Works available online. © John Dancy-Jones 1983-2009.
The Suicide of Hooker Van Dusen. 1985 Peloria Press.
Performance Poems. 2nd edition. The Paper Plant 1988
Snapper. The Paper Plant 2001
I like having bent curves and I like the little hooks. I like being strong and I like being lifted up. I like being heavy. I don’t like being chained but I would love to be flung across the sky in a chained arc of perfect limit.
Selection from Performance Poems
USA Today 1984
QUITTERS, LOSERS, BACKWARDS WINNERS
Jesus saves the souls of sinners
AMERICA! Bless us
with your luscious curse.
Bind us and bear us
depend and declare us
keep us from dread
bake our bread
wash us in the juice
of your conflagrance
your fragrance, America
is floods of gasoline and dripping red meat
your nectar America
is the syrup left
if you take all the fruit
out of ketchup.
AMERICA you hot tomato
where is your juicy red fruit?
AMERICA you REVELATION
there are red stains
on your flowing white robe.
America your fate is sealed
but your destiny is leaking
all over the world
all over the world
all over the slippery world
The Paper Plant
A poem for downtown bookstores
Beauty is my business. Books are my stock in trade. My urge to read is stronger than my urge to eat. Left to my own devices, I would have been by my thirties as blind as Milton, eye-fried and cloaked in the love of language. Half of the books I read are books I’ve read before. I read them every year and I never forget to read them or stop loving to read them. In my dreams I wince from the crackling smoke at Alexandria, where those passionate bastards from the navel of the world torched the best fruits of the Golden Age. And I am awakened some nights by the brackish wash of the flooding Arno, slapping wetly across Florence. Lyinf there, half awake, I hear the people weep as they gather the floating treasures from the bilious overflow of the west.
Can a civilization drown? Is it painful?
Part One. Andreas X.
Hee, he-HEE, hee. Hullo, hullo. Oooh, hoo. Hee HEE hee. Well, what’ll it be. Do you want me to go for you or do you want to go? I’d rather stay here it’s so confused and disordered out there. It’s all so solidified. It’s all solidified. It’s all SO disorganized out there. I’m sick of all this freedom this country has mollycoddled and coo-cooed the biggest contraption of crackpots, queers, criminals, lunatics, slanderous QUEERS…well, what’ll it be? Do you want to go or do you want to stay? Shall I fetch it? Hee HEEEE hee. This place, John. It gives me the creeps. All this book larning – it smells the place up. It’s oppressive in here. These books are the follies of fatuous fools. High and mighty works that gum up whole nations. We brag about this civilization – it doesn’t settle half of what it’s supposed to – all this lying, cheating, WHORING – DON’T you know it’s all vanity. You’ll never be satisfied. You’ll never be satisfied. Well, do you want to get it yourself or do you want me to fetch it?
Part Two. “Bring me the Thorazine!”
It was the Nazi SBI man they dogging my ass again I swear they gonna kill me man it’s the revolution of the right, you know? They gonna dog my ass all day long I can’t understand what I gotta do I been writing this story here see about my thoughts, you know, about the Black Man, White Man, Red Man blood red, you know? I been seeing this orange light coming over my shoulder man and I know it’s that three-headed Nazi dog on my ass again we got to fight for love! We gotta lay down our knives in the streets! Lemme get out of here, man, I’m probably boring you to death.
Part Three. Patsy
John, you gotta Quatta? John, can I get a cuppa ‘at coffee? You make this most divine coffee, John. This place, reminds me of the city. You know in the sixties I remember places like this you could sit down in a corner and just disappear, you know, John? Oh God, this coffee, you such a doll you know I miss New York. I love the city it’s so alive there. Been nine years now since I left. It just got to be too much you know John they got computers in the city these days they track you every step. Look at this piece of mail I picked up – LOOK AT THOSE NUMBERS JOHN – six numbers there the same as my social security number. Whew! John, they got computers in the city that can put the whole Radcliffe campus yard on microchip! O Lord, I had to get out of there. Listen John, I might want to come back in a day or so and order some books – I’m thinking about going back into medical school. But honey, right now I got to GO.
