Early Morning in July
The morning to be came up Monday,
and there you were,
huddled between your shoulders
over coffee. The toast was of the consistency
of dried steel wool.
I smelled your hostility
upon the air and then retired
behind the morning news.
It was summer,
and worse than ever!
Your head rose
petulantly and slowly
like the early sun.
Your eyelids hung listlessly
above their secrets until
I dislodged the heavy pitcher
of orange juice
and it spat at you.
All of a flash
you were glaring at me,
your lashes framed the leaden roll
of sullen seas, gathering power,
then suddenly breaking
in a spatter of broken glass.
A Full Red Rose
He was dead; he was sure of it.
The world was gray. Gray light
leaked into the windows, but the room
was not his room. The walls seemed
to have been fashioned of gray stone.He would not examine it till later.
He went to take a shower and twisted
the knob. The shower head spat sand
at him. Strange! He would seek
for water to mix with the sand, but there
was no faucet except the one
which controlled the shower.
He put on his clothes and grabbed
for his boots, but now they were soft
leather like kidskin gloves,
and like gloves they had separate
compartments for the toes.
Still, he managed to get into them
despite the discomfort.
Now for a bite. The table was set
for a meal on a slab of stone
set upon four heaps of boulders.
There was a thin plate with pebbles
on it. He tried to pick one up,
but it remained on its raw, makeshift plate.
A bottle of wine! He picked it up.
It was also stone. He poured it
into a handle-less cup and a gust
of dust charged from it.
He was beginning to be perturbed.
He looked at the hand that grasped the bottle.
It was not there. He kicked at the table leg.
His foot felt nothing. In desperation
he strode to the mirror. It showed him
no face. Nothing to shave.
Well, he had dressed something.
He had feet for his boots.
He looked in the mirror and saw
a neat black business suit
with nothing above it but a bowler hat.
He broke out laughing. The whole
scene was René Magritte through and through.
He was Magritte’s faceless, solid
citizen in his stone habitat,
which was all illusion,
as was his body. This must be Limbo.
He walked over to the table and saw
a full red rose, growing
from a crooked crack. He could wait
now until he saw a blinding radiance
in the mirror to show that he was chosen.
The Baby-Head Angels
Over in the corner where
the walls meet with the ceiling,
a head is lodged, apparently a spare
with no neck to stand it on, a baby’s
head with thin hair boiling
forward over brow, eyes in a bit of squint
that hides the truth about their color,
little turned-up nose in a puffy face,
like the face of any urban urchin.
I pay it no attention, let it whistle
softly all melodies forgotten, like some
hissing steam issuing mindlessly
from the mouth of a tea kettle. My pen
wanders equally without motivation.
I feel a tap on the shoulder
and some hair in my face. Some sounds
barely formed into words.
I let my hand and my pen move.
Then I bat [my invisible visitor]
with the heel of my hand
and it disappears. Call it an Angel,
if you want, a Muse or the Devil,
stripped to a head as mode
of disguise, but it prompts my writing!
One of them once got trapped
in this church. He flew in over
the tilted sash of a clerestory window.
It was obvious that he was not used
to being inside. He kept bumping
his baby head against the high beams
of the sanctuary, like a wayward bird,or a bat trapped indoors. One day
I saw him. He was all head,
with the thinnest hair of tired gold.He had no armor or legs or torso,
but he had wings that blew a bluster
over the open missal. Oh, and the cough
that fed on the incense rising,
that most especially annoyed the priest!
He came to the universe
with such excessive speed
that he tore it apart and it
exploded through the soft spring sunlight.
Some looked aloft to see him
with his hair on fire, and digested
the fact that they had seen an angel.
He slid down a sunbeam
and the fire in his curls went out.He fell down forward
through a church’s open window.
He did not bleed from the damage,
although he broke some orange panes
and came to rest on the Rood beam,
sitting on the bottom of his head
and double-chins, as best became an angel.
He was fat and disheveled.
His blond hair was charred
and smiled distressingly. His blue eyes
were panic-stricken. He had no limbs
or body and had only his wings
an angel on unfamiliar ground.
His blue eyes flickered back and forth
over the congregation, and with a terrible
working of his muscular wings, he shot up
and remained like a stationary bee,
a helicopter hummingbird
right in the arch above the apse.
. . . When one of them
lodged itself inside my attic,
I tried to chase it with a broom,
whereat it gathered up
a fluttering behind each ear
and hung there on a level
with my eyes, roaring
like a helicopter.
I wondered what the use
of them can be for God.
We must savor to the utmost
all that we can of the very best
of these, our most treasured moments,
so that twenty years hence
in our memory, they will seem
even more spectacular
than they really were.
This last poems is from those which Brett Rutherford refined from an unfinished manuscript version. He has provided 96 with the following comment,
The Baby Head Angel poems were found on adjacent pages of Barbara Holland’s notebooks. Barbara almost never wrote multi-part poems, but it seemed to make sense to string these sketches on the same theme together. Only a few interventions were needed to flesh out missing words or make sentences complete. I think each sketch had been abandoned, but taken together they work. There are echoes of Rilke’s mysterious angels in the Duino Elegies, a work Barbara and I discussed on many occasions, but here the absurdities of anatomy make it a bizarre parody of religious art. The last section immediately followed the baby head angel sketches and although unrelated, most likely did refer to the preceding poems.
I thought they were weird and humorous enough to string together as one work. I do not feel that I did anything other than what, in music, an orchestrator assembling a suite of related pieces might have done.