There was a time once when poets
Sitting on cracked marble urns
Invoked the muses;
Or when the angel whispered
Into Matthew’s ear
The tale of a man
Who came to earth as a god;
Even Milton’s Holy Spirit hovered
Like a dove upon the vast abyss
And made it pregnant.
Though I make no such pretense
to an invocation here
The poems that follow in the present cycle
Are full of gods.
And that should be enough.
When The Moon Was Gigantic
In those days
Volcanoes ruptured the earth
Like an accordion of rippling stone
Where cataracts of glowing magma striped
The ground with ribbons of liquid rock
During the daytime, clouds of ash were thick
Enough to erase the young sun from a sky
That was only then changing from salmon pink
To a deep aquatic blue
The moon rolled
Across the sky so close to the earth that it seemed you
Could reach up and touch it
Enormous fern trees erupted from the ground
And huge gold and red dragonflies owned the air
While the wet green creatures with four legs
That had only just wandered from the azure seas
Were laying their eggs out of the water
To be safe from predators
One day out of one of those eggs
a tiny pink animal
That would awaken with gods sleeping in its neurons
…it went on like that for many years
cutting rows into the ground
with a stone tied to a stick
planting seeds and watching them grow.
His house was made out of stone blocks
stacked to form a dome like an igloo
with dusty sunlight pouring in from the
always open front entrance
And the small bed in the corner cut
from the skins of animals: bear skins mostly.
It was already dirty and stained.
There was never enough to eat.
Years went by like that.
And more years.
The worst part of it was that sometimes
He could see processions of angels striding over
The arched green hills
Thin, giant figures radiating light and walking upright on their hind legs
Carrying posts and poles and banners and insignia
And they never said a word to him. They didn’t even know he existed.
Inside his head he could only think: you didn’t say it would be like this.
But there was no response because there never was any response.
One day a panther stuck its head into the entrance while he was sleeping.
He heard its distinct snuffling, awoke quickly and threw a stone at it.
It went away.
Years went by.
There was a river not far from his house and each day he went there to bathe.
And each day on his way back, he looked at the green plants in the earth
But then something strange happened.
One morning he awoke with a pain in his side and when he pulled away
the animal skin, there it was: a pulsing, throbbing orifice in his side through which some kind of small creature was presently making its way out. It was gray but shaped like he was and he watched in horror as the wet thing that came out of him snuffled as it drew its first breath.
He put the creature inside a wooden box that he had made, but soon it grew too large for the box, so he had to make another, larger box.
The creature was like him as it grew over the next few days, rapidly shedding its skin each time. Soon it was regarding him from the corner of the stone house with brown wary eyes.
It looked like him…but it wasn’t like him.
Something was missing from between its legs and its chest was soft.
It kept growing. Soon, it was larger than he was, standing over him, demanding food from the garden.
He watched it grow scales around its feet, which slowly turned into the talons of a bird. Wings sprouted from its back and it could not speak to him except in grunts.
Then one day it flew away.
At times, Nietzsche sounds hysterical, I admit.
He signed his last letters “Dionysus” and “The Crucified.”
But we must remember that his soul was warped
By loneliness, sickness and poverty.
Too much, in other words, of too little.
A fate that was like Van Gogh’s, perhaps,
Only Nietzsche did not cut off a piece of his ear
And offer it to a terror-stricken prostitute;
Instead, he sliced entire cartographies from his brain
And made a Clearing
For the gods to come take him.
Somewhere, in the late afternoon,
as the red sun lay burning in the trees,
the wind blew through the field
that I was standing in
and I paused to pick up a dead thing:
an orange autumn leaf
which had blown past me.
I held it in my palm, a piece of the past,
as the shell of a cicada.
Then I realized that what I was holding
contained within itself a whole universe
of pulsing atoms, not dead at all,
but merely waiting for another form
somewhere else, in another field, perhaps,
or another life. Some of these very same atoms
may stand in another field some day,
beholding the ruined miniature cathedral of another dead leaf.
But isn’t the universe like that?
Gigantic to us, but in the hand of a god,
no more than a leaf,
a universe of burning suns
to be held in the palm
in the late afternoon, and then discarded
as the wind blows among the trees
of the dawning evening.
Gods, it is true, like to make suns:
They light up hydrogen in black space
And then step back and watch it burn
A hole into the cloth of the abyss;
Then they fashion billions of them
Into fiery spinning pinwheels called galaxies
That go surging and crashing into each other
Star into star with fiery incandescent burning
Sending far-flung bits of star debris
Dying like meteors into the cold darkness
Of infinite space
Gods make living forms, too.
They set fire to proteins, amino acids, lipids
Blood whirling, pulsing pumping and circulating
And then step back to watch
What crawls through the black mud
And over the mossy green hills
And through the emerald trees
With teeth fangs claws
Tearing each other to pieces.
what is the birth of a sun or a living form to you and I?
We are made of fire and blood
Woven out of earth and sea
And we swarm
Over the earth
Starlight burning in our veins.
Come, my love, forget about the gods,
For we will make forms of our own:
We shall bring them out into space
And set them into Time
And then we shall leave them behind
And return to the dark.