Poems by Jon Corelis

For K., and for P.: sorry I never said good-bye

and for the others still here, still there

The light of the past

Though I've always known that the light of the past was something

recognized, it's only now I see

that the light of the past is the light of dreams: the light

in which things happen forever, where every laugh

retains the dew of a universe caught at dawn,

where the pride of the wounded heart renews its song

in an endless bloom of instants, and where the loves

we knew then inexhaustibly still live.


Sometimes it comes on red: the animal

is angry and astonished, tasting blood,

or orange, like a sunset you can taste,

the light as rich as butter on your tongue,

or sometimes yellow: the attic's plastic ball

so sunny once, so sticky now with flyspecks.

It comes on green sometimes: you feel the plash

of frigid streams that feed the earliest ferns,

or blue: the moody sea that smells of brine

and octopus and moans against the shore,

and sometimes purple, like an embarrassed king

remembering incense in his moonlit room.

Sometimes an incandescent passion blends

the molten splinters into one blank ray.

When the sun

Please click player for audio.

When the sun clicks into place

and miraculous sparrows peck at icicles

and the children let the dew erase their slates

then the clocks will drain themselves of infection

and we will utter stones in the black light

and you will shelter my nakedness under the wings of your mouth

and the wind will be our water

and the sky will be our bread

The Bitter Museum

In the bitter museum the past is on parade

in postures of reproach. Vast corridors

display a thousand ways of being ashamed

and illustrate the progress of despair.

Behind their glass, the mannequins of once

exhibit all the wealth of worlds now gone,

and frozen in their accusatory dance

the avatars of loss are labelled Done.

In the bitter museum extinguished dynasties

of hope set forth their monuments, inscribed

in that dead language, laughter. Vanished breeds

of joy are shown, regretfully alive.

The relics seem so real they almost leer.

In the bitter museum the dust is streaked with tears.

You never knew

You never knew you were an ocean,

and because you never knew,

the richness of your humid breeze transformed

our dour familiar shore

into ebony ripples of panthers with hot orchid breath

and thousand-colored trills of frantic plumage

in an emerald vigor of spirits who stalk through the sun's dream

to render their hearts in proud sacrifice to nameless rivers.

But I knew you,

and knowing you I could not face you,

because I knew that if our eyes met

the vengeful angels would come crowding back,

and I knew that if I spoke your name

our shabby corridors would crack into veins of agony,

and I knew that if I touched you

I would be dying naked and alone in the desert without god.


Maria I want your bitter mouth

Maria I want your breasts of dank loam

your breasts of sullen ripeness

your breasts of childbirth

Maria I want the narcotic orchid of your tongue

I want your eyes of treason

your eyes of attack

your eyes of the moment of death

Maria I want to be washed up shipwrecked on your shore

I want to be buried in your blood

I want the venom of your passion to sear my veins

Maria I want to be a universe unborn kicking in your womb


This, like death, means nothing.

This, like death, is everyone's.

This, like death, only really counts if it's yours.

This, like death, is impossible.

This, like death, had to happen.

The Egg


a naked star pinned to the tunic of night

an acid tear etching your face

a lilac wafer

a moon split open revealing the seeds and pulp

an eyelash a nightingale's wing

a taste of frost

a button made of candy

a heart full of smoke

The one

the one who walks with me in the cold wind

the one who feels the earth turn underneath

the one whose tears the sunlight dries

the one who sees demons in the rocks

the one who rings the chimes of recognition

the one who makes the ivy drip with honey

the one inherent in the leaves and pebbles

the one who speaks my name in my own voice

the one who dies between breaths


Please click player for audio.

Dear Amanda,

I hope this letter finds your well.

I must tell you shovel, sparkplug, grass, rice.

The meteor you sent me crumbled

because I forgot to pay my dream tax.

Amanda, Amanda, your flesh is soaked with bread.

I saw you standing barefoot with your babies in a hamper,

and I thought of you so hard I cut my hand

on a piece of candy. Please ask Father if he's seen my voice.

