Time flowers

Writers will recognize the symptom I'm talking about when I say the approach of a new poem or piece of work is a bit ominous as well as exciting.  You know you are about to assume a new burden, new vow, new love.  Hunches start to integrate & synthesize, merge - & in the process gain mass & velocity.  You are going to have to dedicate some of your life to this.  You are going to die into it a little (the "little death" of creativity, you might say).

I had a sense as Stubborn Grew was approaching that it would be somehow "Orphic".  Orpheus is a sort of touchstone for poets, obviously.  He stands in the background of all those epic "descents" into the Underworld - Homer, Virgil, Dante, Joyce... & Jesus too (who spent "three days in the depths of the earth").  He dies singing, in order to come back again.

This was not my first long poem.  I'd written 3-4 previously.  I knew some of my own patterns.  There was the psychic obsession with my cousin Juliet, who committed suicide off the Golden Gate Bridge in 1971.  I wanted to bring her back from the dead.  There was the sense, too, that to create poetry is a healing process for the poet - through descending/ascending I would be renewing my own life too, as I was, bumbling through the library into middle age, dealing with great personal mistakes.  & there was the idea that "redeeming" American poets from this specific violence - suicide - was part of my job too.  To counter the death-urge, the inexorable tide-pull for Berryman, Hart Crane, Weldon Kees...  Finally there was the notion that all these personal motifs might feed into a larger "resurrection" plot - the silly idea that poetry has some role to play in setting the whole nation on a slightly different, maybe better path...

Then, too, in that regard, I was learning about Bluejay, one of the figures in Northwest Coast Native American stories... he had his own orphic journeys to relate.

But I wanted Stubborn Grew to bind together these different planes - ordinary & wonderful, reality & "dream song", plain old Hen and Berryman's "Henry", Divine Providence & funky "Prov-town".  These contrasts were always going to clash & struggle in the poem.  "Henry" the Orphic maestro, dream-rescuer of Juliet, was also Henry the Providence guy - the one who's marriage came apart (a marriage to a poet's daughter).  These contrasts needed to be in the poem.

Anyway, I saw these things coming.  There is the Dream & there is the tragicomic aspect (more on Aristotle's Poetics later).  Here's how the poem begins.  You can hear a little echo of Olson's Maximus - signaling the ambition & the focus ahead.  So... "- I'll show you the dusty photo, torn anew."


Time flowers on the lips of whispered clay.
A spring breeze flows through the branches on the terrace. 
The city below flutters and flaps, roars
and drones like a resurrected bumblebee.

Recorded organ music at noon from the cathedral 
drifts over the motors.  From the ornamental spine
of the ridge, domineering the town, I'm marking time –
soon have to head back to my monkey stall.

A detached head floats down the Hebrus River
like those Carrier robins, skimming out of electricity. 
Out of moving mud, out of sliding riverside.  See 
the kingfisher flicker now – dive like an arrow –

rise again, lips, out of, oh, out of the occasional, view! 
Clay, ribs, mud, marble, puddingstone.
My park bench careens down the local Rhine
– I'll show you the dusty photo, torn anew.

Henry, Juliet, & Cara, circa 1968