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Saturday, August 27, 2016

Meditative verses, after reflecting on Lowell's stone: My Woods, my Forest, my Grove of Rib Bones

My Woods, my Forest, my Grove of Rib Bones

Now that I’ve reread again the funereal Moby Dick,
and pondered its display of gallows’ humor, I ask
is it but a catalog of wry, unfounded observation?
Infectious its diction! “I am horror-struck at this antemosaic,
unsourced existence of the unspeakable horrors
of the whale, which, having been before all time,
must needs exist after all human ages are over.”
Or was he before me in distinguishing “the slice
of appearance” from “the being of appearance.”
All my children have loved the Metropolitan Museum
and played upon the steps of the temple of Dendron,
where scholars have discerned early forms of the whale:
like Herman, I measure affect with obscure reference.
Irony affects melancholic wit. American vitriol,
learned from a Hawthorne in the Massachusetts woods.
In my sunken wetlands, shadows replace leviathan
and serve as hooks from which depend the shrouds
or diapering clothes of the deceased and newly fledged
authors who have been cited in my monadologies
and in hymns to the God of Love. There’s Robert Lowell
under his faux puritan gravestone beside his parents
in the Stark cemetery, Dunbarton, but a woodland jog
from my home. Creeley at Mount Auburn displays
commemorative pebbles atop his slab. Poets’ words,
“at one with the peace that we knew in her presence,”
have memorialized deceased mothers, wives and children,
inscribed medallions for antique mementos mori. 

Whispering “To Celia,” in his baroque,
old Ben Jonson found at Penshurst flattering words
for his Forests and Timbers, epigrams that spice his Woods,
“Arts and Precepts availe nothing, except nature be
beneficiall, and ayding.” On a misty August night
with waning moon, antique trolls in buskin
and slouch hats, capotain with ostrich feather plume,
populate the star-torn wind, mad fellows, exiled dwarves
from a Spanish court in the time of Velasquez or Rubens.
These my woods, not so far from those of Robert Frost, 
a stile separates the graveyard from flood-control lands.
For echo I choose Emily’s house that only wrinkles
an earthen brow, “the Cornice in the Ground.”

During the Vietnam Era, I sought to avoid the draft.
I wrote a thesis on “Judgement” in Volpone. 
The duplicity of office holders confused
meaning and truth. I desired the death of the symbol
in my personal melodrama of “Fort!” and Da!”
Gardens within gardens, animals within animals,
each fulguration of the monad instantiates eternity.
I prepare through feigned indifference for judgement day.
Nor god-ridden, nor bed ridden, I stand on the roof beam
and survey Cetus between Pisces and Eridanus,
that maps the passage to the South Pole Purgatorium
on whose shores I once encountered a healing vision
of a nurse who sat at a frozen window. A gnomon
divided time past from time to come, itself a sail
that approached the shore and scaled the glass wall of heaven.
Countless numbers of the recently dead from Syria
and the flood plain of the Brahmaputra were stacked
in slabs upon the shore where funeral pyres shuddered
with skyward ascending sparks and the cracking of bones.
How dare the poet write of pastoral woodland tombs
amidst such slaughter? Has the poet all alone
in his house of shadows no children that require
succor and feeding? Ironic melancholy helps him
survive the titanic glare of fate-embossed night skies.
Where does the vision begin or end, thoughts
inscribed upon the waves and echoed in the stars.
He smirks as he has found another tragic metaphor,
readily at hand, another posture to assume
as affected souls leave the room and its acrid air.
He shrugs, poetry never served locally as awakening,
nor universally, in the last two centuries since Edwards
at this pulpit harangued the fearful faithful with visions
of spiders suspended above the pit of hell, a sword descending
through the hollow-hearted dome of recursive dreams
that constitute their own reality, personal paranoia unpoliced
by reason or decorum as it pushes new inventions forth.
From the doldrums of the brain spring fire and ice.
Shrouds that are both lifelines and garments of the soul,
encased in hoarfrost, snap in the Antarctic winds.
Melancholy as Freud asserts knows no end.

Donald Wellman