Rap for the Four
Earth, Water, Air and Fire:
choose the one of your desire
let atomic structure be your trip
or bipolarity give you a sip
of condensed gas that holds you in;
if it weren’t for gas you would take a spin
to the outer spaces. Chemical paces
of oxidation, elucidation – you would
blow where you cannot go – you see
Earth, Water, Fire and Air
are the four round points of a great big square
and it’s all the same – what’s in a name –
Fire, Water, Air and Earth –
each to the other one, gives birth.
Now one’s for the worm, and one’s for the crow,
one gets wet rot, and one will grow.
So choose the one of your desire:
Earth, Water, Air and Fire.
All through history, science, monogamy,
deism, techvision art and monotheism –
all of that bullshit hides the fact:
there’s only four things that make us act
And that’s Earth, Water, Fire and Air
no other rituals can compare to the
vocalization, actualization, conceptualize
with inner cries that remote boat
on a sea of air – that express jet
that will take you where you can feel the heat
and the wet beat and the tug of stone
and that wind blowin’ – the smell of hell
and the leaven of heaven – it’s a free for all
like a summer squall made of Earth, Water,
Fire and Air – fly around in it, if you dare.
Now bone and skin and flesh and blood
have been our lot since before the flood
but if we were gods, then we still must treat
with solids, liquids, gas, and heat –
when it get right down to direct or remote
myth and science jump the same boat –
Chaos, order, love or despair:
it’s just Fire, Water, Earth and Air.
For the leather coat my father gave me
Sometime millions of years ago
while the dolphins were learning to sing
and wolves were learning to kiss with their tongues
and gorillas were still eating bamboo
we were at the seashore, becoming naked and
discovering frontal sex and self-consciousness.
Clock time came soon after but not before
a perfect seed of beauty had been planted
in every one of us and we live today as we all
well know in great alarms of beauty buzzes.
Great God nurses every one of us at her breast
and as we speak molecules that coursed through
Genghis Kahn and Sweitzer and Queen Victoria
and Joan of Arc and Ezra Pound and almost
certainly the turds of Caesar and probably
by now Gary Gilmore’s dying belch
are part of each of us in this room.
We are everyone and everything
and everyone is famous
and it’s all disgustingly beautiful:
Coca-Cola and the Pentagon and the videos
and the drug industry and all the wasted frazzled
hours we spend imitating ants, beavers,
our cats and dogs –
imitating anything except ourselves
pretending finally that everything
is an imitation of ourselves –
which it is – which we are-
pretending not to be real as we face each other
being to being and say, “I kill you,
I live by your death as you live by mine
love me anyway?
The Tutelary Years of Ray Johnson (1943–1967)
FEBRUARY 19 – JUNE 12, 2010
The Ray Johnson exhibition was an important retrospective on a Black Mountain College alumnus, and a seminal event in the continuing “rediscovery” of this lesserknown, but very significant artist. Ray Johnson was probably the most enigmatic and one of the least appreciated American artists of the 20th century. He was a deceptively complicated man whose work embodied multiple layers of meaning. The show provided a greatly needed showcase and explication for this seminal figure of Pop Art whose collages influenced a generation of contemporary artists. The curator for the exhibition, Sebastian Matthews, assembled a wide range of Ray Johnson’s collages, paintings and drawings that were enriched and enlivened by programming that included performance poetry, collage workshops, music, drama, The Poetry Bomb, an academic lecture, a film screening of How to Draw a Bunny, an exhibition catalogue, and Sebastian’s wonderful blog that documented the whole thing!