The world gets flatter: it's sticky in between.

Your hips are violet cycles. They make me ashamed of the clock.

Your eyes make whatever they look at count.

You just put me on the pins of wonder.

Amanda, everything is soiled except your heart.

I'm flying as hard as I can, but the air gives out.

The wistful starlings have forgotten but are not forgotten.

Please ask Mother to make me a choice.

Give little sister as many kisses as there are daisies,

and tell little brother not to hurt himself on the dandelions.

I must tell you cloud, stoplight, window, flute.

I must tell you asphalt, armature, prairie, sky.

Amanda, I've got to lean on this to say it but

the words don't matter, they can only mean.

The best revenge is not to care. Reach. Reach. Reach.



The house

I saw you in a house at sea

you were in every room

and each room had a light of its own

in the living room the protean light of the future

in the kitchen the busy light of childhood

in the bedroom the physical light of remembrance

in the attic the muffled light of crossroads

the sea turned into a desert

the house to a bird the color of the sky

which lifted itself on wings of wind

leaving you among the skulls and cactus

with gold to curse at

love to curse with

Essay test

1) Why is the sky so empty when the sea is so full?

2) "The grass is neither splinters of diamond,

nor the cilia of the enormous one-celled earth,

nor the teeth of a dragon asleep in our dream:

it is a library of infinity switches,

the toggling of any one of which will hurl

our universe into another one."


3) If you were God, would you continue His policy

of stony-hearted indifference to our pain,

or would you instead devise another plan

which made some sort of fucking sense?

Give reasons for your choice.

4) [extra credit] Do you deserve to live? Explain your answer.


It’s the mirror you build by looking at it.

It’s the mechanics of the past.

It’s the sun considered as razor.

It’s the equation of desire.

It’s the haze of the eucalyptus. It’s an egg’s aplomb.

It’s the frown of a derby left on a hat rack.

It’s the tackle of Charon.

It’s an eyebrow as the arc of a gull.


The temple.

The hill it is on.

What it is made of.

This is not what makes a difference.

My interest is what makes a difference.

This difference is what makes it interesting.

These are pieces of paper

and these of air.

There is a difference which is interesting.

Would you believe me if I told you

this is not my interest.

Come and show me the pieces of paper.

Come and show me the difference

between what is written on the pieces of paper

and what is written on the pieces of air.

This is the difference which is my interest.

The difference is what is interesting.

It is interesting that there is no difference.

It is interesting that you would not believe me

if I told you there was no difference

between the pieces of paper and the pieces of air.

The Greeks built temples out of air

and then the difference turned them into stone.

The Aztecs built temples out of sunlight

and then the difference turned them into blood.

The Chinese built temples out of numbers

and then the difference turned them into paper.

The Etruscans built temples out of wood

and then the difference turned them into air.

There is a difference between air and stone

but it is the difference between paper and blood

which is my interest.

My interest is different

it is in the air in the wood

but you would not believe me if I told you.

The difference is written in blood on paper

but you would not tell me if you believed me.

Cotton candy. Popcorn. Taffy apples. Brine.

All these are different

but the difference is not what is interesting.

What is interesting is the difference

between what I told you and what I believed you told me.

The difference is there and it is interesting.

The interesting difference is that you believed what I told you

in the temple of air

in the temple of stone

in the temple of blood

in the temple of numbers

in the temple of wood

in the temple of paper

in the temple of sunlight.


A green horse in a brown field.

The child asks, “Is that real?”

His father says, “No: the horse is only real

when it’s in the field.”


You've left this land, but this land won't leave you.

She's painted like a sky inside your mind,

beneath which your true life is acted out.

Her vengeance is each day you don't return.

As birds retrace their ways on twilit wings,

however far they forage from their nests,

so too your soul, when daylight's had its way,

is drawn to suckle at her thorny breast,

until you waken to a world of mirrors,

where nothing is familiar but yourself,

to wander gleaming cities leached of life,

whose foreign doorways bar you from your home.

