Thursday, October 25, 2012

I Saw A Shimmering Country in The Clouds

[to the memory of my Grandmother at the piano]  

I saw a shimmering country in the clouds
and I cried.

Rose-petal showered was that morning,
honey spread on bread, toasted clear amber;

welcome on marigold welcoming farther and farther away
yet gathered within, a white flowered perfume unstoppered
elegantly for the Lord.
and rose-gold note sustained.

where will we be fed again

as in the kingdoms wavering between
sleep and the almost jeweled but

seldom crowned on this side of things.
the blue grass fades past the windows
whirling out of Oz with the four leaf clover
pressed in the book of the Pleiades.

I met sheer poets there, so early in the day
before the long rains came;
plaster of paris clarity of the great composers.
and after the zinnias.

behind these winter trees the skies are mauve
but chords on a cloud piano seem so unresolved.
like the nightingale trill in my one nocturne.

now who has led them away in chains
missing the harp’s glissando

under the fifth column
of the Stars-

mary angela douglas 23=24 october 2012

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Now They Will Say That You Are Dead

[to my grandmother, Lucy White  (Mrs. Milton B.) Young (who taught me to read as though everything were music, and my Grandfather, Milton B. Young who taught me to spell
 as though every letter were gold)]

Men prayed me that I set our work, the inviolate house,
                                                as a memory of you.
But for fit monument I shattered it, unfinished: and now
The little things creep out to patch themselves hovels
                                                in the marred shadow
                                                                        Of your gift
T.E. Lawrence

The children were given some sand in a teacup
and told to pretend that it was something good.
-Hans Christian Anderson, from The Wild Swans

[on the non-death of the book]

now they will say that you are dead, again, my darlings.
how can I believe them?-
broken from the spine, your moth bitten wings outspread for inappropriate flight,

they shake their heads at you, at best. and me, for keeping you even in the cupboards, on the windowsills…the walk-in-closets. in cardboard boxes when I have no money for
shelves.  down wishing wells…catalogued like rarest butterflies…and 

all along the
rabbit hole walls that Alice dropped into one
summer day, evicted into her dream.

you’re discarded at the libraries, out of date, and carted away in green wheelbarrows, red or yellow fairytale blue
oh Andrew Lang in the rain

making way for the downloadable;

barred by the gate keepers from entry
into the bereaved schoolrooms, perhaps one day-

or even now, some of you. but where
in my own mind can I not find you and pick you up
old dusty friends,-you never ending stories

Here comes the Big Nothing to tear at your throat
warned Michael Ende from his dangerous
Storybook ramparts -

and trample you on the floor
of the World’s newest nursery.

but I will sing to you and bind your wounds as soon as
the storm troopers leave or the unlettered landlords who say this clutter’s got to disappear.

you’re been snatched from the fire
so often my living brands

even farther than  Bradbury’s quicker-than-the wounded-eye-could-see, reprieved and memorized forever on far outlander’s shores…by personas non grata:

we will embody you, come what may, exactly as you were:
foxed and worn out in all weathers,
carried by your owners under the

glittering trees to the cherry orchard’s felling,
into the tea shops crumbling with the biscuits,
reveled in on the bus; or under the sound of guns
or hidden music,

half-heard from starry distances
by infants shifting in their sleep
on the opulent waters

with Wynken, Blynken and Nod…

outfoxed, the hunters are, for now,
among us still, not finished with you yet
they scheme to see you rolled out now

like serviceable dough
you could make anything of, or nothingr, really...
flatter than flatbread

on the e-readers. repackaged with no package at all;
even the snails have better and Turtles that live
a hundred years or more
at no high speed in the sea.

I imagine my books shot at dawn and shoveled into a mass grave of

excess information or
in prison jumpsuits, colorless,
stuffed into cattle cars,

and then they take
the Rabbit's Watch, the Cheshire Cat's Smile
and the books in the tunnel

as Alice herself goes down it never again to be seen at tea
or reciting her lessons by the riverbank.

pietas under glass, every one of you I want to weep:
where is the body? where, the soul?
where is wisdom loved of all her children then?

it’s difficult to tell you all apart
collectively construed this way
and everyone knows who’s reading who

and even when the pages flutter on the
screen so realistically
you cannot reach inside

to turn them, by yourself a thing that toddlers used to do-
or watch them open in the breeze…
mottled in autumn sunlight,

in the long clear shadows of Eden’s Trees
beloved, longed for, still…

your personal histories on this earth were lavish
we imagine second, third, fourth-hand colourfully
bookstall to bookstall, traced

and wondered at…who knew you? when?
who wrote in pencil here or there in
scant margins made more beautiful or in sepia
handwriting on your flyleaf.