The exhibition itself is exactly what the title describes: Ray’s early work as he assimilated the lessons of Albers and others at BMC, and found himself as an artist in the wild world of post-war Pop, Dada, Surrealism, and eventually postmodern experiments in the New York art world. There were drawings from Ray’s youth in Detroit(loaned by his boyhood friend Arthur Secunda), selected BMC experiments, and a large collection of wonderful collages that show his evolution from painting to collage. Works were borrowed from the major Johnson collections, owned by William S. Wilson and the Ray Johnson Estate, as well as smaller personal collections. Ray’s work makes much use of verbal puns and words as images, presaging the correspondence work or “postal performances,” which made him most famous. Theshow and its catalogue followed Ray’s emergence from Black Mountain College into the New York scene immersed in the ideas of his BMC mentors but prepared to follow Albers’ dictum: “to follow me, follow yourself.” As Sebastian wrote in his catalogue essay, “Ray was ripe for the challenges and experiences Manhattan had to offer.” He remains one of the most intriguing and complex artists of the 20th century, and thisexhibition delineates many of the roots and threads that set him on his path. That path is examined thoroughly in the catalogue, which is a unique critical appreciation of this very under-appreciated artist. There are 46 color plates, over a dozen images in the text, and several Hazel Larsen Archer photographs. Catalogue essays are contributed by curator Matthews; Ray’s boyhood friend Arthur Secunda; Ray Johnson expert, friend and collector William S. Wilson; and emerging young scholars, Julie J. Thomson and Kate Erin Dempsey. The capstone of the exhibition was the lecture and slide show by Dr. Frances Beatty, Director of the Ray Johnson Estate. Her remarks made clear why Ray Johnson deserves recognition as a major 20th century artist. The final night of the show was a truly wild and wonderful event that did much to reflect Ray’s spirit. Music, poetry, and spoken word filled the space. Poets Earl Bragg and Keith Flynn offered work appropriate for the occasion. Vaudvie presented cabaret music, whileThomas Butler and Toby Magouirk presented a dramatic piece base on Ray’s writings. It was a great ending to a wonderful show.
essay for 23Hours, art documentary show at Bickett Gallery
first published online at RDUwtf
A Furry Geezer’s Lurid Recounting of Downtown Raleigh’s Open Mikes
Summer 1983. Doonesbury’s “armpit of a decade” is in full swing. Raleigh’s civic leaders contemplate strategies and boondoggles toward rejuvenating the central district. The Art museum has closed and moved away. Sylvia’s Helping Hand Mission is going strong on Hargett Street in a large space deemed “under-utilized” by City Planners. Somewhere in the country, a group of people are working on the premier publication of a new national newspaper. It will be called USA Today. In the basement of a tiny luncheonette on Salisbury Street, a group of people gather on a Thursday evening. Drawn together by the funky used bookstore across the street, they are a truly diverse group. Initiated by a teenage drop-out and a former San Francisco open-mike emcee, it included the local H.P. Lovecraft junkies, Libertarian advocates for a nudist club, and a huge smelly man recognizable from his long naps at Olivia Raney Library (unless you happened to catch him heading into the blood bank, or see him rolling out of the signal shack by the Boylan Avenue Bridge). The reading starts, with nervous reminders from the bookstore owner about a strict ten minute limit. The huge man proceeds to unfold wads of paper from his many pockets and to borrow props (such as a full soda can) from his neighbors. When his turn arrives, he carries his small table and chair right up to the mike and delivers a 25-minute rant to the city that has the emcee sweating (8 more readers to go – my god) and has the audience in awe. Most of them hadn’t met a street bum with high culture before. But Ralph, and the Thursday Night reading, turned out to be special.
