From Wild Angels (1960–1975)
I made a poem going
to sleep last night, woke
in sunlight, it was clean forgotten.
If it was any good, gods
of the great darkness
where sleep goes and farther
death goes, you not named,
then as true offering
Somewhere I read
that when they finally staggered off the mountain
into some strange town, past drunk,
hoarse, half naked, blear-eyed,
blood dried under broken nails
and across young thighs,
but still jeering and joking, still trying
to dance, lurching and yelling, but falling
dead asleep by the market stalls,
sprawled helpless, flat out, then
would come and stand nightlong in the agora
as ewes and cows in the night fields,
guarding, watching them
as their mothers
watched over them.
And no man
that fierce decorum.
From A Book of Songs
The Old Lady
I have dreed my dree, I have wooed my wyrd,
and now I shall grow a five-foot beard
and braid it into tiny braids
and wander where the webfoot wades
among the water’s shining blades.
I will fear nothing I have feared.
I’m the queen of spades, the jack of trades,
braiding my knives into my beard.
Why should I know what I have known?
Once was enough to make it my own.
The things I got I will forget.
I’ll knot my beard into a net
and cast the net and catch a fish
who will ungrant my every wish
and leave me nothing but a stone
on the riverbed alone,
leave me nothing but a rock
where the feet of herons walk.
Creation of the Horse
The salt green uncle-god, the Earthquaker,
thought of a creature with muscles like sea-swells
to leap across the beaches like a breaker
and beat on the earth like the waves with its feet.
So he struck a startled island with his trident
and then himself stood back in surprise
at the fiery uprearing, the white mane flying,
the foam-spattered flanks and the earth-dark eyes.
The Arts of Old Age
written in the airport
I learn the arts of old age day by day:
the expertise of being lame; the sense
of unimpatient impotence;
the irony of all accomplishments;
the silent, furtive welcome of delay.
Will fear of the foreboding dream
avert or invite the prophecy?
How to foretell the paths of dust
caught in this visionary whirl,
this standing wind, this spiral stream?
A breath breathed out will set me free.
I’ll choose to do the thing I must.
The world dreamed me, I dream the world.
January Night Prayer
Bellchimes jangle, freakish wind
whistles icy out of desert lands
over the mountains. Janus, Lord
of winter and beginnings, riven
and shaken, with two faces,
watcher at the gates of winds and cities,
god of the wakeful:
keep me from coldhanded envy
and petty anger. Open
my soul to the vast
dark places. Say to me, say again,
nothing is taken, only given.