The God of This World to his Prophet

Go to the prosperous city,
for I have taken pity

on its inhabitants,
who drink and feast and dance

all night in lighted halls
yet know their bacchanals

lead nowhere in the end.
Go to them, now, commend,

to those with ears to hear,
a lifestyle more austere.

Tell all my children tired
of happiness desired

and never had that there
is solace in despair.

Say there is consolation
in ruins and ruination

beneath a harvest moon
that is itself a ruin,

comfort, however cold,
in grievances recalled

beside a fire dying
from lack of love and trying.

The Magic Circle

1.  Autumn

Early this morning I glanced out the window
and saw her underneath the maple tree.
She was as pale as that white gown of hers.
Hard to believe it's been a year already.
I waved.  She turned away, paused for a moment,
then walked into the mist that marked the border
between my backyard and what lay beyond.
Proserpine, I called, but she was gone.
I am convinced that this was Proserpine
and not, as Mrs. Grandison maintains,
some nut escaped from the state hospital.
All Hallow E'en approaches.  Skeletons
hang from the trees along my street and ghosts,
emboldened, haunt the front yards in broad daylight. 

 2. Winter

The swallows sleep beneath the river ice.
The salamanders whisper in the fire.
Hermes Trismestigus' new work is open
at one of its obscurer passages,
of which there are intolerably many.
I take a break to watch the local news.
Toward midnight, I collect my charts and go
to make my nightly survey of the heavens.
Mercifully they're still there.  One of the saddest
developments I've witnessed in my time
has been astrology's decline from science
to fortune telling of the basest sort,
its long eclipse by disciplines that measure
not meaning, now, but distance, size and mass ...
As if mere matter mattered in itself.

3. Spring

Bears wake from their long hibernation, now,
hirsute initiates with tales to tell
to those with ears to listen.  Proserpine
returns as well, and Christ.  And may not I?
The budding trees and the returning birds
figure the transmigration of the soul
so beautifully I wish that I could die
and see the world again through infant eyes.
I intimate these things to Ed, my mailman,
who nods politely.  Ed is not about
to jeopardize his Christmas tip (last year
an old tin can transmuted into gold)
regardless how much of a character
he and the other villagers may think me.

4. Summer

Little did I know when I concocted
my potion that, although one may stop time,
it is impossible to turn it back.
Youth, they say, is wasted on the young.
Perhaps I'll have a tee-shirt made that reads,
Eternal life is wasted on the old.
And yet the world is no less beautiful.
Toward evening dew collects upon the lawn,
rising again as fireflies.  Above
the white New England church a flock of swallows
copies a Greek text out in Arabic,
and in the maple trees a light breeze stirs,
sounding for all the world like water falling
distantly off the edges of the world.

Kolmården Zoo

Over our heads, trailing a wake of air
and an enormous shadow as it passed,
the falcon glided to its trainer’s fist
and settled like a loaded weapon there.

Then, while she fed the bird bit after bit
of…what? Rabbit? The trainer gave her talk:
These birds, she said, prey on the small and weak,
adding for the children’s benefit

that this, though it seems cruel, is really good
since otherwise the other rabbits, mice,
squirrels, what have you, would run out of space
and die of illness or a lack of food.

I know what she was trying to get across,
and I don’t doubt it would be healthier
if we were more familiar than we are
with how the natural world draws life from loss;

and granted, nothing is more natural
than death incarnate falling from the sky;
and granted, it is better some should die,
however agonizingly, than all.

Still, to teach children this is how things go
is one thing, to insist that it is good
is something else—almost to make a god
of this unsatisfactory status quo,

this vicious circle that the clock hands draw
and quarter, while the serpent bites its tail,
or eats the dust, or strikes at someone’s heel,
or winds up comprehended by a claw.

She launched the bird again. We watched it climb
out of the amphitheatre, headed toward
the darkened spires of a nearby wood,
then bank, then angle toward us one last time.

The Moons of Earth

Earth, despite all the astronomers say, has not one moon but many.
All save the one called the Moon are inhabited, all have distinctive,
frankly fantastical climates and landscapes. Initiates know this,
meteorologists, farmers, sportsmen and almanac keepers
know what was once, in the antediluvian world, common knowledge.
They have conspired for six thousand years, now, to keep it a secret,
fearing that we, if we knew of inhabited worlds in near orbit,
might be so taken with them we’d neglect our terrestrial business.
And they are right. Having unearthed their secret I’ve found myself growing
arrogant, distant, bored with the every day details of living,
pale and exhausted from gazing all night at the heavens. Oh stranger,
stranger whom I, both by chance and design, entrust with the secret,
do not take lightly my warning; do not believe for a moment
you can believe in such things without gradually growing inhuman.
Think of the Harvest Moon, patchworked with wheatfields, orchards and vineyards;
think of the Hunter’s Moon, teeming with prey unafraid of the arrow;
think of the Hunger Moon, peopled by figures from Giacometti;
think of the Flower Moon, the Ice Moon, the Strawberry Moon and the others.
You, if you ever return to your life, will return as a stranger.


On a dead street
in a high wall
a wooden gate
I don’t recall

ever seeing open
is today
and I who happen
to pass this way

in passing glimpse
a garden lit
by dark lamps
at the heart of it.