Raleigh’s Thursday Night Open Reading had several venues, but the basement of Glory’s diner was pretty special itself. The owners were never present; they simply provided the key and trusted the participants to put one dollar bills in a jar when they get a beer out of the cooler. It was a kind of practice for when they got a beer license and their own events. After they closed, the reading moved two floors up to the vintage clothing store. This phase resembled a round table discussion group (though Liz and Donna threw a memorable party in this space), an atmosphere redeemed by a midsummer stint of readings on Fayetteville Street Mall. Here, for the first time, Kurt F. brought his guitar along and transformed our ideas about what an open reading could be. Kurt’s music became a central part of Thursday Night at the Berkeley Café, and John B. will admit that the poetry readings began the process of that space’s evening music venue. Ralph, who had transformed himself from library bum to Taxi-cab Poet (though he still smelled and continued to devote many hours working out digits of pi in an ink-stained spiral notebook), got us into the Berkeley. He was living upstairs, sharing a tiny rickety hall with the hollow-eyed prostitutes who at that time headquartered above the Berkeley. Thursday Nights there were loud and well-attended. Every week there were first time readers. Every week here were surprises. Schizophrenics would wander in, listen a little, then break in with their rant about whatever. But after about ten minutes, they would wind down and relinquish the stage, usually to friendly applause. One night, a wizened couple right out of a Woody Guthrie song (and literally right off the bus) got up when it was their turn and simply unfurled for display a huge quilted mural of newspaper headlines and music posters they had pieced together over their years of travel. It was laminated with masses of clear packing tape and must have weighed a few pounds. They said nothing – just held it up for a few minutes and then carefully folded it back into their bag.
It was at the Berkeley that comedy, confessional rants and performance pieces began to emerge from the poetry. MP would get up and simply spew out ten minutes of the history of her screwed up childhood and the various sexual misadventures it generated. Later this led to a sensationalist write-up in The Independent. Billy O. began the short story series that had women hissing and booing from the audience – pornography from the Twilight Zone, interspersed with wildly hilarious Texas electrocutions and deep-fried monkeys. People began showing up from Durham and Chapel Hill on Thursday Night, though several established writers who enjoyed listening found the atmosphere too raucous and “unmanaged” to read themselves.
After a year the Berkeley was getting so busy with music bookings they didn’t have room for a poetry reading. The Thursday night series moved down the block to The Paper Plant, whose new location had plenty of room for the readings it had sponsored all along. The cavernous industrial space had artist studios, papermaking and letterpress operations in the back, and lots of couches and corners crammed in around the books. There the readings took full flight as a part of a general art scene that included monthly art shows, workshops, installations and small press publishing. The leading Thursday night readers had their works published in chapbooks with handmade paper covers. Special events in this phase included visits from Steven G. from The Farm and Jack H. (future state laureate) from San Francisco. But it was the local performance art that really took off, led by the Joan Crawford Fan Club. Sheri Lifesaver and Jason M. wowed the audiences each night they performed, handing out commemorative wire clothes hangers wrapped in color Xeroxes of Joan Crawford, reminder lists for their strategies to drive The Cookie Store out of business with a firestorm of inane questions, and then putting everyone literally in the aisles laughing with their wicked satire, accompanied by Jason’s synthesizer. Animal rights, ecology and the homeless were addressed by various other performers. Clyde S. methodically stripped layer after layer of clothes as images of downtown “nesting sites” projected on a screen. John J. stabbed names in a phonebook with a pin. Cindy F. mesmerized the audiences with no-script recitations of her onerous love poetry. The feminist contingent was strong enough to generate a special “Hag’s Delight” feature. When anarchists from Madison, Wisconsin hit town we expected a pretty wild rant, but even the Thursday night crowd was a bit taken aback watching a naked man run around the room shouting and smoking a joint rolled with wild lettuce in a page of the Holy Bible. Now that’s lurid!
The Paper Plant closed in December of 1990. A beloved regular, Jeff E., started a new series at the Five-O on Hillsborough Street. It was fun but became dominated by amateur music and/or the sounds from the pool table. Sheri Lifesaver ran a fairly long lasting series at Cup-of-Joe’s that provided an important venue for the old crowd and some new-comers. As the new century approached a new group of performers shared their energies at Poetry Slams at Vertigo and Forum & Function. Currently the Stammer at Artspace offers an excellent open mike. Raleigh continues to try and find itself as a city and a good open mike is essential for that. Prove it to yourself by starting a series and being amazed at who shows up!
