lurid streets towards a decreed position. Shortly the lava will burst and flow, translate him into jam, explode over my own head, consume the town. My eardrum thrums and pounds, shoots hot wax. My eye films over, closes. My throat clogs. A sour lump dissolves. My hand withdraws. The boat has made it again, has made the turn where I might, should have gone under the hull. He has not come.
So Far, Few Wolf Children Have Been Authenticated I walk all night along the street craving to expose the dime burning my pocket. Adorned white horses prance, jingle bridlebells, raise hooves, eyes sapphirebright. What to do when ratiocination swallows its own stinking breath, frog-gutted, tummied, waits to feel a straw shoved up its ass threatens to burst, unless additional pressure is produced. If my hair were gray and longer if my will were stronger and I had no debts. . . It is the wolf, keen moonhowler, that we seek, and a stance in a field of stones, and rain, drizzling sleet hail and at last a cave of guano fragrant the debris coughed up by owls (sweet small deer devoured), a nest of leaves, and a shewolf braced on all fours, pumice-toned udder exposed, nipples erect, at right angles, to be sucked gummed by desperate ones. Dreams fall out of the nest of chaste moments. Slate-colored proprieties at last drown as the mouth dribbles runs with fresh white wolfmilk.
Christmas Poem 1966 Lines on an English Butcher-Shop Window O beautiful severed head of hog O skewered lamb-throat, marble eye of duck, O meadow-freshened hare suspended O lovely unplucked pheasant ripening in the gloom O gracious suckling pig upended O twisted tail erect and pinkish goudged-out hole O graceful nub of sow tit, merry xylophone of fractured ribs O rib ends smarting where the saw has severed you O pleasant rind of fat and rosy spume along the incision sliced from genitals to snout O livers tumbling, O clattering jewel of pancreas and ligaments of stomach wall O golden brains emplattered O calf-groin hacked in two O carcass spiked, with legs encased and tied about with paper, hanging on the wall O sheep form, severed shoulders, O ham string of ox, O whitening lyre, O steer loin pierced, O haunch, O ribeage disembowelled O glorious trays and juices, heaps of lambhearts, chicken livers, gizzards, claws I see you all!
Present Artifacts: Jenks Lake, California (for Philip Wheelright) 1 There is a line across the lake hues of blue walking in groups of three. No one gouges his eyes to stop the streaming or grips his guts as though they were spilling through. None bears a pack. Their path is sand and stone; it is not golden. What thrids the eardrum? chugs? makes motors whir? why do I see them, Sunday travellers? 2 There is a lake between us. Lilies float on it and the broken wafers of the minnow's dinner. There is a pole warning swimmers. The depth is real -- struck by oar, plumbline, foot of human; and yet no one tries to cross it. A fact of life gone never to be repeated. 3 A boy goes past shuts out the procession the warning pole, the deeps. He moves propelled on metal crutches. Thighless he has the shoulders of a man. 4 The walkers move again, intact, their eyes averted. They would miss whoever tried to walk on water, water blue-chill even in late August: boys from camps have failed to taint it, and the mud has long since settled where the last angler caught the last fish planted for his pleasure. But see, out where the weeds are growing, that fringe of yellow which irritates the calves of swimmers (the spot where boys beat captured frogs to death), out past the sand, neck deep, by a submerged log, where a screaming child is pointing: the water is a deep cold gray.
State Of Mind I am neither whole nor broken am at an impasse of energies taken by the throat by nothing except from the inside within the throat channel brass fingers are squeezing my windpipe raking nails through nostril passages working towards the brain, its interior ocean where there is trembling: soft plantain wavering. sponge-diamond brain resistant to crumbling but not resistant to polyp growing or to fish slicing through frisking over and in between the halves.
Towards Gaza: August 1966 Again this is the same road winding past quartz and lignite rocks starved aspens crippled by glaciers -- I remember it as I am doing now so it is today nothing to reason about grunt over hog-wallowing chestnuts, acorns, seeds these trails are the same even the first time. I feel acid in my eye it bleeds let it eat soak -- a scrap of life conquers death says Gide -- and go passive weed out the aged the generals and politicians, imbed burs stroke the palomino's speckled throat chop out a boar's tongue, slash the bear's fat tail into ribbons clamber along towards Gaza.