The companion

Death is always with me, at my elbow

sporting a jaunty beret and a fake French accent;

at dinner, making judicious remarks on the wine;

playing cat's-cradle with cobwebs on the bus;

baffling me at chess with unheard of gambits;

strumming his mournful guitar with a pick of thorn;

and snatching flies that vanish into his fist.

He's almost the only thing I'm going to miss.

The Voices

Get out of me before I scream

voices of children and dogs

of radios and telephones

of the exhaust of buses

of dead birds frozen in the gutters

Don't touch me or I will explode

faded hands of the old with their old smell

blighted hands of beggars

crumbling trees

electrical wires slicing the lucid blue skin of the sky

Keep out of my mouth my heart my loins

Don't murder me with your voices of the dead that speak forever

The Vault

Because I'm going to die

the incense of your hair

defines another blue

than this oppressive roof.

Your offering of flesh

erects a sky of stone

where strongly wounded saints

adore in smoldering gold.

Within your crafted cell

my hungry blood, impaled

across your loins, redeems

the insect's agony.

No wafer stings our tongues.

No anger stuns our god.

No caroling spirits cry

beneath the vacant dome.

Only the honeyed drug

dripping from your breasts

echoes the sacred tang

of bread dipped in wine.

She is

she is a forest that goes on for miles and miles

she is fog tinged with musk of spring wet mulch

she is a mask of shifting angles

she is a hillside startled into bloom

she is the same word repeated endlessly with different meanings

she is the antique language all children speak

she is a well that beckons, beckons

she is a honeycomb that stings the lip

she is what it means to drown

she is an underground river that never emerges

she is the sea clutching its dead

she is the way the wind moves

she is a cloud heavy with child

The man and the woman

A man and a woman walk through a ruined house

the man breaks the last fractured sherds of glass from a window

the woman a desolate nun her face the dark of the moon

the man fingers the various parts of her body as if searching for

rotten spots

the sun dies with soft moanings of remembered flame

the woman blackens her face with a charred stick

wherever his fingers have grazed her flesh there is a faint track of blood

her lips twist into a smile she is holding an inappropriate animal

the rooms tensely sag into attitudes suggesting parturition

we know these two


Every evening after the workers have re-laid the concrete

they sink beneath it and sleep.

Every morning the dead come with jackhammers

to set them free

And what will we have left

And what will we have left

when our footsteps no longer fill with blood

what will we have left

when the crushed uterus of flint is no longer utterly silent

when the brutal fingers of March stain the crocus

and the charnal caves gape forth their ancient dead

what will we have left

when it is no longer too painful to speak

when our eyes are unblinded with tears

what will we have left then


Gold is mute, the sea's white throat

collapses on itself, flowers are indifferent to

their purpose, but I say silence is its own topic.

It's like a gilded skull for drinking blood:

there is nothing to compare with such a draught

echoing in the hollow that once held its own.

Drinking blood then is a suggestion,

as is the gold on the bone. Don't you understand

that the balances thus established make a request,

as if a crocus sprouted in the skull, or you heard

the sea within its nautiline curve, holding its cheek to yours,

or the words could be individually refilled with blood?

I can arrange them so that each matches up with another, or

I can make them all turn into one another, or

I can make each one the crown of all the rest, but

I cannot cross the gap between whatever I make of them

and the nervous tree rooted in the mud that is

the same for everyone, and you cannot get here to help me.


The telephone was shrill with silence

when I entered the room where I had heard your voice

the curtains were stiff with dust

the carpet faded before my eyes

even the spiders were voiceless in their ceiling nooks

only the plant in the corner still stirred

in the breath of your recent passing

I looked in vain for your face

in the pale rectangles which marked where pictures had hung

but you had vanished, leaving your shadow crucified on the wall


The pine branch is white

with dawn frost, soon to vanish

forever again.


I stood with you at your grave,

watching the rain erase your name from the stone.

Your damp face scanned the sky for a trace of your days

as the mournful ghosts huddled round,

sobbing into their shawls of fog. You laid

a handful of thorns on the mound where the grass grew black.