John Dancy-Jones July 2003
News & Observer’s Wake County Book Club review contest. 2003.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The protagonist in this book, a fireman whose job is to burn books, is a lost soul scarred by the harsh sociological nightmare of his future world. He is really the only character in the book: his wife and boss are ciphers representing, respectively, limp media addiction and ruthless macho power. Ray Bradbury never worried about being politically correct, and this short novel dates itself to the 1950’s in several ways while serving up a timeless message uniquely and strongly, well placed in the long lineage of twentieth century “Brave New Worlds.” It also accomplishes what all great science fiction must: an interesting and believable technical device (that marks it as SF) and enough literary and emotional content to make us want to read it. A diatribe on media, propaganda, and apathy, Fahrenheit 451 captures your mind and heart not with the fate of its hero but with the quality of its message: the freedom of ideas is an essential component of a fully human existence.
Before you can reach such lofty ideals, the story puts you in the suburb from Hell, where a robotic beast with infallible senses and poisonous needle teeth patrols the streets, sniffing out victims on the hit list of the invisible totalitarian government. Montag, the angst-filled fireman, cannot relate to his delusional, suicidal wife, nor to his genial but calculating boss. He does relate, however, to the victims of his work, and to the messianic teenager next door, who is the conscience of the book. From her he gets sensual but platonic infusions of radical thoughts. From his victims he gets books. The books he secretly obtains and hoards become wedges between himself and the carefully structured web of his existence. Montag never comes to terms with the people in his life – each relationship is cut away like bonds in a liberation. The growth and resolution in Montag is patterned with the insight given to the reader – the realization that is not the books as objects that are important – though they are the focus of the action. It is the ideas contained in the books that are such powerful agents of knowledge and self-awareness.
What is a perfect message for a young person coming of age in the 1960’s such as myself! We had our goals set by Sputnik, our values defined by flower children, our innocence robbed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Most science fiction was published by men, whose social mores seemed derived from the True and Argosy magazines found in my father’s den. Bradbury’s work had exactly that flavor – Rod Steiger played a wonderfully mysterious but unmistakably tough version of Rod Bradbury’s science fiction muse in “Illustrated Man.” But woven into the conventional science fiction is a sharp critique of humanity that applies more widely than any given set of technological evolutions or external novelties. The image of burning books becomes an unforgettable sign of universal malaise.
The fundamental optimism contained in the book involves the resolution of the plot (in case you haven’t read the book). Montag finally finds kindred spirits – railroad hoboes with Ph.D.s – and discovers that cultural knowledge is inherent and persistent in the human personality. A final SF device proposes that anyone who has read and loved a book has a recoverable memory of that book in his brain. “I’m The Book of Job,” he is greeted. “I am Plato’s Republic.” This was a fundamental lesson for me over three decades ago, being more enamored of books and libraries every year. I still love collecting books, but I understand their value. It is what’s inside our heads, not what ‘s printed on the page, that really holds the meaning. And meaning derives from plurality – from a rich multiplicity of images and possible meanings rather than the impoverished “reality shows” that society depends on in Fahrenheit 451. This book is a spookily accurate estimate of how low mass media might take us, and a reassuring good thought for the resilient spirits that want something better.
Ars gratia Dix
Public art in the Raleigh government complex reached a modest apotheosis recently with the installation of “A Return to Community,” a collaborative piece of environmental art that presented 158 linen pup tents as icons of the lost beds anticipated at Dorothea Dix Hospital in the next year.The tents were gracefully spread through the memorial garden just behind the Archives building at Lane and Wilmington streets. They were nestled around a permanent piece of public art, Jim Galluci’s red steel sculpture, whose friendly angles are beloved by the groups of climbing school children who lunch here on field trips each week. The tents were mostly anonymous off-white rectangles, but several were made of bright quilts, presenting a personal element in this highly effective mix of esthetics and political statement.