Gordon At Khartoum He watched the she-goat, glimpsed Her nubbed and ochre horns, her Low-slung womb, her nipples laden, Thrust against her awkward legs. She would not make the hill: The cracking fire would bring her down: Her unborn young in the ripe Swimming sack would never know That rudest shock: Death would Drown them, a slow gurgling Of wine death-water. A chill sped through the palace. It was noon. The white sun clung To the Sudanese earth. A fringe of color where the powdered Sky merged with the earth-heat Marked the enemy: spots of black boil, Lava spots under the glaring day. He took the glass from the desk And held it up: a one-humped Camel, legs apart, tail high, Urinating in the sand. He brought The glass away. How silent in the palace! The distant guns. The goat stopped beside the gate Where no one was and pressed her Mouth against her side. How many young She might have birthed! And milk For the doomed, the starving of Khartoum, Quivering before the rain: the steel Thrust through the bowels, the mace Against the brain. O Khartoum! Folly and Khartoum! Someone rattled the door -- or Was it the wind? Slowly Gordon turned, Took up the book where he Had put his sister's name, Augusta. He closed the book. Nothing would be pure, Neither east nor west, Nothing but man's folly, and The breaking bones. Once past the gate, she paused: The slate-grey path to Cairo Or the sedge and grass beside the river. So inviolate in the sun. She chose The water and the dun hill to it. She moved, her legs out of rhythm, Birth-heavy, mired in effort. She was a Quart of ground, dun-colored, the Tips of her nose and ears like pebbles, Her udders spots of gravel Tinted by the sun. When would they come? The enemy? The Force? She had reached the crest, her Flank revealed, her head towards The blue-green water of the river. Gordon braced his hands against the ledge; A distant bubble moved, a wedge of Shadow stirred by the wind fell Through the yard. A flash. A flick of Dull orange heat. A dust of Plaster fell across the view, then Cleared. The goat, fecund, carrying sin, Crumpled like paper in the wind. The Arabs were moving now.
And Down Their Carved Names The Raindrop Ploughs 1. Here's where the African sat wearing a panama hat. There's where the bull broke his knees, stoned. animal St. Stephen and even-tempered slut of my uncommitted heart, my hands flap at the wrist, the limber gristle of my back slaps; as I walk my leg drags. 2. I won't be god this time or even godly will follow the circus to higher ground will eat fire, steal the dwarf's barbells, devour the fatlady's chocolates, race into the forest on the barebacked stallion.
In The Forest: Rock Figure In A Stream Water leaps from the pool's hands spills over logs and boulders. There are children in the forest. A cinder-colored rock shaped like a man's head submerged to the chin: his mouth rides clear chin sucks water in swirling around it pinched nose eyes inset over the ridge of the nose, left eye suspended, forehead, a goudge. Eddies swirl past a nut-strewn hemlock bough out of lip-reach. I am with him. I taste the nuts. A needle cuts my eye. I thirst. Scarlet grips my tongue. I spit lung substance -- hemlock kernels cracked and broken -- spit this onto stone where rain will wash it down into the mouth slaking hunger intensifying thirst.
Salt Lake City Heat Cayenne sheets hot nostril-seizing pillow cooking blanket at 4 a.m. Over the lake the sun thrusts a finger towards a pooped-out crescendoed metal neon moon expiring -- beak eye and gizzard of dissolving moon. And there is nothing I can do, no thing but scratch hot meat and curse. I want to split a mountain to see Darwin's finches discover each other at last fuck and carry on! But I am cautious. A bird flutters in glues its breast to the slick postage stamp of my soul dies in absentia so to speak timidly extinguishes this summer-blazing cinder lamp. I arise tramp around, a big middleaged brontosaurus on the rim of a tar pool, wagging a sticky-coated, smoked, plastic wrapped in juices tongue.
Strain Towards Bleeding To see what you have never known or at least to modify it. There is honey on the lips of the young boys blazing on their way to thorns girl-cacti bearing plastic flowers. Let the mountain roll fold triple crevices out of bleeding canyons dump termagant storms smash against one another drain green sputum Let the dun-roofed buildings collapse into bone let the scrotum swing swell tighten its fibers Desert-slaking meat lying out there in the sun We wander among.