Whose ghost is reading over my shoulder,
wishing I would turn the pages oftener?

What did your author go through on this
side of the how many editions?

will we ever know the truth
that’s bypassed now by dry commands:
click on this link and criminals, leaving no fingerprints 

and digitize (thinking they do a noble thing
to the crackling patina of your pages, my beloveds)-

to what end?
manipulating the data
or shifting it room to room, swift hands, unseen

(but somewhere, in the castle)  from cloud to unweeping cloud and rattling the keys to It All eventually
(they must be manifold by now)  

come out come out wherever you are
in charge of the glass trapeze…
the dubious net of the crystal soldiers snooping at your keyhole.

I’m not conditioned to love at all the way it’s going
as though it had never been
another way                                                       

and we’re disinherited from the things we used to love
the way we loved them for a long, long time
in two, or is it three

keystrokes from now…goodbye, my bookshelves in the hall
crumbling, by the moon faced clock embossed with
stars; the vast illusions;
the mermaids surging back

into the ether; the Romantics weeping where the
shining trees are shorn.   
the sea of knowledge, too, you bore for centuries
at the full,…and beautifully illustrated...

have the folios of all dreams expired?
does it matter to you I mean that
God who lives in you is not capable of being

shoved into a Screen?

before it’s all over they’ll
spoon it out drop by drop to us with eye droppers.
to us!  who used to own it for ourselves when we were little-

inalienably pasting the sequins onto the
brown-paper, homemade book covers, cut with pinking shears;
or using too much glue (to make it look that jewels encrusted

our fairytales, from cover to well-read cover
instinctively we knew- why shouldn’t there be
sparkling there to match the sparkling
that we felt inside for you

scrawling our jumbo sized red crayon valentines
on 100 year old reprints
or on the Monets Mama taped on the rented walls?

with the same childhood faith we traced the Letters of the Alphabet
between the four-lane pale blue dotted highways
of our writing tablets, eagle-eyed.

we want to love you, you’re our own, we know it!
and, how could you be otherwise, than the best of Toys: decorated, crowned,  played with as in paper-doll kingdoms
you can’t leave us, can you? reading you to our dolls so earnestly 

or it’s early spring
when we’re practicing our eternities in the sunshine
with our best pals (next to the Bears)

even at nap-time on the pink chenille pallet
fighting sleep under the oak trees in the back yard
just to keep reading you, Little Golden Books, perhaps…
or the Books of Wonder.

and Grandmother said I know you’re not asleep, girls stop
“playing possum” when we flung the books aside and closed our fluttering eyelids, quick! minutes  after
hearing her footsteps down the hall

coming nearer.
but we were never in trouble since she was the best book fairy godmother of them all...

and now I wonder in my anguish, why
they're taking you down along with the Tree these New Years Eves and
people I don’t even know or understand keep saying,
Ding-Dong, The Wicked Book Is Dead.

they dream you’ll lose
your lustre entirely, never coming back again, on India-ink paper, bound in fine white leather and crowned with lilies of the valley or small white roses at all the weddings in the language of King James.

it’s your denouement

the technical wizards say and the intellectuals in all the magazines
for twenty five years now. and the journals turn their backs on friends they loved their whole life long (or claimed to) so easily.

and I think of all the books they must have read,
degree by degree: how terrible their
betrayal is, as the ovens open; how can they not care
that you’re in the candy shingled house?

my God, they put you there.
and we’ve got a new Witch now, or two or three
or millions everywhere

with the oven door wide open..
others seized you, long before, and sought to
tear you from our dreams and deepest secrets;

those who loved you best, oh lovely ones

could hear the screams when Beauty bore the lash; we bore it too.
but you survived. scrolled and unscrolled, carried wilderness by 

wilderness, alive, revered oh ark of the jeweled Covenant, oh Shining Cloud (go with me, now):

poured over by the scribes, or forged on our own Rosetta stones, inside,our anguish carved cuneiform on the Heart’s own tablet
oh sweet, sad inner life…clear water spills

over Helen Keller’s living fingers
Keat’s wild surmise-

something that men have died for endlessly or dreamed upon-
like Charlemagne, keeping The City of God sweet scented under a tasseled pillow while he slept.