The clean, organized, luminary effect created by the array stood in complementary stead of the grimy hidden nesting sites each one implied. “Coming to your neighborhood soon,” promised the documentary poster.
Public art has certainly had its ups and downs in central Raleigh. I never understood the acrimony surrounding the “Light Tower” on Capital Boulevard, whose spectral variations served up a magical greeting to the sun each morning commute with my elementary age children. My daughter is 14 now, and she was entranced by the linen tents and was ready to write letters to her legislator about the fate of Dix and its spectacular oak grove. Right around the corner from the tent installation is the crowning masterpiece of Raleigh’s public art, the “Education Wall” by the late Vernon Pratt. A major part of this montage is a wonderful quote from Fred Chappell about children being “suitable to be awed.”
As we seek to judge (or better accept) the efforts of public art, we should all stay open to that piece of us that is ready for awe. You never know when surprising beauty will set up camp right in your backyard.
Independent Weekly art essay.1997
Like a struggling cetacean, dodging harpoons and trying to guess when it is safe to surface, the City Gallery of Contemporary Art continues its efforts to inform and elevate the middle range between high and low art in Raleigh. Nothing could be more important to the long-standing efforts to make Raleigh a “real” city; there is little to compare to the enlightened, cosmopolitan atmosphere created since City Gallery opened, with full city funding, in 1986.
But all the efforts of this institution have served to divorce it from the support of Raleigh’s conservative City Council, which last year denied the gallery all funds and forced its temporary closure. Where is the enmity coming from? Either City Gallery is doing something wrong, or somebody sees it doing something right – and doesn’t like it one bit.
So what is it about City Gallery? Maybe Sue Coe was the perfect example. There the artist sat, the hottest thing going in Manhattan in her bailiwick, talking frankly to Raleigh citizens about slaughterhouses and Pentagon wound labs, surrounded by her huge, distressing paintings.
Of course, there was also Contact: Photojournalism Since Vietnam, with its associated workshops on censorship, media and “What Went Wrong with America.” There were Alfredo Jaar’s surreal interpretations of dictatorship and torture in Chile, Uruguay, and Rwanda.
But then, the next month, City Gallery would have a beer tasting or Flemish trio music or perhaps a multi-media study of kingfishers. The gallery has always kept touch with the interests and cultural values of a wide range of Raleigh’s population.
While taking on the occasional local project – like the marvelous decade anthology of George Bireline’s work – City Gallery has mostly been a venue for experimental, multimedia and “quirky” art forms that otherwise get little attention in local galleries or in the state museum. But its local impact has been magnified by the gallery’s readiness to partner with kindred spirits in the area. Manbites Dog Theatre called City Gallery home for a while, as did Richard Krawiec’s writing programs for low-income children and homeless people. And the gallery has held an annual open show, with all Raleigh citizens invited to come and hang whatever they want, as long as there’s wall space. (Bless Forum and Function for not allowing the Philistines on Hargett Street to rob us of that show his year, while City Gallery works toward a new home.)
My favorite City Gallery moment: watching readers and listeners in the Paper Voices poetry series lean against crates containing $4 million worth of Robert Rauschenberg prints. My least favorite City Gallery moment: watching a schizophrenic person nearly ruin the open reading following a magical presentation by choreographer and dancer Bill T. Jones. But this was also City Gallery’s gift: The gallery has taken on Moore Square and the full range of Raleigh’s downtown population like no other city institution. It has opened its doors to as much of the citizenry as it could reach, walking the fine line between proletarian and cosmopolitan s well as any other comparable institution in the country.