Tell It Like It Is 1 Here, I'll adjust the lawnchair for you return the car to the garage pour out some gin want you to come in. 2 From what old prop-shop did you steal those kidneys, breasts, and bones? 3 Are you my monster? Here is flesh to nibble on, nestle by. 4 Sniff the air. There is no gas here. Nothing that I can see putrefies -- unless I climb a chair, inspect that plateglass mirror over there. 5 Wait, I'll gather a rose or two from the drainspout barrel, a lily from the outdoor commode. 6 Ah, so, we shall hide hide and seek beneath island beneath cave beneath womb puckering breasts and shall die clangorous shall disappear sniffling from smoking earth without cerecloth without weeping entourage without unction -- alone. Settle in, close in.
Someone Comes Stalking I must investigate the livingroom There were footsteps yesterday trailing blood and ambergris I hear suspenders snap and a cough. A green toad swims past the window glass preceding him. I jam the window shut, expose the shade, the sticky tassel My youth is in there snivelling It has taken this long: I wish I were Rabelais or Henry IV part one seated under a black sun expressing polyps from my nose.
The Phantom On The Roof a phantom is on the roof he rubs his glans with a thistle and grinds his claw along his perineum the air screams blood drips down the window the roof trembles the night rips out its bowels we are falling helmeted men pummel us with truncheons
On The Way To Eleusis Where We Have Never Been (for Claire and Herb Lindenberger) The grave has an ear said Roethke. Time preens its feathers swells red mating pouches cocks its ear and is auricular. Let's whisper then near tomb and headstone suspect head and bone each odd declivity of earth approach dumb all compact lobes upper shell and sworl leading in to the tympanum, the canal a channel of pearl coiling in to the brain into the centrifugal brain. We move through a smoking world.
Campanella 65: A Set Of Explosions Tommaso Campanella ( 1568 - 1639 ), theologian, philosopher, poet, Dominican preacher, was tried for heresy under the Inquisition three times, and spent most of his productive life in dungeons. These poems are entirely free improvisations on his sonnets and should not be regarded as translations. They are for Ben Stoltzfuss.
Sea Drift If forced to I could hold my brain in my hands, encompass the cells of it honeycomb sponge. I crave those feasts spread out down the streets, beneath the trees, in rooms. Alas! books pall, hunger is my doom. I move on craving. The more I know the more I learn to need. I must lose this self flutter down s i n k down into that image God down through kelp past red liquorish pods wavering on stems, great fan-like plants as flat as green starched lace, to that place which the church may only indicate and reason shaft its arrow towards, but where the self alone immersed floats for eternity.
Arrogance In the end a man loves himself alone. The elements, and the stars though stronger and more beautiful than he, rest, blow, quench, burn and glow for him alone -- he thinks. Strangers, tribes and crowds he frowns upon, transcends. The lucency of God floods over them and him, illuminates his wit, shines dimly by comparison on theirs. Out of His tolerance God lets them be. His relatives one by one he drops; and learning he ignores, and art (for insight twists his heart ). He shrinks, like lead boiling down. "I shape the universe!" he cries. Scales over his eyes remove all doubt. In the end it is only himself he sees loves thinks about.
Glory To The Father The eternal sense has scribbled his own thoughts on this world, filled every page. Reading as we run we miss the syllables, believe we grasp connecting tissue, act as though we share in a universal mind. But what do we find? Were we to stop and read, or build a temple, enter, and contemplate, our pleasure would crumble. Stumbling out into the sun with ruined eyes we would curse that idiot, despise his arrogance for being so like us -- the sentences dim, phrases askew, connections illusion. Presumption! to think to slake grief's parched rattle, rub trouble's nose in joy, wipe the wind's spittle from the face, wring palatable juice from anguish, drown the human throat in a wash of ichor!
Academy Awards God is our director and nature is his troupe. He bellowed through his megaphone, let his hand droop, waited for space, a stage, to form and set each star, creature, entity in its chalkplace, gave each his singing, talking role, or screams, signed on his son as prompter for the divine comedy, and stuntman. When the show closes aided by various assistant directors: Buddha, Mahomet, Aimee Semple MacPherson, He will make academy awards reserving for himself (stagemanager, writer, lighting technician, and director) gold statuettes -- human forms to grace the livingroom of the eternal cold.