Your eyes were empty of anger. Your eyes were empty

of expectation. Your eyes were empty of fulfillment.

The lady

The lady's eyes are an ember of green. Would she take

any comfort remembering vanished dews? Would she care

for a draught of this liquor distilled from cobweb and moon?

Will she bite off love's brief words with her tiny fox teeth?

Is she parched for the skeletal clatter of lunar rain?

I wonder if she feels I should decipher

the angular pitch of the chamber where she dreams

of a house with many faces like a crystal. Shall we review

the erotics of the knife's edge? the network

of eternity that howls in the nerves? the memoirs

of a pool rippled by a slain magnolia at midnight?

Perhaps she will recall the ghosts

that crackled in her hair when she shattered the bowl of dawn,

the sinews of wild colts that sang on the mountain in the dawn,

the lone hyacinth that crumbled under her hand

in the mist of dawn.

I wonder if the milk of her breasts is the milk of adders,

or if the flint of her ecstasy chips

the cherried enamel from the basin of her smoldering trance.

Or perhaps she'd prefer to yield

the meteor of her exhaustion to the black sky of night.


Today her silks scatter crackling arabesques in the shimmering air

today she'll dazzle the casual eye with her sweet metallic gleam

today she waddles, awkward as a cow

today she packs a punch like a fresh shot arrow

today she reverses polarity

today she groans in a furrow, slick with sweat

today she daintily steps through a violet mist

today she sloughs off gummy stuff

today her laughter is quicksilver

today she's a clammy grey rubbery stone with bristles

today her waterfall hair sheds intoxicating unguents

today she dances without knowing it

today the beauty peels from her face to reveal a hatchet

The Cherry Tree

The cherry tree blossoms

not in the mind alone.

Flowers fall for fruit to fall

not in the mind alone.

A day


The severed head on my desk

is weeping.

It will rain.


When no one was looking, I hit the wall with my fist.

The radii of cracked plaster turned into a spider

which tongued its silken spittle over my body

from head to toe and hung me from the ceiling.

People who wanted to pass had to swing me out of the way,

with small cries of irritation.


She went down the hall past my door and turned the corner.

What will happen to her there?


Someone mentioned a man who committed suicide

by attaching the end of his necktie to the hand of a large clock.


Your breath is the unfading earliest scent of April.

Your eyes are the smoke of a prairie fire on the horizon.

Your flesh is the purer tone that rises from silence like cream from milk.

Mister Yoo Hoo

Mister Yoo Hoo's everywhere,

but when you look he's never there.

He hugs you close at break of day

though he's a million miles away,

then strokes your shoulder as you eat

and sprinkles sawdust on your meat.

You know that buzzing in the wind

like some big insect being pinned?

Or when the colors sort of fade

as if light were a kind of shade?

Or when your words sound somehow queer?

Well that's his whisper in your ear.

He's got no contracts you can trap:

his features are an endless gap.

You'll be surprised at what you'll do

when Mister Yoo Hoo yoo hoos you.

The funeral

When I saw my obituary in the paper this morning

I went down to the indicated funeral home

and found there only an open and empty coffin on a stand,

no mourners, no flowers, no organ:

but the walls were hung with portraits of strangers weeping.


They led me to your body

and bade me throw dirt on your face.

I knew that if I did I would be free.

I knew that if I did I would be healed.

I knew that if I did I would be whole.

I knew that if I did I would be dead

Please read before opening

This poem is being distributed under terms

laid down by galactic conventions of amorous angels.

By breaking the seal on my lips, you agree to be bound

by the following conditions: you will frantically search for perfection

in love and end up a snack for worms; you will never regain

that gemlike slumber in the universal womb

which is the only thing worth having; you will waste your existence

in howling pursuit of the phantoms of desire,

which will suck you dry as you ravenously feed on them.

No warranty, expressed or implied, is being made

that you will conquer cities of moonlit enchanted towers,

or bask in the homage of rajahs with perfumed beards,

or drowse in voluptuous pomp of erotic temples,

or be otherwise enabled beyond necessity.

