Thursday, December 17, 2009

For Margaret Fuller


A windy dream reminded me

to remember your name. Drowned

with husband and child off Long Island,

your carcass devoured by cod

and haddock, you left one book,

Women of the Nineteenth Century

a sample of your genius to goad

our late and belated era.


I forgot your name because age

misfiled a dozen Margarets—

colleagues, athletes, cocktail party

handshakes. No lovers, I’m sure,

but an engraving of your profile

reminds me of Alexandria,

whose murder amid her children

just recently stopped resonating

in a milieu that no longer cares.


With his wide-eyed naturalist’s gaze

Thoreau searched for your remains

and found half of Ireland littered

on the beach. The dead reminded him

that everything is better alive,

a lesson he’d apply to white pines,

mast-high and upright in Maine,

by attributing souls to them.


I forgot your name so arose

to look it up. What did you write

that wouldn’t infuriate Hawthorne,

who resented “scribbling women”

and rendered you as Zenobia,

a muscular Blithedale irritant?

Sophia, your friend, would avenge

his sexism by scribbling over

his journals after his death.                           


Margaret Fuller, you married

Marquis Ossoli, bore his child,

and drowned as deeply as Emerson’s

Nature recommended. Next June,

if I survive this brittle cold,

maybe I’ll find a bone on a beach

and name it after you and other

intellects now hung in the sky

a mile or two out of reach.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Self-Portrait as a Snapping Turtle

Highly desirable, the shell’s
more comfortable than the collar
of a dress shirt. The rumpled jowls 
frame an arched expression bolder
yet more benign than my old one.

The pebble-grain complexion
suits a mood that requires many
years of foraging to effect.
Tiny eyes peer through black-rimmed
glasses I’ve drawn on the photo

to prove to friends it’s really me.
Despite their mineral glaze
these eyes see further and deeper
into pond-murk than I could
with my nearsighted hazel pair.

The hog-nose juts straight ahead
with an arrogance no human
could assert without invoking
the audible laughter of fate.
But the horn-hook of the upper jaw,

the “beak,” as some would call it,
justifies investing my soul
and ego in this sultry portrait.
That jaw can sever a finger
as well as drown a duckling.

It could rip any book to rags
and sneer down any argument.
Its fixed eloquence resists
the subtlest formal critique. 
Snugged in a muff of hide as tough

as jerky, I’m irresistible,
a force rather than a creature,
my fixed gaze and my appetite
prehistoric but slow enough
for friends and foes to avoid.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Cecropia Moths Mating

At midnight the chrysalis splits
and the female moth emerges,
her six-inch wingspan rumpled,
her mouthless segmented torso
limber and curved like a smile.
The male’s there waiting for her.
With a shudder of fragile patterns
they mate, knotting one bowtie.

I watch from only inches away,
pointing a camera to capture
this world-class pornography.
Too gradual, almost motionless,
this sex act defies the logic
of wasting most of a life cocooned. 

Spangled with blue and red knobs,
the rubbery green caterpillar
that last summer crept from leaf
to leaf with gourmet intentions
seemed a bustle of self-propulsion 
compared to these excruciating
creatures locked in a gesture
no human form could emulate
without collapsing into boredom.

Overhead, Canis Major crosses
the sky at a silent gallop.
The Dipper pours thousands of stars.
Whole galaxies snuff as forces
apply urgencies of dark matter
to the space we thought was empty
until physics taught us better.

The moths by pairing have perfected
their pattern of camouflage
and don’t require my guardianship;
so after I’ve snapped my photos
I walk away convinced I’ve seen
nothing my gray old passions
couldn’t have projected in dreams.