. .

from WORDFLOW (1997)
by Michael Heller



How many know
the number of creatures is endless?

So many know,
only a gasp in their questions is possible.

All that fullness--
of wounds that won't scar over,

pain's grillework
persisting in the memory.

What sets one free
within the sign and blesses the wordflow

without barrier?
Not literature, which is only for those

at home in the world
while air is trapped in the sealed vessel,

contained in our
containment, our relation to earth.

Omnivore language,
syntax of the real, riddling over matter,

more difficult to ken
than the talmudic angelus. Thus what black

butterflies of grief
at this leaf, at this flower? Already you

have moved over ground
beyond past and future, into a strange voicelessness

close to speech,
both dreadful and prophetic--all else utility

and failure. And now,
the work builds to a word's confines,

to a resemblance of lives
touching the history of a rhyme between earth and dying.


                --Musée d'Orsay--

What dark did you want, of many?
The line on the page, Baudelaire's hand

at self-portraiture, cross-hatched
skull, flab of the cheek in light.

But also the splash of an ink wash--
an inverted halo clouding that face

given only to prescient
melancholy... What dark did you want?

The runnel of the walkway
between Maillol's immense recumbent

goddess and a Duchamp constructed
of canisters and planes teaching

an oblivion, while another dark,
cupping the one you've studied,

is taking up time differently,
opening the great heart of the city

to the lamb, until passing from
the galleries to the streets, it claims

itself to be a lost armature of the universe.

This dark, cupping the darkness
you studied, is the ink mottling water,

fog around streetlamps,
stone and traffic's murmur.


The dream manifest as ruin. He feared forgeries
and eliminated suspicious items from the collection.

Still, after his death, many fakes were discovered.
The ruin manifest as dream. He deployed figurines

of ancient deities at which he gazed. Those with
half-turned heads he positioned over journals.


His antiquities: the buddhas, the protectors,
the instructive voids he saw in Roman jars

half-filled with a crematorium's ash and bone.
Those heaps! Their inimitable deserted air--

out of that clay and back to clay, adamah!
What to will from these shapeless mentors of speech?

What utterance lifting powdery blackened grains
to something human? What voice to throw out

against those other gods always in miniature in their cruel
presiding, in their fixed vesseling in bronze and stone?

Time-maimed fickle Isis-Osiris, noble Avalokitesvara
whose raised hand is a gesture to the named and unnamed

who stand guard over the scriptor. And there too,
are the onyx-faced ones, scowling at heresy and betrayal.

Do not look askance; do not miswrite! Thus, to hear
each persona in the room utter form, in babbled hope

of words poured back over the eons, in hope of words
given to gods as sacrifice, as exigent futures

of sound, divinities claimed in flawed obeisances.


The collection was a dream unmarred by forgeries
he ruthlessly eliminated. Manifestations of half-turned heads

he thought of as ancient deployments, listening to patients
as though gazing on collections of ruined forgeries.

He deemed these manifestations as collections he deployed.
Half-turned dreams of patients gazing toward ruins,

of ancient figurines he looked at ruthlessly while journals
under deities lay open manifesting as his collections.


Time, ruins, knowledge ...

the traveller was fortunate.


Who finds the pedestal
finds the poem.


Ink and effacement

--only companions
of last things owned

Sand has its texts,
mica and feldspar,
stars and nestled bones

to write you to your shadow


High dunes, wind rolled
to long curvilinear trenches

amidst the tides of erasures,
an entombment of display cases--

fulgurites collected after lightning storms

beaded quartz, dry curliques--

granules adhering to fire-drawn surfaces
mineraled, glassine, acolytes fused to unwarrantable blackness


What tribes to wander with Moses?


Sere alchemy
that Jesus disappeared
in the numbered
days of an older Flood

A tempted St. Anthony
at the ledge

so a bush burns,
the mirage shimmers

an extraordinary
absence of mirrors

solitude of the grain

to notice one's own aloneness.


Why to remember the trepanned
and bleached skull of the angel?

the angel which has none of my earthly wants

who to remember semblances of desiring
as pale and colorless?

To place a word on it,
like a bit of mica winking in sun --no god to forget
the foresworn babel--

to place time on it,
as though time were
handwriting ...


Fortunate traveller.


Winter. Two trees in the yard of Friends Seminary
are without leaves, stark in their denudement.

The world glazed with cold, the homeless argue
in the park, their angry voices leaving them more naked.

The trees, the limbs of which held foliage, branch
and twig that winter freed, ride higher and higher,

angling into the sky and sun. But you had tired of
the bare data, the nictating perception which crowed

like a bird, I live, exuding the old lyric order of the world,
so that a corner was turned, the image bedded in stealth,

to emerge neither for nor against. Only some principle
you wanted without war or hope for life better than

a privileged fold in history such as the powerful make, rather
something just there in the interstices, call it a moment,

the fragment, the sweet taste of her in the second
person, for the record, later the ambush. You

encountered the trees and the trees met you and won.


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Copyright © 1997 by Michael Heller

Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry