Selected Poems by Jon Corelis
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You've got to start out from wherever you are, to arrive
at the end of the road which has led you to where you are now.
Those island dreams, of the barebreasted virgins who sang
with skulls at their feet, and the dangerous craft of the witch,
whose calling could not be denied, and, deadliest of all,
the shining girl who smiled on the opulent shore,
where the trees dropped apples into your outstretched hand,
and the amorous vines grappled your feet as you trudged
to the palace that could have been yours, with its heartless wealth
and shallow-eyed retainers, -- all these lures
were only starting-points towards your goal,
having no purpose but to be left behind.
You had a destination: it was yourself;
and though that self was hewn from anger, nursed
on slaughter, like the dead who sent you back
to stand revealed as father, husband, son,
fresh from the gore of fools whose last mistake
was not to know you, still, the choice you made
was not the choice of that great predator
who bartered life for pride on those bleak plains
and starkly summed the choice that breaks us all;
and if his bitter ghost recanted, choosing
the living homeless wretch above the warrior
famed in death, you, that come as both,
must know there's more than what is ultimate,
that life, while never fair, is always just,
since justice is what we are. Now leave behind
those twenty years that heaven has robbed you of,
and let your anger fade into the mists
that shroud the grey horizons of the dead.
It's done its job: it brought you to your home,
this undreamed isle, awash in the sensual sea,
whose undulant hills recline against the bays
and, crowned with eagles, gently challenge the sky.
She is the core, the hugely rooted pivot,
whose branching blood so deeply grips this earth
no wrath of storm nor insolence of men
can budge her from the birth she testifies
or shake the love like iron in her breast,
flutter her foliage in what light breeze it may.
No random winds delayed this homecoming
or blindly drove you finally to this shore.
The gods know what they're doing. So set your hand
to whatever they send you today, you mysterious stranger,
for they at last will ripen all desire.
Vines curl among the rocks; the air is sweet
with thyme and droning bees; the drowsy clang
of goat's bells drifts from ridge to ridge: perhaps
you're only beginning your setting out, perhaps
when you finally understand what such a place means,
then wherever you are will be the end of the road.
Lord, set me a table in Byzantium:
not the rose-colored queen of the Bosphorus,
not the city of jewelled liturgies,
but the drain where the scourings of empire collect.
Give me a rough wooden bench
and a goblet of thick southern wine
that smacks of honey and dust
in a tavern on some twisted lane away from the sea,
where a plump dancing girl of uncertain antecedents
clicks the reptilian scales of her castanets,
her gaze weighing my limbs like dubious florins,
while a one-eyed Cappadocian in the corner
thoughtfully fingers his knife.
Lord, I don't ask for much,
only a fate I can handle.
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You make me think of a city
of spires and minarets
suspended in the purple
focus of a dusk
that seals the bitter bargains
of sinister bazaars
where gems and crystals mingle
the clatter of their light
with dizzying aromas
of saffron, incense, mint,
where silks as pale as moonlight
and red as blood on snow
and blue as desert noons
stain the heavy breeze
that falls through crumbling alleys
and stirs the scented curtains
of richly cushioned chambers
where lacquer, brass, and jade
receive helpless blossoms
of indolence and passion,
while from the far horizon,
beyond the groaning spars
that throw a crazed lattice
across the dying sky,
startled gulls reiterate
their clean, remote despair.
The heat has stung the lizards numb, Elli,
the white church scours itself with glare.
Ecstatic mules devour the afternoon
by the rusty fence where poppies smudge the sun like the blossoming wounds of Christ,
and your arms gleam bright as dew on a dragonfly's wing, Elli.
A god dreams on in the olive tree's angry womb,
the balcony's shadow slices the street,
and your body is sweet as a knife, Elli,
your flesh is a casket of flowers.
In the valley between your breasts I hear your heart pump molten stone.
Enfold my breath in a rose of musk, Elli:
in your black eyes I see my death, Elli.
of almond flower
and flesh sheathed in sunlight
dissolves laughing on flat rocks
below white chapels
where consecrated bones
crumble into purity of incense
beating against the sun with white wings
white boats set sail for white dreams
where the white days have gone
Fingers of foam
languidly stroke the shore's tawny shoulder,
high on the beach and recedes in reluctant refusals of surf,
tenses, quickens, insists, surges, surrenders, falls,
laughter and froth
betraying the threat of the far cold depths never known
Plato was dazzled by the numbers' dance.
