EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

POEMS  

by

BRIAN PALMER
____________

CRANES

 

One crane in search of his one crane along this braided river

Joins the myriad of cranes in grain along this braided river.

 

They eat in paradise beneath both sun and clouds as shadows

Race and, flickering, gild the plain along this braided river.

 

The cooing throat, a murmuring flute, now herds the scattered flock,

Strewn, earthbound, milling in the rain along this braided river.

 

They meet and wheel and dance on earth. They leap and slowly fall

With epoch joy, and in refrain along this braided river

 

Sing among the broken stalks to quell their fiery heads,

As trying seeds of doubt remain along this braided river—

 

Reconciliation with the soul’s true love is arduous.

But dusk alleviates the strain along this braided river:

 

Behind night’s veil, each pairing binds together that one truth

That all their wings and hearts contain along this braided river.

 

Cranes in blue-dark water marshal for the journey strength

And brace for parting and more pain along this braided river.

 

At dawn, they rise, and with tremendous booming will, they go.

The husk of sound and need remain along this braided river.

 

Go, pilgrim, with the cranes, and with their light and feathers fly.

Leave behind your body-brain along this braided river.

 

 

 

 

JOHN

 

Rain that fell so hard at dusk is lighter

In the darkness now yet falls still, steadily,

With will, as if to make this night eternal,

Turning me to letters to unlock

Some higher meaning, finding I’m unable

To escape the thoughts of earthly things.

 

            His field. The smell of hay, all wet, so pungent. . . .

 

Such digressions. I should strive for words

About a saint, a convert, the betrayer,

How they suffered on their plains of doubt

And taught me faith beyond myself. Instead,

 

            I watched the farmer watch the sky and then

            Begin to bale his hay that lay in windrows,

            Trying to outwork the coming storm. . . .

 

Or maybe I should write of running through

The pouring rain out to a chasm’s edge,

Of falling, linen then enshrouding me,

My body being lain in soft, green grass

Beside the sandaled feet of rose-crowned marble

Mary white against a pure blue sky.

 

            He failed at last as rain began to fall.

            He left his field, his chore undone—I felt

            His human anguish at that dusky moment. . . .

 

I sit distracted by the rain, and by

The questions: Could I farm this late in life?

Plant and gather with the hope of finding

Answers in the sureness of the seasons?

 

            Tonight, his failure courses through me still.

 

Who am I in this mysterious world?

I suppose that I am who I am, working

Rows of ink to simple, measured lines, like

             

            Soon the sun will rise and dry the earth.

 

And let them lift above the earth enough

That they might whisper intimations

As the hay half-harvested conveys:

 

That all of us will someday fall again

Beneath the scythe of love and leave behind

The rain, the toil, and this infernal night.

 

 

 

  

ONCE MORE BRIEFLY WHOLE

 

It’s dawn again and you with earthly senses

Make your way across this lonesome prairie,

Dodging eyes and slipping under fences,

Loping on with backward glances, wary.

 

Or are you looking for your ardent past

When you, encircled by the face of Moon,

Felt bound and loved? By day, you merely cast

A pale companion through the afternoon.

 

Some solace comes when in relief the walls

Of mesas stand a darker black than night,

And Moon in all her phases rises, falls,

With you in thrall to her ephemeral light.

 

And in those moments, once more briefly whole,

You howl the O of your soon sundered soul.

 

 

 

 

SEDNA’S HANDS

Sedna, Inuit fertility goddess of the sea, is twice betrayed by male figures: first, by a seabird-spirit disguised as a suitor who lures her to his craggy island where he mistreats her; and then by her father who, while rescuing her, is attacked by the indignant seabird’s clan. To save himself, he throws Sedna out of his kayak, cutting off her fingers when she tries to climb back in. Defeated, Sedna retreats to the bottom of the sea. Though with reason to be misanthropic, she instead chooses to be benevolent to humankind.

Her wounds are earth’s fatal wounds;

No more cat’s cradle to fix the sun.

Yet something true lives in the half-lit

World in fading autumn blue

Among twisted trees and willow twigs

Thin and black, and in the seas

That teem always at the cold top

Of the world turning gray and old.

Fertile crimson-green sweeps the air,

The untangling of braided hair.

Her wails have ended.

 

Her thumbs, the great bow whales, appear

In the leads and wait for us there.

Her fingers swim and fill our nets

To the brim in oblique sunlight.

Walrus, breath steaming, come

Streaming to land, with tusks that hold

The draping linen sky, and so

Conceals that fearful gaping void.

We hunt, they bleed red on the ice

And feed us in the semi-dark.

She calms.

 

With face in mangled palms, once hands

Now gnarled knobs of flesh, she stands

Crying as the wild shaman-combing

Of her hair sends sparks flying.

They form the circumpolar Bear

Who with his siblings of the air

Fills the vast, long-lingering night,

Bright children she will never bear;

She swallowed raw, false words of one

Perfidious pelagic bird.

Still, she remembers

 

Us. Her embers float in the sky

And warm this turning, twilit world

While she, self-exiled, sits alone

At the dark bottom of the sea.

Though pack ice, turgid, bends and moans

And rivers, frozen, crack like bones,

In sun or mist, and when it snows,

In open water, on the floes,

Everything lives; for, as she chooses,

Despite her useless hands, she gives

And gives.

 

 

 

 

LYRICS

 

They float in yards, in fields, and in wild places, too,

The pipe-notes, all day long, and just within our earshot;

Lyrics are the air, wood, water, rocks, and rain.

 

In scores, set free, they mingle in the shade of peach,

Beneath the osier, rose, and beech; and some rise sunward

Over foxes trotting through fresh-fallen snow,

 

And when we’re close to sleep, they come to light on us.

We touch our fingertips so sure that vague impressions

From those ancient instruments still linger there.

 

We are bound—not mired in ash piles at our feet—

To follow life to shady green remembered sounds;

Lyrics are the air, wood, water, rocks, and rain.

 

 

 

 

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