in what kingdom could you ever end?

as Faulkner said in his best suit, bemused,
with his reedy voice quavering slightly
before the Nobel crowds
long after we are gone from here:

our language will survive…

Chief Joseph showed the same in vintage photographs;

etched in his face…the sun, the winds the rains
astonishing the photo lens,
tracks in the snow of his eyes unvanquished yet-
not ever...

in the beginning was the Word and it was set like a sun in golden pictures, uttered in silver….never passing away from us entirely when Sharansky on the cusp of freedom
after 10 years of hell said

to the gulag guards releasing him
oh, wait, not yet, you’ve got something I want back
(his small book of Psalms from Avital)…   

oh my dear, my dear golden apples
sliding down the vast, the high glass mountains-
will you disappear,

forever out of reach?
will the princess never retrieve you in this story?

abide. fast falls the eventide on the
art of the book and undisguised:
beauty on beauty realized

outwardly and inwardly composed, in the typescripts of the dreaming: free, illuminated,  living, whole-
by Williams Morris, William Blake, Rosetti
and others I don’t know

in multicoloured cultures came looking
out of the same Lost Love to find, o Heart beyond Mind

the initialed page of His First Light,  
yearning for us still.

and by it do all our best runners run the Heavenly race set before them;whole centuries flying past them while the Soul flared like a torch held by His hand, page
by hard fought page transcribed

in a noble tower disparaged now, by purity of heart to will one thing (said Kierkegaard) sustained by visions the beautiful do not fall away that easily.   

now, in a supercilious wind…they think they’ll pack it all in;
scattering the leaves forever edged in gold
in search of something else

because it’s blow-you-away-like-the-huffing Wolf
time; the latest update slinking through the trees though it can’t sing a note of its own-

jeweled and cunningly wrought,  so much better
than the real nightingale
don’t you think? they coo at Court…
oh I don’t think so …

sometimes I loved you best, just pocket-sized, or nursery rhymed,
with art nouveau borders; in paperback taken into battle,
ordered four for a dollar from a Scholastic newsprint catalog-

arriving in brown paper and twine: what a present to open
(even if you do know what it is).  or coffee stained on the coffee table beside the picture magazines or ghost ridden,
purple prosed for the antique stage and prompting,

better than a pirate's hoard in
postage stamp apartments where our reading shadows on the
walls loomed larger:  dreaming, almost mythical,

forging bravely, gladly on..through secretarial days that followed
or in the stores where the floorwalker walked from floor to floor, making sure no one was reading at the cash registers…in 

between customers or on the factory line.  we all told stories in our heads to stay alive.

you taught us how. even Peary at the Pole brought you along.

we ordinary people bought you with pocket money
and couldn’t believe our luck.
or our eyes when you made it into the movies.

or we skipped lunch to find you, happily in the nearest bookshop, waiting just for us:
the magic book as yet unknown that drew our eyes...
as if by angels drawn there.

my treasure-trove over the wanderer’s sea
brought home (to me!) now in my heart your golden letters sail
down all my childhood lanes

after all these rains and rainbow-ringed I
gaze with happiness again into your small looking glass puddles, enchanted still or stand stock-still admiring on a farther shore, small paper boats, where go ye now. down darker rivers?

out of sight?

down a mysterious waterway you did not waver,
sole tin soldier I think I loved you most: with your
heart that melted into a star, a spangle..and other tales as well,

how numerously your colours clanged, Arthurian-splendied,
taken from the stone again and again
summer after summer even when it didn’t rain.

I sang three ships and more come sailing into my bright harbour. and I’m still rich as the Little Women by the kitchen stove
baking the hot potatoes
they’ll carry in their muffs to keep their
hands warm in the cold.

or leaning on the baby piano with one gold rose
on the puckered green silk in the paintings of Louis Jambour
singing Christmas, home and the Dove and the pale blue Testaments, 

green, ivory or
maroon to keep you brave in the
New England household drafts
that blew in the snow, Death's sudden Angel and the War that drew the Fathers from the hearths

I can’t leave you there, alone, sweet pilgrims…I’m in the same dream with you, even now. and munching Josephine’s apples
borrowing her writing paper...