Notes toward a definition of I

The difference between a finger and a thumb

is Shakespeare. Anyone can dream

of a candle, but you’d better dodge your shadow,

because death, that great et cetera,

is the opposite of surreal. If there were no thunder

there would be no mountains, so something like a snowflake

cannot be conferred: it must be earned.

You will tell me that anyone can say this,

which is why I am saying it. Your puzzlement

shows how well you understand. It is important

to have someone to talk to

even if they can’t hear you. You can polish a mirror

until you see your face, but it will not

be you, because meaning is created

when we are not looking, while the grass

grows, grows, grows.

That was an ode to Walt Whitman.

Sonnet on a theme of Villon

I die of thirst beside the fountainhead,

and am least seen where most I am displayed.

Shadows are my substance. I am paid

in ghostly coin to counterfeit the dead.

Under a sagging sky, my dreams are fed

on winds blown far from lands where time has ceased,

in which alone still lives a present, pieced

together from the leavings of instead.

Where most my strength is needed, force has fled,

and those I’ve aided offer me no aid,

and wanting’s self is caged by having, weighed

down hopelessly in place by wings of lead.

Where most I hunger, I am nourished least,

a silent specter famished at the feast.

Northern Landscape

After a painting by William Buxton

This is what created us. This light,

dappling the columned forests with petaled gold,

these nourishing and nourished streams, these bright

sun-laughing lakes, ruffling under an old

and infant wind, this intercourse of pine,

air, beam, mulch, bough, loam, moisture, say we fit

into the mothering niche of this design.

This does not belong to us: we belong to it.

If there can be a god, that god must be

what we are made to live for and within;

so in this pure cathedral we may see

our earth-determined being, and begin

to learn that we are water, light, and air:

our breath is homage, and our heartbeat prayer.

Twelve arguments for the existence of the soul


We’re all different.

Must be something.


Cut off your finger:

you’re still there.


Alive: breath.

Dead: gone.

Do the arithmetic.


Man hides behind a rock.

Bird sees him.


No reason then

shouldn’t be now.


For something to vanish

it has to exist.


From south of the track

the eastbound train goes forward;

from north, backward.


Consider thirty seven.

That’s why it’s there.


Pleasure, anger fade:

love, hate, don’t.

What are you?


Assume it:

see what happens.


Music lives when it dies.

What about us?


We’re all the same.

Must be something.


All we found in his room

was a pocket watch with an eye,

a dictionary which defined every word as “No,”

and an old heart behind the refrigerator.

Shutting the door

You can shut the door on the past,

but it keeps on living behind that closed door,

as heavy with potential as the future.

You hear it stirring in that other room

as you go about your business in your own,

until one day you realize that its restless motion is yours,

and that the room where you are is where the past is now.


I suppose I should tell you without all this fooling around

just what I think I'm doing, since after all,

if not for you I'd never have stammered out

these dreams disguised as the obvious, which are made

from your own thoughts and feelings, not from words.

Call me a kind of banker: the coin I trade,

like any cash, is only an idea

empowered by a universal trance

to be as undeniable as the sun.

I can arrange to help you pay the price

of being human: the treasure I hold in trust

can underwrite that endless enterprise

whose crushing cost no one can bear alone.

When you open this book, you enter a precious room

where you can afford to listen, and I to speak,

exempt from the penalties imposed on truth.

The mutilated torturers in their grim workshops

would kill us for what we do here, if only they knew,

because we make the laws that make the laws

and build the common dream, from which no power

but death can wake us. And when we join the billions,

what profit can we weigh against that loss?

What immortality shall we have lived?

Our skies are clear of angels; in our shrines

only the spider stirs the silent dust;

we have no souls, or if we do, they die

with all the rest. Only the song is real

and ageless as the baby at the breast,

whose breath no taint of change or time disturbs.

Come dance to it now, as you have all your life,

my darling conspirator over a million years!

All material on this web site copyright © 2014 by Jon Corelis