De Dignitate Hominis This beautiful world is truly God's creature, God's image, praising God whose type it is. And we are this creature's worms; vile families of us sink mouths into the pink lining of its guts, sate ourselves, flex elastic tails, quiver. Why should we know its intellect or its love? There is a spastic worm with a brittle head and pinchers adrift in my own gut; he does not know me, heart nor brain, nor does he care to; and when I think I hear him howl and wish to comfort him, he crunches on, wreaking his mischief, becomes my brain's thief. The brain itself, though, he knows nothing of. We must be circumspect; we are at best live on this great body, sniff the warm hair of its crotch, its malodorous armpits, settle in, pitch about, suck. Proud man, pluck up your gown, look down, learn what part you really play in this vast scheme of things; feel the microscopic mouth attach itself to your hairy balls.
Present Traceries By my death -- water, fire, ice, anodynes swallowed in until the blood runs cold -- the world, pinnacles flanked by clouds, strewn with the hair of adolescent angels, would gain nothing, nothing. Thus, I do not die! This cage of misery, its bars fraught with wrath, age, slackened muscles, gums and tears, is so immense that sloth and sins are overlooked; its traceries so vast there is no need for change or flight. Go where we will, we feel. All worlds, like this one we founder in, are sunken in, sunken in. Who knows his doom? Who can forget this, never, this facile disgrace, this intrusion, this presence here? I shall go without underwear, with leeches on my chest.
Parable Of The Astronomers I Astronomers foresaw the coming of a star that would madden men. In fright, on the mosaic floor they dropped their instru- ments, crazing the lenses; grabbing up whatever books they could they fled in torment, fled that country. They bickered and were silent, flickered with desire for a consuming fire but lacked the instruments. Some gathered olives, some pressed grapes, others stripped cows for milk and hauled manure; still others tinkered with watches, made clocks swing, baked bread from ancient recipes taught boys the course of the Pleiades. Each day the star blazed on, each day pain crazed each wiseman's heart. II And they returned to the country wandered in, coned hats concealed, robes rolled, beards unkempt, found their town smashed, minarets and domes down, squares bombed, gunblasted trees, debris, in cement streets. They gathered stones. Ratbones underfoot. Fog arose. Stench assaulted eyes and nose. They found a cave. Smoke swirled out, and racket. One plucked a thorn- branch to protect himself. Another struck his breast with a rock. "We have returned," they shouted, "to atone!" Citizens trooped out, red-eyed, grim, surrounded the men, pushed them towards a cliffrim. The astonomers dropped bundles, rocks, barked, brayed, and coughed, tore off their beards, bled, licked one another's wounds, stood on their heads charmed the crowd. Someone shouted: "Down with the wise!" A roar went up. A horde raced over a cliff.
For Emanuel Swedenborg a temple, you said, or body muscle -- soldiers arrayed efflorescences put out by hosts of artillery on parade aarons' breastplate glitters david's sling is blazing our palette violent in its hues lacks molten metal lights but keeps your darks perhaps we shall discern, perhaps we won't meanwhile rock, hill and galled shoulder -- facts boil over, strike us on the mouth. so late so late. as deserters murphymen from the phalanx you envisioned approach seeking flesh, cash, a fix.
Part Two
Premonition I'll return again said the face. Oh no replied the ear and turned aside. A finger stood erect, a shadow rabbit's ear garnering messages from the wind. The hand's palm was red and wet. There is pulp on the sidewalk. By the water- fountain bird bath in the garden a wren's heart is impaled on a thorn. Love is gentler than sight -- that is its burden.
Love Poem To Jean We should not have gone. I should have expected crows not swans to keep the time, observe the icecube dying in the glass, the clock hand embedded in the shoulder. Your intensity glows with the hue of a burner freshly off, extinguished; my gaucheries hiss as water-drops upon it, bounce and roll, hiss bounce and roll. In the presence of near-strangers, others, our beakers form alchemical drops distill what we are able only partly to conceal: a measure of ourselves, isolated yet close. I need you to extinguish the light to curl close again lie silent -- the whisker of a mouse -- beside me. This interval of hours -- the brown taste in the mouth persists -- which has wrenched the sprocket from the chain, means that we cannot go on again until we are restored to love, to that before the debacle.
