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The Musical Emblem

ISSUE:  Summer 1970


“… on the lonely height where all are in God’s eye
There cannot be, confusion of our sound forgot,
A single soul that lacks a sweet crystalline cry.”

Count the clock-face eyes of children housed
In dark, perdurable hospitals of the night,
The young men lost by fine miscalculations,
Some thousand brown men swirled and sunk
In the cracking of a fault, or half a million Asians
Wrapped in fire who, looking all alike,
Must count as one because the faces that the fire
Has kissed must look alike; arrange the vacant
Sun-shattering aircraft disintegrations,
Great railway wrecks in Italy or France,
Cars flipped and crushed or telescoped into eternal stations,
All crashes, the sure family in the tentative car
Singing down the highway on vacation,
Singing to the music of an instrument,
The harmonica or perhaps a guitar, an hour and we
Pass where steel scavengers ring in
Their centaur-wreck; measure the pestilence
And disease billowing like mist across
The will’s sub-continent, apocalyptic figures,
Red, yellow, black, white, measure the casual
And the planned starvations, the hollow eyes
Spearing out of darkness, the running silica
Eyes of infants, the slivered metronomic
Arm within the flowing, air-blown sleeve
That clicks entropic arbitrary tunes
Whose harmony is forced in a closed system:
Least energy expended on one life
Disorders past all hope the hidden lives,
Pure time measured by the purely random
Stops short in gravity’s contrapuntal strain.
An image of earth and fire and earth again
Forms in my mind. Mirror, or hour-glass, or both?
The disintegrating asymmetric hand
Beating on time’s crystal windowpane,
The quartz clocks of embryo eyes run down,
Dying, all dying, four-figured, all myth,
Imagine the bullet dodged, the car swerved,
The plane missed that pours death on another head
“… our faces, Lord, are hidden in pyramids of fire,”
But if the eyes are dead, undone the nerve’s skein,
Dead and undone,
Who knows between the candle and the coin?
Mass death, mass of the dead, massed dead—
Such breaking only can come back again
In broken images, if anything
Comes back then from that bewildering
Gratuity of death. I know no creature made of earth
But makes some shrill peep when it dies,
And does it, dying thus, leap up like flame
And from that death arise
And rising build the spiraling ground melody of grace
Braided with strains of pentacostal fire,
All fire and shadows whirled and turned as wind-whipped flame,
As flame before the livid, night-edged blast,
A music of cracked voices in the fire? That?
Or just some whirring canticle of waste and wrong? 
Yes or no? I have listened these quick years
And for this death have never heard that song. 


“Melody is individualized emotion, just as orchestral music is the harmonizing again of many separate, individual emotions or experiences.”
    —D. H. Lawrence

 Such talk of earth and fire has force for minds
Grounded to an Eastern persuasion; minds like ours,
Now linear, now melodic, cannot catch
That elemental meaning nor understand
A form that’s not conceptual incantation—
The mass of the dead and their expanded moment.
Singing down the half-light line of highway
One warm evening, the road unrolling before
Rolling up behind, singing a melody
Moving along a line, translating
Future into past, continuous as a violin’s note
Woven on a violin string, relating
One non-existence to another, I was passed, passed,
And passed by cyclists coming from the dark,
Hurrying on, headlong, unknowing,
One rode the stuttering catapult to darkness
That at the sudden cross impacting, bled.
His shoulders limp with cervical despair,
I passed him on the road, gnarled and drowning in
The ocean of his blood.
                                         Lapping his feet,
The gentle waves beat the pink outrigger’s prow
Beneath the red and white umbrella’s shade.
His eyes hardened to glass or glittering sand,
A foreign man ventricularly laid
Across the frangible line of land and sea
By breaking of the lesser ebb and flow
Was dying among men ignorant of his tongue,
Unable to speak of what he saw, yet
Some mystic says somewhere to see
We must have eyes incapable of tears.
I say that rhetoric is wisdom and the four
True virtues courage, insight, sympathy,
Lastly solitude, claim that courage is
The form of these, and more, that rhetoric’s
Our stance or our song, having experienced
The sense of waste and wrong. Our faults are fear,
Guilt, lack of love, the inability
To love. I purpose that nothing shall be lost
Or missed, nothing too brutal, coarse, hurtful,
Hopeless, silly, or full of the moment’s frenzy
That courage can arrest in the movement of a song.
I praise a courage that is and needs no reason,
Wondering if it is such to trust what has been said
Should it appear I must be one of the kind
Who linger a distraught moment and pass
Like mist on the sun or wind across the grass
And do not leave a melody on the mind. 