Why should a gallery take such risks and open itself to such a degree? I ran an open reading in downtown Raleigh for seven years, so I believe I can tell you why: because of the couple who walk in from the bus station with weary Normal Rockwell faces and quietly sign up to read, then get up and unfold a 5-by-10-foot art-work they have constructed from newspaper headlines during their years of travel. Or the laid-off steel worker who pulls up in his dilapidated van and unloads a half-dozen bizarre metallic shrines to Jesus. The people of the street don’t want to piss on Christ, after all; they want to find some meaning in life like anybody else.
When our voices raise for the new century, there are bound to be some strident ones. I’m glad the City Gallery will be around to give the best of them a venue.
In August, City Gallery announced plans to buy, renovate and occupy by 2000 an industrial space in downtown Raleigh. By 2006, it hopes to be fully independent of any public monies.
N & O letter to the editor, 1988.
Nurture local artists
Recent News and Observer articles on downtown arts organizations have brought out the crucial fallacies that pervade Raleigh’s vague, enduring attempts to inject a high-tax economy into southeast downtown. When leases were first being offered in City Market, the developers all but discouraged local business people from trying small high-risk business on the site, saying they needed highly-capitalized “mall type” businesses to make City Market work.
ArtSpace, on the other hand, began as an artist-oriented cooperative with goals of cheap rent and lots of synergy. These two approaches have come together in the overall downtown pattern not as a fusion but a congealment. City Market, ArtSpace and City Gallery are struggling in the wide space between big-money investors (or donors) and community needs.
We have basically watched the city trade the vegetable vendors for a chain deli, at four times the rent. ArtSpace and the City Gallery are beautiful facilities that serve a certain segment of the population, and the city should properly support them, relative to their contribution. Raleigh is blessed with a good supply of interesting and intelligent artists, and with a large middle-class audience willing to support them – but the needs and priorities of those tow groups are by no means identical. The already top-heavy “art bureaucracy” in Raleigh has been capped by the infant-umbrella Arts Foundation, and care must be taken that the public arts in Raleigh are open and democratized, serving poor and wealthy, nurturing established and unknown artists.
City government can take a lesson from the best trends in downtown arts: Drop the romance with high-intensity national trends and focus on nurturing and unburdening the naturally evolving community of local efforts.
Fine Arts Research and Communications Enterprises
An early poem.
My ode to the internet, though I knew it not at the time. Published in UNC-G’s Coraddi Magazine in 1979.
An Infinity of Words, Liquid
Prufrock led me to these depths:
a warm and salty cave;
bubbly and amphibious
I have somehow learned
not to drown.
But the slowness!
God, each sucking breath
seems never to end, never to change
as my laboring lungs
seep the ocean’s blood
through swollen capillaries.
Work is frustrating down here,
early evenings the worst:
heaving rounded pebbles and shell fragments
up toward the surface,
the occasional boater I can thus attract
indulging in a quick dip
to see my creations,
the yield of a long day’s groping.
This time of year it’s still slow
but I’m getting ready for the summer.
My arms are getting thick and ripply
pushing through the heavy green water
at half speed –
most throws even yet
never reach the top
but catch themselves
on the drifting currents that swirl
right where the light starts to fail.
Each day, though, a few more stones
push through the swell
like clumsy striking fish,
alerting the bronzed fishermen
and their gaggle of flower-shirted tourists
to the human life beneath them.
Something of a legend I’ve become,
laughed about in the island bars,
monstrously distorted in travel guides:
a lot they know. I never show myself,
only lure them down and hide,
giggling to myself inside the cave
as the gapers, tanked and masked,
inspect the curious signs of life
I have arranged for their improvement.
Never yet has a group discovered my pieces
and let them lie. Scooping them up in net bags
they jerk their ropes and slowly ascend,
spreading their find on slippery decks
and never failing to remark
how much the light and air have changed
the thing they saw below.
Riding the seaweed, I have to laugh,
hearing them curse the failure to recover
whatever special quality it was that
made my arrangements so luminous, resonant.
As soon as the water clears
I gather materials, start again.