The Estrangement You were so quiet at the places had said such things an hour before utterly clear certain beyond backtracking -- testament for us both as keen as a vein slashed open. Was it the wild drive along the oceanside, the breakers to the right and the red tide gleaming? "We throw light onto the beach down here," you said. Clearly, being the older I had slammed into the wrong gear somehow. Was tenderness lacking? Dulled throat-channel of a mocking bird. Birds swung in the red bushes outside the porch window. I heard them all the rest of the night. And yet, I do not know: at such times, it seems, desire is at its whitest heat, the jab of nerves is at last transcended and bells swing impervious to the brain. We grow colder. Conscience withers, leaf writhes, chokes celestial throat plugs up those nostrils -- holes jabbed into cartilage, as I rock in a chair at 4 a.m. tied in intent on walking out as a small cat pounces on my face, my shoulder, seeking a belly-scratch (my finger needling along its hairy vertebrae) and raises its tail exposes its fundament as the retina goes sour the heart curdles the eyeball reclines inward on its ball of fuzz.
Wine Bearer As you fetch the wine bottle from the cellar down there dandelion blossoms steeped in darkness pink vaginal mushrooms girl creatures your head first the blue shirt all of a swing and a haste uncorking and a shimmer place it here earthmold stained green glass bottle as you ascend from the rootcellar running to the river.
Blue Boy Trees seem to follow you worms bleed on the sidewalk out of morning crushed into fat thumbends pulp I descend noise rages over the fire they are closing the canyon again smothering out the word -- that we lean towards each other sway all this as I follow as your arms swing scatter water-reflections of charged rock: the design of a pomegranate split open what ruin shoots towards you walking, strikes my skull, pits sword to skullbone, spears down the gristle of the spinal track? observe the dogs trying to screw hung up rod to anus anus to rod beneath the magnolia tree we slip into morning into afternoon.
On Securing A Friend's Slipped Contact Lens night comes on we halt on the walk beside the lamp before the lighted shop the sun has dropped you cannot see I lift the eyelid scan for the lens locate it where fine hair begins wonder how to move it to its place without impacting grain soot scratch of diamond on gelatinous glass. glass moves rising adhering now I touch eye-water. night comes on it is the skin that fails to let us in.
Community What we are is the least petal falling of the rose threatened by saltsticky aphid walking blast of sun track of vaulting cutworm seeking a green leaf sucking.
Plague Of Frogs In Memoriam: W.J., killed in France, 1945 Worms have failed to raise nitre the months to raise scale over your image. Each month, in fact, each bitter crimping worm has traced its salivary terms upon my brain. After the swim we knelt by the fire wet with water and faced each other observed the sky reel in, blacken and arc over. We squatted under a rim. Sparks snapped burst. Green boughs crackled into flame and died. Then, croaking from the black lake from every shore the far shore from holes under shrubs blueberry willow pinkmarshbell swamp-sedge knobs of heads eyeballs of black marble advancing to connect us forming wakes. . . Burn the sand bronze! Stir the fire again emblazon it transform it into copper. Cast on boughs. Spill flame to the sky. Transform us in the fire. Spill sand like salt into that flood!
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 locale. 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, her and her friend. And snow follows snow. Flickers peck the trunks of evergreens seeking grubs and nuts stored 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 had transpired at Sunday School? Was it poverty? Despair? The wheel at the fair? The gingerbread man rides the stream on the slick nose of the fox, Robin Hood romps in a costume, Arthur in armor.
Few Of Us Feel Safe Anywhere I recall digging up moleroutes, looking for moles, in a primitive schoolyard in northern Wisconsin. The mangy grass bound and flattened by mud and water rose up beneath soft channels burrowed by molesnouts. I unearthed a fertile nest, fought down two friends to keep the blind pink furless creatures to myself, warm between my hands. I won by running up to teacher, intending to present her with those jewels, my catch a quest, possession all my own, for her, my lover. But others watched, grinned as I drew apart those palms, revealed those pinkish forms, stilled, calm, their shanks of legs drawn up beneath their toothless jaws, their whiskers bent, their mouths each bearing blood.