 ”Really, universally, relations stop nowhere, and the exquisite problem of the artist is eternally but to draw, by a geometry of his own, the circle within which they shall happily appear to do so.”                 —Henry James 

Because of this question or questions of this sort,
Because I know how much of this is luck,
The complex variable, in the last resort
Made up of what we miss and what we lack,
Because even with the best precautions taken
Against the hundred adversaries I could beat,
Common sense is mistaken; it is a token;
It cannot stay the madman in the street. 

I know that just outside the circle slumbers
In darkness something nameless and chaotic
Breeding a terror real because neurotic,
Kin to the Greek fear of irrational numbers.
Such apprehension proves proportion seldom
Lasts against the cause’s chance effect.
Relation is incommensurable or random.
The reasoned life is a fragile artifact. 

Great Christians and great hedonists agree
Upon a rule of life, living each day
As if it were their last. Who can foresee
The time, who can predict the way
That will dissolve a tenuous unity?
Live in the moment, the most that they can say.
But if two such extremes collapse in this,
How worry what we lack or what we miss? 

So poems go a journey, but a few,
If the poet’s heart is driven to despair,
Are curved back to that bleak point where
They first began. No, I am not one who,
Though preoccupied with death like many
Young people nowadays, can yet command
The elusive circle’s grace or believe in any
Esthetic mode of life the young commend. 

What road is left me? Or what have I left myself?
Once on a beach, once in the blinding street,
A man died before my eyes. No line is straight
But will in time turn back upon itself,
One late opinion holds. Desire misleads us;
Here art and science are equally a fraud.
Two moments death has touched my sleeve and thus
Of the jarring third moment I am afraid. 
Religion has the future, art the past,
All that’s real the ablative edge between.
I defy the word “real.” What does it mean?
High art’s simple question “Will it last?”
Faith encrypting what we hope is so?
Declensions of the moment; we choose the other.
All I know proves what I do not know. I know
We cannot have both, I suspect we cannot have either.

The legendary cyclists are dead, and all
Lines end in bold parameters of song.
The spinning weight of the sun cannot singe
The heart’s blind eye or cure the mind’s ill,
The end is there’s no end, to keep or quit
A craft selected to make the moment mean,
If only in its turning. The craft is mine,
And mine to turn the phrase that curves the hurt. 

I do the necessary work that must
By each one be redone who makes the eye
And tongue impress a tone or tint whereby
We salvage what we lack or what we missed.
I bind all inextricably and full
Of a self-made, self-amusing melody,
Unable to say half what I feel,
Write to make the sound of what I see. 


I make a song simple as the sun
To hold a thought circular and still,
I stare the apple spheres into one
And find the rim dying on the hill.

                                  How many have I known
                                  And taught the rule of melody,
                                  So that I have grown
                                  Tired of the cello’s sound,
                                  Tired of the violin’s tone?

Pooling dark rings of water under skies,
Sounding the long circumference they join,
I burn away the mist from dead eyes
That call two the candle and the coin. 

                                  There have been a hundred
                                  String’s subtle art has brought to me,
                                  Lately I have wondered
                                  Where is the magic ground,
                                  Lost or fled or sundered?

I toss the pulsing apples in the air
To lay the brown horizon on a desk,
Turning the coin against the candle’s flare,
Return the partial fire-dreaming disc. 

                                  With too much explaining
                                  It has all seemed trickery,
                                  String’s hard dramatic straining,
                                  Wherein the joy was bound,
                                  Was wavering, was


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