I think of immigrant pioneers when fording the widening, muddy streams who cast off sacks of flour or beans to lighten the load westward and kept Shakespeare, Dickens, the Holy Bible and the parlour organ wrapped in quilts

in the wagon with the rose bush slips. thank you, Bess Streeter Aldrich- for the lantern and the children
playing run sheep run the afternoon that

Abbie slipped away…while the bacon sizzled in the pan
I hear her sing The Lady
of the Lea on the Other Side
for the prairie grass bending farther down the Lane
new world most wondrously dressed and
exceedingly beautiful…

and mothers or fathers soothed their children everywhere, turning the fairy tale page just one more time and then,
goodnight. sweet book, goodnight.
flights of angels dare not take you to your rest
I don’t know how it ends, yet!

I think of all who loved you
ages and ages past:
kings and queens illuminated, commissioning  Books of Hours with golden flowers and poppies in their margins, or lapis lazuli cornflowers opening sumptuously

. . .and after Gutenberg, children reading comic books in the dark with what must have been cat’s eyes (but that was much later)

all those who died for you
to be translated:  they set you free like paper doves
to flutter in every household
far from castle walls
with the Paraclete and the butter for the bread.

and translated then, by God as all must be,
they paid for your freedom and for ours
one way or the other, Death be not proud in the words of John Donne.
the translators found the hunters.
Death will find them too.

oh crystal screen, behind, beyond  the Princess dreams and dreams.
you cannot keep her, you Peter Pumpkin eater, You-
Be Thou Not Proud.

I think of Solzhenitsyn in his
cell and other prisoners as well
deprived of books making them up, instead

(like others in the Gulag) in their heads
on half a ration’s scrap of bread and rancid soup
bending further and further their bent backs and every line

by precious line on a crossbow of invisible gold
drawn back in whispers
to yourself or the trusted few:  don’t go,

don’t let the arrow fly not yet.
they’re killing the archers day by day,
 my friends my vanishing friends…
oh who will hold this newborn poem this time
there’s not even a manger hush my baby don’t

you cry if that mockingbird don’t sing they’ll hear you
following the inward star. oh hidden Magi,
journey still, please stay alive
even in thin quilted jackets or in cheap editions,

falling apart, in samizdat, in triplicate

with Herod hunting on the nights that he can’t sleep;
a thousand mirroring Herods by his side, and a thousand more sense something’s living …about to be crowned.
but they won’t find you now
though it’s not that long ago

imprisoned writers wrote in matchsticks,
counting on abacuses the indriven strophes
in codes of their devising –stanzas made to look like birds in the 

air recoiling where they were, mid-flight, before the shot, throwing the censors off the trail and gathering it in again in midnights inevitably looped

through inner light alone and improvising wherever
whenever they could -between arrests-
or when they could not-

making rosaries out of stale bread (skipping the one
“meal” of the day) to harden bead by bead- they prayed-
so Solzhenitsyn said

and prayed through ancient winters longer than

Earth’s geological ages-
his, fashioned with a dark red heart by a friend.  
solitary, hungry, frozen to the permafrosted End and
still they fed on you

or what they remembered of you in the dazed archives of their souls fighting to keep you,alive in the libraries of their minds
there, alive…oh my books

and you there, giving me sarcastic looks perhaps, aren’t you?
and judging me harshly (bless you, if you’re not)
for even having them at all in my cramped house
much less, in this abundance.

do you even know what they represent?
how legions of people died to make and keep them
alive, for centuries?

making their souls from this

keeping it for you like heirloom pearls or one last word

before I go out of the loop of your Future

passing it all on….

remapping the territories, blueprints
like Bukovsky, building a castle in his mind
where he kept the civilities alive
retelling the Count of Monte Cristo for the dazzled thugs

just ten years in who’d never heard of it,before…

or Mandelstam in the transit camp of his fleeting, floating world the poet stalked by death and loved by Beauty and childlike, doomed…
Fear and the Muse kept taking turns in the nightmare

in a luminous room that was already snowing angels even then- when Anna came to call at Voronezh, the place of exile.
and the skull, the darkening sun. the figure of the weeping king.

was she cameo pale through blinding tears unshed? since there is nothing left to cry for, then,
when all seems irretrievable, gone…or going soon-

for entire nations within  the
nations of numbed feeling, for the soul within the soul still seeking shelter, farther on…