The Butchering: Eagle River, Wisconsin I He told me to hold the knife, and the pan. I heard the click on wood of the bullet inserted, rammed. Saw a flicker thrash in a tree beside the trough, saw a grain in the sow's mouth, felt my guts slosh. "Stand back," he said. Waffled snowtrack pressed by his boots and mine. Blood and foam. "Keep the knife sharp, son, and hold the pan." One of us had shuffled, tramped a design, feet near the jackpine. "She'll bleed slow. Catch all the blood you can." A rose unfolded, froze. "Can't we wait?" I said. "It should turn warmer." Spark, spark buzzing in the dark. "It's time," dad said, and waited. II Bless all this beauty! preacher had exclaimed; all sin and beauty in this world! Beast and innocent! Fistbones gripped the foreshortened pulpit rim. Thick glasses drove his furious pupils in. III Dad brought the rifle to the skull. The sow's nose plunged into the swill, the tips of her white tallow ears as well. Splunk! Straight through the brain, suet and shell. Stunned! Discharge of food, bran. Twitch of an ear. Potato, carrot, turnip slab. "Quick. The knife, the pan." He sliced the throat. The eye closed over. Hairy ears stood up, collapsed. Her blood soured into gelatin. She had begun to shit. IV We dragged her to the block and tackle rig. We tied her tendons, raised her, sloshed her up and down. We shaved her hair, spun her around, cut off her feet and knuckles, hacked off her head, slashed her belly from asshole down through bleached fat throat. Jewels spilled out crotches of arteries fluids danced and ran. We hoisted her out of dog reach dumped her entrails in the snow left the head for the dogs to eat -- my mother disliked headmeat. The liver, steaming, monochrome, quivered with eyes. We took it home. V I went to my room. Tongues licked my neck. I spread my arms. threw back my head. The tendons of a heel snapped. What had I lost? bit bridle rage? fowl-trap, sow's squeal, cracked back, cartilage? Preacher in his pulpit fiddling vestments aflame. He, blazing, stepping down to me. Hot piss came. I knelt on the floor, bent over, head in arms. Piss washed down, more. I clasped my loins, choked cock, scrotum. Arm crossed over arm. And I cried (dry marble) loving my guts, O vulnerable guts, guts of creatures.
The Sow's Head (for James Wright) The day was like pewter. The gray lake a coat open at the throat. The border of trees -- frayed mantle collar, hairs, evergreen. The sky dun. Chilling breeze. Hem of winter. I passed the iodine-colored brook hard waters open the weight of the sow's head an ache from shoulder to waist, the crook of my elbow numb; juices seeping through the wrapping paper. I was wrong to take it. There were meals in it. I would, dad said, assist with slaughter, scrape off hair, gather blood. I would be whipped for thieving from the dogs. I crossed ice which shivered, shone. No heads below, none; nor groans -- only water, deep, and the mud beds of frogs asleep; not a bush quivered, not a stone. Snow. Old snow had formed hard swirls bone and planes with windwhipped ridges for walking upon; and beneath, in the deep, bass quiet, perch whirling fins, bluegills, sunfish, dim-eyed, soaking heat. Mud would be soft down there, rich, tan, deeper than a man: silt of leeches, leaves tumbling in from trees, loon feces, mulch-thick, mudquick, and lignite forming, cells rumbling, rifts. I knelt, chopped through layers of ice until water, pus, spilled up choking the wound. I widened the gash. Tchick! Tchick! Chips of ice flew. Water blew from the hole, the well, a whale, expired. My knees were stuck to the ice. I unwrapped the paper. The head appeared shorn of its beard, its ears stood up, the snout with its tinkertoy holes held blood, its eyes were shut, there was grain on its mouth. It sat on the snow as though it lived below, leviathan come for air limbs and hulk dumb to my presence there. I raised the sow's head by its ears. I held it over the hole, let it go, watched it sink, a glimmer of pink, a wink of a match an eyelid. . . A bone in my side beat.
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