Poems from “The Shipping on the Styx”


The last time
I opened the window
the moon got in,

streaked through
between the sill and sash
and plunged into the mirror.

It stuck there.
Now I cannot get it
out from between
the mercury and the glass.

Look in the mirror
any time of day or night,
and there the moon is,

guarding the absence
of your image
and gloating serenely,
I resent it;
the stars too,
that were sucked behind
the speed of moon
into the parlor,

where they roosted
on anything and crackled,
flared, went out,
then flared again,

and vanished.
That … bothers me.


Hear ye indeed, but understand not.
See ye indeed, but perceive not.
Had then the Lord God of Israel
spoken of those who had published
their reviews to the winds
of his chosen one, Isaiah, who
now, in the bleakness of his mind,
had retreated into the clawed and prickly
darkness of a sheltering bush, convinced
finally that as the divine mouth
of the living word, he was a stutterer,
who had hopelessly demolished
the sacred syntax and still wondered
why he had not been reprimanded.

If once he had exploded in the mouth
with God, spontaneously upon divine
ignition, was that sufficient reason why
he should run forth barking through
the villages, why he should waggle
his two tall ears to the noon
and frighten the sun with his braying,
why now, at the hour of the earth’s worst
depredations, who should come flapping
up to the top of the heap, but Isaiah,
the son of Ammoz, yodeling about the dawn?
God might be mistaken only for a second,
but certainly not forever.

This was no Prophet. This was no trumpet
into whose length the Voice of all the Ages
had concentrated aeons of anger. This was only
a barely less than average person
whose talents were not even those
that bound men to the tyranny
of hoe, herd, mill or any other
utilitarian involvement. Had he the choice
and the skill, be would even now
be fluting couples into wedlock,
linking up their roistering with chains
of tingling stars, but any flute
he ever held had always failed to catch
the notes he breathed into its bore
and straightway had substituted others.

In short, he was no more
than a common poet and, as such,
the Lord God had seen him as one
easily tripped up and triggered
into talk by a vision of the most
elaborate and sumptuous contrivance,
and as the Lord God knew quite well,
a spectacle no poet could resist.

The bolt shot into place. The doors
shut·smartly and in the crack between them
was the hem of Isaiah’s robe. Caught by the tail
in the bite of the temple doors, all be could do
was bellow: Sing unto the Lord for he
hath done excellent things. This is known
in all the Earth. Cry out and shout
thou inhabitant of Zion. His language is the world.

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