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
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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.
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 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
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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.
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
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 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.
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.
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
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
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 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
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
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'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.
The severed head on my desk
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.
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.
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.
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?
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