Thanks to Jonathan Edwards
Black spiders in my woodpile
asterisk a sharp distinction
between their brisk compaction
and the expansive human view.
These spiders aren’t the toxic
species that gleam in cellars
or crawl into children’s bunk beds.
They’re only shy little blobs
dedicated to devouring gnats.
Splitting oak and maple to burn
on spangled winter nights, I brush
these tiny creatures to safety
without damaging their many
but necessary legs. The image
of a spider in a candle flame,
thanks to Jonathan Edwards,
has cursed literate New England
for almost three hundred years.
I’d like to spider myself off
to fresh quarters, new horizons,
more limber self-expressions.
If I could do it by compressing
myself into an iota
of punctuation I surely would.
But my hulking muddle of flesh
has committed itself to culture
rather than nature, shriving itself
of several vital dimensions
that neither ink on paper
nor the digital screen can display.
The rumble of the gas engine,
the sheer of splitting firewood,
the muscle of piling the product
belong to the great world of work
that every creature inhabits.
But my daydreams of spiderhood
empowered by simple purpose
lilt into the stratosphere
like so many runaway blimps.
Everyone Seen in Profile
Do you believe that the heft
of our village keeps us happy?
Excess weight flattens landscapes
and ruins laws of perspective.
Our former police chief pushes
a belly as blunt as Moby-Dick.
A neighbor’s car squeals in its springs
as she plumps into the driver’s seat.
We’re so bored with ourselves we eat
objects of clashing colors
as if nutrition weren’t the issue.
How long will drought and disease
edge us into private places
where it’s hard to cast a shadow?
Why don’t the thin men of Haddam
respond to our bleating and sighs?
When winter arrives, we’ll stand around
drinking coffee in snowdrifts.
Unsafe to step indoors where
viral thoughts linger long after
the subject has become a verb.
For now, the autumn wind teases
with a moveable sterile field
in which we enjoy our morning snack.
Eventually the town will collapse
under the excess of its populace.
The river, astringent with drought,
will equivocate for awhile.
The light breaks into pieces small
enough to swallow. This happens
daily, but who notices? Lines
of force stretch like kite strings.
You expect me to do something
with my hands, but arthritis
has rendered them crude as paddles.
Let’s go downtown and drown
our quarrels in large paper cups
of high-acid java brewed
to flush sinkers fried in deep
fat fryers no one ever cleans.
Fueled by this gastric adventure,
we’ll face a full day of errands
and shuck the scholarly ambitions
that aroused us in our youth.
What good did all that scribbling
on notecards do? Remember
the abstractions of Derrida,
Bachelard, Empson, Hegel?
We dragged their books to the landfill
years ago, purging our senses.
Now we live on the ignorant edge
where the wind brawls from the south.
Our angle of vision excludes
the darker sides of planets
that dangle in the night sky
like demented Christmas ornaments.
No wonder the light seems fractured
along those emphatic lines of force.
Morning coffee usually comforts
and heals the worst of our sins.
But today the news is so bad
the headlines kill even casual
readers with stark efficiency.
Maybe we’ll stay home and listen
for mice in the walls. Come outside
and examine the world. The wreckage
of last night’s freight of dreams lies
rusting in the garden where
we’re likely to trip over it,
sprawling on our Mother Earth.
Esthétique des Odeurs
The dog has smelled everything,
but not this. He recoils and plops
droopy on the sidewalk, nonplussed.
You laugh at his muddled expression,
but something in terminal decay,
if that’s what he thinks he’s sensing,
troubles instinct and evolution.
Dogs are entitled to meditate
on any odor they choose,
usually preferring the fetid—
but this defies meditation.
You wonder if some political
object passed, rubbing its thighs
on the fence, leaving a spoor
to attract the opposite sex.
“What sex is the opposite
of politics,” I ask. You sigh,
“the absence of sex and also
the afterglow of fantasy sex.”
The smell must be powerful enough
to smelt all smells into one.
The dog no longer works his nose—
some knowledge is best left unknown.
Dogs admire the fragrance of death,
rolling in carcasses to hide
their own smell from enemies.
Color-blind, they find color
in the fourth dimension where scent
becomes bravura of rhetoric.
You wish you could nose out crimes
among our little coterie
of town officials, lawyers, cops.
I agree that the local riffraff
offers a world of rotten objects
we trod upon daily, soiling
our shoes but offering subjects
and verbs we can manipulate.
Despite what our favorite poet claims,
evil lacks an aesthetic other
than a range of bouquets a French
parfumier would love to catch.
The dog smelled something stronger,
richer and more frightening
than the usual bundle of sins.
You examine the fence. Nothing
but a slight gray stain as if
some aged person had shed
a year or two in passing. I kneel
in the grass and touch the spot.
I can’t smell it, but its texture
is rough as the tongue of a cat.
The dog growls. He objects to
further inquiry. The sun occludes
itself, tucked into cloud. You bark
a warning, but the moment passes,
and you and I and the dog look
ashamed for fussing over
some lunatic notion long past.
The Dogs Have Learned to Talk
All the dogs have learned to talk.
They’re discussing the rising cost
and poor ingredients of pet food.
They won’t speak to their owners,
but when I ask a passing boxer
his name, he replies, “Aloysius.”
You’re undisturbed by this glib
new phenomenon. Perched
on a metal chair on the lawn
before the bookstore, you indulge
your bitter appetite, preferring
a lumpy scone to conversation.
Do you think that public discourse
has gone to the dogs? October
is almost here, your favorite month.
I had hoped we would hike in hills
of seasonal flamboyance, shedding
the bulge of a summer of leisure.
I had hoped that some great logic
would empower us when alone
with vees of geese honking overhead.
The dogs talk so loudly no one
merely human can interrupt.
Although leashed to their masters,
the dogs have seized control without
a hint of violence. Their diction
is perfect, their sense of the bon mot
enviable. Finish your scone
and allow me a sip of your coffee.
I hope that when we get home
our cats remain as wordless
and private as always. I wish
I could emulate their stance
despite the oceans of language
heaving between us, between us
and whatever’s about to evolve.