Akhmatova wrote her best poem, lamenting him while
mourning Poetry, itself.
When they came for him in the kitchen, later on it was-“Maytime, flowering’’-said Nadezhda in her last letter to him unopened.

that paper flower with no water left to bloom in-
later it grew into orchards in the West

and his poems came back to life and were
brought back to the Pantheon, so that Anna marveled:
how could we know that
Poetry would be that strong but now…

whole seconds will freeze the eyebrows off the face of Time

and the pages of unfinished manuscripts all hold their breath…not knowing if they will live or die,
wrapped by the widows in linen, spiced and entombed.

they have taken you away, forever…the poems that won’t be born now.…
he snatched his Dante lightning quick from the little shelf that seemed to be
receding from him in great sadness, a miracle
of presence of mind they failed to inspect that thoroughly  

before they dragged him off. I believe this legend.
you went with him to a mass grave after some time and shone there,

lighting the way between the worlds…a small volume.
three poets turning in that fire (counting Dante and Virgil)
until your end that no one’s sure of-

and a fourth as in Daniel it is written…
like unto the Son of man…a Poet, too
with wild bright lilies in his hands would not burn through…
and “manuscripts don’t burn” was heard in every language…

echoing…ever-after them, as in Bulgakov…

I think of ghetto libraries in Warsaw
where they salvaged what they could leaving home
that unexpectedly and going, where? they carried the baby in the

shawl with the roses and stashed you, library of one-

under the creaking floorboards or attics of their doom
one page at a time I imagine…
still reading Your lines on their palms (asleep or awake) and cherishing their children, to the last trusting hour:  they demonstrated best I think

the life of beauty insisted on at the mouth of hell on earth,
reading the babies something lovely to the end
so their souls were well-inscribed

for the next life coming down on them too soon
already in the room where you were reading...
we will meet then, on the other side…

or in Petersburg where they buried the sun said Mandelstam, softly
the slaves whose names we do not know
risked all for you and blow by blow struck off the chains, alphabet letter-by-letter by slim candlelight or moonlight’s thread, or meteor showered night by  inner night

they traced with trembling fingertip…the open page denied them
(not by God- or mysterious friends)-
it must have been that some escaped with wisdom won

this way but others died
the cruelest death among the many deaths nested
within them where a homeland should have been (and was)

how could anyone human grow used to it but
this was the last strange lesson learned on earth for you:
feeling the blast of the hunters press too near you persevered
praying it wouldn’t be this way

the Book dropped down beside you- wounded, too,
knocked out of your hands
by human mongrels…lunging for the kill…
you stepped out on the ledge of Morning…

and Phyllis Wheatley in an early scene of the
world-wide theatre of the absurd
between idyllic spells of reading

sat there, simply like a Queen unselfconsciously splendid
hands folded in her lap (I imagine)
shawled in  her own dreams fastened with the brooch of sheer Poetry,

interrogated as if she were a fraud or at best,
a carnival’s freak because they just couldn’t believe
she wrote her poems herself.

are you taking her books to the dustbin too?
and crunching them, big net machine

the ones she wrote, the ones she read?
or haven’t  you got it all encrypted yet
and colorless, smashed it all in there,

dear captives on the glass trapeze, let go a little longer-
and find again, the world you knew before
or never found, within…

it isn’t “the book”  Cold Something wants to kill-
it’s you…reading it by yourself, thinking your own thoughts out
out of view…clear eyed in the commotion.

not yet ready to buy…

lose nothing. surrender nothing.
I’m the Ghost of Christmas Past…,
keep all your Christmases well and on your own shelf
not just the virtual ones

or I’ll keep haunting you, my friends
because these are my last requests:
hold books within your hands and to your heart
your whole life through

till gold gashed on the morning air at last
at first not knowing

You are there oh my Chevalier (Hopkins named You best)
we’ll step out from indignities  

and into Your Eternal Spring
with every manuscript intact
and every thought and feeling back

we’ll find again:
unpublished here on earth,
the stitch not stitched in time, the poetry, confiscated or ignored,
row by shining row restored on shelves of Pearl; the lands of gold

between two covers told and retold
to generations going off to war and never coming home
are there again and not erased
among the green, the red, the blue and the yellow,
dear, old Andrew Lang…immortal now, past pain the fairytale volumes.

oh hearts unguessed of and unknown-
turn again, like Dick Whittington...
finding yourselves at last, at home in the

Libraries of Heaven…

mary angela douglas october 2012