Their interlocking rhythms made a song
which must have come from God, since they alone
stood unmoved in the welter of the world.
The flushed and youthful flank, the glancing eye
articulate with desire, and quick response
to fly or flutter near, that so engaged
passions so deep they had to be eternal,
all withered to the slack and fusty dugs
of each day's lying truth, that drip the sour
after-mockery of joy gone stale.
But in the reasoned frenzy of proportion,
strong as steel and delicate as fire,
he found a lust refined of all corruption,
the rapture of the body in the mind.
I could not bear to see that nothing had changed,
that the world still rolled along its trivial round
and day rose up and yielded to the stars
and all the trees just stood there. If the earth
had swallowed me or demon visions claimed
my mind's clear understanding for their own,
I might have veiled the truth behind the horror
and kept the blindness other men call sight.
But I have looked too nakedly upon
the sun and know the light for what it is.
Yet neither may I pierce again that pit
from which so long ago I fell unwilling,
and into which I later fell unknowing,
by entering the void through my own choosing.
Action itself is foul: I must accept.
Thus I indeed am fortune's child and toy,
my helplessness once more my sole protection.
Now neither life nor death is what I need,
but only to be of use. I may yet know
where I belong and learn what I am for.
The light in Andros is still the Attic light,
but without its harsh comfort.
Perhaps it is the presence of the sea,
so close, that softens the urgency of its question.
The light of Tinos is cleansing and mild
with incense and sweet barley.
On Paros the light will be seen to best advantage
if you rest alone by an abandoned threshing floor
and carefully compare its patient marble
to the rich tawny grain stretching itself in the far fields
under the gentle insistence of the seaborne breeze.
The light of Delos is moist and firm.
From the hill at the center at night
the liquid stars do not seem so far off after all
as they peacefully circle the pole,
quite undisturbed by the racket of the frogs in their cisterns.
The light of Mykonos is the light of childhood,
On Naxos the light looks a long way back.
It is as if the brightness of all past days
has left something of itself here
before vanishing into the sea.
The light of Santorini is breathless with expectation.
From its fertile ash the vines draw up old fire
into their small tight clusters, waiting.
The promontories etch their endless hint against the sky, waiting.
An ancient wind moans over the ocean, waiting.
you cannot remember
you cannot remember white shores of summer
and the metallic taste of the sea on your flanks
and the air opaque with the dazzle of noon
you cannot remember the wine that gleamed like a snake in the sun
and the boats nuzzling the hot pier
and the emphatic simplicity of their message
the urgent peal of the cicada has been quite lost to you
and the sleepy eyes of the horizon late in the day
and the loneliness of the ocean that justifies everything
you cannot remember what the sudden laughter affirmed
nor the startled sweetness of the flowers crushed under your loins
nor the love from which your body drew its pleasure
easily as a child milk from the breast
You were a white church on a white hill against the sky,
a flinty field that gave forth intense olives and pungent grapes,
a statue of an ancient god bathed in starlight,
the blur of a blue moth merging into the night,
a ship bearing concubines and incense to a barbarous khan,
a wild rose rooted in the frigid veins of the mountain.
But now you are emptiness, absence, void,
a forgotten text in a language that never existed,
the arid mockery of an abandoned bakery,
the currency of a ruined nation,
the dry and withered stone of perished fruit,
the silence that grips the killing floor after the final scream.
From a whirlwind of fire, the Lord
has made my forehead an adamant harder than flint
and filled my mouth with the honey of his word.
I loved you where I found you naked.
I washed the blood off you, fed you
to flourish strong with honey, flour, milk,
clothed you in silk, adorned you with gold,
silver, and jewels.
But you forgot.
You pointed to rubies while I slept in your heart.
You thought you could hoard my music like silver.
You dazzled yourself with golden mirrors.
Lord, your people are a stubborn stone.
Forge me in your fire
and make me your chisel.
All material on this web site copyright © 2014 by Jon Corelis