It was scary at first
eating the ocean
with easy gulps that send whispering eddies
around my ears, tickling the rotting ends of hair.
My skin has grown pale and feathery,
greasy to the touch.
A layer of translucent organisms
thickens daily on my exposed skin.
Two days ago I awoke
to a pair of toad-like sucker fish
nuzzling my calves.
I ate them for breakfast.
Food is too simple –
even if my hunger were real, which it’s not.
I’m starting to feel my body opening up,
the pores accepting nutrients
from the murky water of the cave
while I sleep.
Maybe I’m getting used to this.
Three college sonnets (after the Bard) graciously published by Michael Snider’s Sonnetarium
Thu – March 25, 2004
Three from John Dancy-Jones
The simple words of love, when whispered sweet,
Are truths which speak a feeling lost in sound;
To reason with the mind is to defeat
The warm espirit with which the words resound.
The union of your presence and my love
Imparts to words an airy eloquence,
Which obviates my restless urge to prove
My feelings in some rational defense.
Yet when from you I find myself apart,
And solitute pricks memory’s lonesome muse,
Then clever words are solace to the heart
And works of skill, thought cold, can still amuse.
Yet stifled in those structured words of art
Are feelings unexpressed: locked in the heart.
Blue Poem for a First Rose
Blue is the color water most desires
Water reflects all colors that are true:
Killing with clarity love’s consuming fires
water, desiring blue, reflects no blue.
Blue colorfast, clings lightly to your eyes
Blue a soft lace, thin veil laid on gray
Blue-grey the sea beckons from your eyes
Secret blue songs of a quiet blue bay.
Ocean adrift I am lost in your grey eyes
Grey, your eys flash with innocence, wise and strong
I am awesruck by the strength in your grey eyes
I am heartstruck by looking long and long.
Blue and true grey your eyes are a dance of light
Blue and true grey your eyes are a heart’s delight.
I would have had you learn well to say no:
To see you armed in face of constant plea
To know your kind consent, once gained, was free
And not that by which you your pity show.
You pity need I none, or so I’ll say
At least, far more your love I would desire,
Would pity those whose hearts were not on fire,
Beside which sweet pain pleasure seems child’s play.
On fire I would be, yet I drift in space
Succumbing to the chill of your clear reasons,
And cannot kindle you with those hot treasons
Which, since I vowed them wrong, are not my place.
Yet still the secret flame within me burns
And more, not less, my heart for yours still yearns.
FanFic Page – Tolkien pastiche. One example below.
I trampled bright days
and smelled my flowers
like any other hobie
til the day my cousin
found the reed roots
daring me to strike him!
Pike him right
between the eyes I did.
Spit my spite
as well you might
hate the light
Smeagol smiled at jokes and fooling
jests and races kept me breathing
sun was warm and good
sleep came after food
now my eyes are bright
hate the light
spit my spite
as well you might
if golden ring ensnared you.
First it took me deep inside
to hide beside the fishy pool
for untold years I lost my count
my body was a hidden safe
the treasure eating me alive
I shrank and shrunk
and faded fast and slow
I came to know
the ways of rocks
I bided time and time was lost
until that day that wicked day
the scheming hobbit took my prize.
Stolen lost my precious gone
I braved the moon I saw the sun
once more I withered as a weed
shrank my skin and ate red meat
my fishy sleep was stolen sharp
that hobbit woke me from my death
and death he brought as caught I was
the ring had gathered all and me
and set in motion, all was free
the ring, the war, here was my chance
my shriveled squeaking lurid dance
my mad dash for ring power.
Caught not once but twice good/evil
had their chance with Gollum’s secrets
twice not once I made my way
out of their arms to my last stand.
Blasted bittered fried by evil eye
squeezed by spider’s monstrous web
cowered by the big ones
shunned by small, Smeagol finds at last
a bit of singing in the soft tone
of a hobbit kind and true
yet he was the thief’s heir
in the end my tale came true
Precious sings my song in hell.