Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Images

It takes a lot of time to develop a poetic image with endurance enough to cover more than one short poem. Two images that I've taken to the level of a poetic conceit are the Lion and Christine. Undiagnosed, I oftentimes thought I assumed the form of a male lion at night. My claws came out, and I prowled around the woods behind my house: I never wore shoes, and I sometimes prowled nude. My first lion poems were garbage; I couldn't stand to look at them they were so terrible. Most of my old lion poems found themselves discarded and forgotten in the 1998 poetic purge. This is a poem from shortly thereafter; it's a horrible mess, but much better than my earlier works.

***

JOURNEY TO THE KING

I'm stepping off the beach of void
and stepping into stranger lands
appearing as a lion's plain
and stretching out for miles around

my form is like a lion-centaur
bloody like a hunting beast
the torso of a white-skinned human
with head and legs like male lions

The darkness falls around the plains
across the sweat on Lion's brow
a dance of blades inside my maw
that meet with flesh from grazing beasts

throughout the night, I stalk my prey
the practiced Art of Death beholds
his faithful servant: Lion Mask
and bids him do his pretty dance

embalming with a morbid fury
the lion waits to grab its prey
I'm blinded by the parting breath
of love I lost so long ago

eating writhing burning beast
the Lion's flaying grazing flesh
with hooks on claws and shards of teeth
he's coming with a fury's vengeance

I'm dazed by what my conscience sees
unconscious with the love I lost
the sun is rising: feel its wrath
at what the Lion wrought at night

***

It seems incomplete because it's part of a much larger work entitled The Amber Eye (go figure). Even The Amber Eye, a 2800 line poem, cannot hold a reader's attention for long. I don't know why I keep trying to fix it, but that's another matter for another time. My point is simple: it takes many ugly lines written to earn enough expertise at one image to stretch said image into a character or a poetic conceit. My writing on lions goes back to the beginning, late 1995 through early 1996 and the second image that dominated my poetry for seven years: Christine.

Christine began as a girl I knew in high school. She had beautiful, curly red hair, and the most knowing set of blue eyes on any woman I've seen. She was beautiful and was nice to me, so naturally, I had my first real psychotic crush on her. It started in 1995, and was my first reason to write poetry. Keep in mind that our friendship ocurred entirely after I got sick. I looked and searched for an image to make hers. At first I described her as a combination of fiery hair, azure eyes, and skin as pale as milk. I found this combination awkward and lacking enough internal consistency to use over more than one brief lyric. After many stops and starts, I found her image: The Sunrise. With puffs of white clouds hanging whisper-thin expanses of red with just enough sky blue to peek out of corners, the Sunrise became my main image for her. Starting there, I built a legend. Prester Bane refers to it as a lie, and he's probably right. As a combination of Apollo and Artemis, I made her in the form of a Greek Goddess. With my imagination spurred by psychotic forces and her beauty, I wrote with abandon. However, the first Christine poems are even worse than the early Lion poems. I honed my craft on Christine long after she was a real person in my mind. She became my muse. The following are two poems, the first is early work from just after the 1998 purge, and the last is a section last revised in 2005 of The Amber Eye.

***

your warm heart is beating
closely to my chest
as we are dancing slowly
and dancing towards the west

the west's where suns are setting
and where they go to rest
for sunrise in in the morning
takes much out of them

but sunrise in your face
is always true to me
with reddish hair, and bluish eyes
it speaks with pure tones

i can see it forever
i view it in the night
with eyes, and in my dreams
i have it in my sight.

***

WAVES

I dreamt that I could see you there
A source of light that shines on me
Reflecting light upon the waves
Your light is all that I can see

So kiss me softly, waves of gold
With hair that's red, and eyes of blue
If I could speak across the distance
I'd tell you now I love you true

The watercolor whispers here
Are telling me to reach anew
Without a flaw, my amber eye
Can't see the weak things I can't do

If I was more a lover then
And less a hate filled lion now
Perhaps the span would be much less
And I could know the where and how

Of where you went, of why you left
The Sun retreating on the beach
Towards the west, and out of sight
And like the Sun, you're out of reach

So come be near me dear Christine
Whose love, in haste, I threw away
Psychotic hubris, red and gore
I heard you tell me you won't stay

So love me now without a doubt
If only with a whisper's hue
On paper with a wetted brush
For all the days I'm loving you

***

The difference in quality should be obvious. Sometimes, I write poetry about people I know, and from time to time, people who ask me to write a poem of them. They don't understand the kind of work it takes to make a person out of an image. Two examples of this are my Uncle Bubba, and Jaime. My Uncle Bubba wants me to write a poem of him, but every time I try to write, garbage comes out. I love my Uncle Bubba dearly, and don't want to give him a shiny bauble without substance; I want the poem I write of him to be great. This means more time than most people, and my Uncle Bubba, would expect. Poetry isn't a spontaneous magic wand of beauty, it's all hard work and boring repetition until things are right. A case in point is the body of work I wrote of Jaime. I tried a few pieces with different images, colors, and constructions. Two of these poems follow.

***

1)
The bower breeze beneath my nose,
across my lips and past my cheek
Recites these verses as they slip
Away from me on wind that carries.

I can’t ignore the wind this time
It speaks to me, and holds my hand
With smiles and whispers in my head
Too long it’s been since I heard those.

I’ve let myself descend with darkness
Into the chasms of my pain
and there I stayed for far too long
I let myself abandon me

But now I won’t let loving jam
A wedge between my thoughts and words
Too often, truth remains untold
But not today, and not from fear

I want to feel your arms around me
I stopped to breathe the bower’s breeze
I need some better words than these
To set my past and present free.

2)
A LEAF FOR EVERY MOMENT IN A FOREST MADE FOR LOVE

With Jaime, i find happiness
In places I thought lost to me
In ways that seemed impossible
A forest grows inside my heart

I stalk those woods alone again
With open arms and lesser burdens
Accepting all the love sent me
I speak in verses, flurried, hurried

So thorns can still entangle me
And haul me down, entwinined with words
It’s good to clear the undergrowth
And let my lovetrees grow

A brush of bodies stops me
As whispers fill the air
I utter with full meaning
More words to say “I love you”

And Jaime whispers back “I know”
With smiles I see in all the lovetrees
Still beautiful and wonderful to me
I now see her and only her

Inviting every lucid moment
To stay with me in poetry,
I walk this forest made of love
That long seemed lost, but just was waiting

***

Originally, I liked the idea of plants and vegetation because her eyes are either green or brown in color, depending on the light, just like the woods behind my house that I once prowled at night. Both of these poems are complete busters. They're garbage. However, shortly before Jaime dumped me, I found an image that I believed worked: Princess Black and Yellow, for her two favorite colors. I wrote for a while on Princess Black and Yellow, and damnit, it was beautiful. It was some of my best stuff, but after Jaime dumped me, I torched it all (literally). It's all gone. Nothing remains. So, now the only poetic evidence I have left of the whole relationship are my early Jaime poems: they will teach me how not to go about poetic imagery in the future. I think she thought I'd immediately be able to write beautiful poems of her; she never knew of the parade of crap I wrote about Christine before I got the images down. Besides, who needs beautiful poetry about a buster of a relationship? I don't.

Patience is a virtue. It takes a lot of virtue to write someone well.

1 comment:

Laurel Makepeace O'Keefe said...

"Patience is a virtue. It takes a lot of virtue to write someone well"
I love this. What a nice read to open up to this Sunday morning, ahem, afternoon I mean..
Great stuff, all of it- even the older work you think is awful really isnt, because its part of your process!