EXPANSIVE POETRY ONLINE
A Journal of Contemporary Arts 

 

 

POEMS

by

Frederick Turner
____________

STONE
        for Paul Harris

It's held its poise for half a billion years.
The interfaces of its old inclusions
Hear what impacts it and serve as its ears.
Its crystals grow with any chance transfusions;
Its virtue is in this: that it coheres;--

And thus makes time last, so that other things
Have futures to inhabit, infrastructure.
It sets a tone that simply rings and rings
So other resonances draw their picture
Upon its obdurate foretokenings.

Those later forms, those crystal polymers
That claim the name of life, are more impatient.
The stone believes their matings are perverse;
Its aeons make it quietly complacent,
As actual record of the universe.

Between its two chief forms of resonance,
Acoustic shocks that must be compensated
And thermal buzzings that could melt its dance,
It forms a music, old and complicated,
That has its own dark stubborn elegance.

SEPPUKA

I think of Mishima, whose excellence,
Anguished with all the ugliness about him,
Tore loose the lilliputian bonds of sense
And left a world that was more safe without him;

That reincarnate cherry-bloom he wooed,
The quick breath of pure youth in its glory--
That Best must be the enemy of the Good,
And all perfections must be transitory.

There can be no serene peach-emperor,
The people need their food, their laws, their vote;
He burned the withered garland of the war,
And slew his folly with the blow he smote.

For we who honor him must teach and serve
A lesser world that he did not deserve.

THE STORM OF 2021

Down from the north pole this great paw of cold
Has reached out, lunged across the continent,
As in the stadial ice-ages of old,
To bury Texas in its element:
White snow, as pure and virginal as death,
And air as cold as stone, as hard as steel,
So that all creatures that are warmed by breath
Recognize absence as a thing you feel.
This snow is white now, but when all is through,
The oxygen will fall, in flakes of blue.

 

____________________

TO MY FRIEND
     
for Petöfi

   by János Arany

(translated from the Hungarian by Zsuzsanna Ozsváth and Frederick Turner.
Sandor Petöfi was the other great poet of the time. Petöfi died a year later
in the Hungarian revolution of 1849.)


You’re urging me to write some poetry,
And if I could obey, how glad I’d be!
But Pegasus won’t gallop, that damn nag,
Oh no! it toddles, and its hooves just drag.

Last night I settled down to write again,
And got as far as chewing on my pen:
The crows should rip up such a useless horse:
I shouted “giddy-up!” till I was hoarse.

Today I put on your fur hat, to see
If some Petöfi might rub off on me:
I scratched “To him” and “For my friend”—such stuff--
The muse had hiccups and cried out “enough!”

So. Good-for-nothing, then; the reason why?
My heart is full of tumult, as am I.
Its guest arrived, and I must make it fit,
Each little feeling is concerned with it.

Those silly windbag feelings, all astray!
They bump each other in their disarray:
This guest is great—no wonder they’re askew!--
And he is dear to it, for he is you.
 

 

WHO IS THE TRUE AMERICAN?

Two women went to Solomon:
Each claimed the baby as her own.
The wise king issued his decree:
“Divide the child in two,” said he.
One woman wept, resigned her claim:
The mother that deserved the name.

 

THE HARSHEST MORAL LAWS

If you resent the wealth of others, you are a thief in your heart.

If you resent the power of others, you are a tyrant in your heart.

If you resent the loves of others, you are a rapist in your heart.

If you resent the joy of others, you are a torturer in your heart.

If you resent the knowledge of others, you are an Alzheimer’s plaque in your heart.

If you resent the religion of others, you are a crucifier in your heart.

If you resent the race of others, you are a genocide in your heart.

If you resent the beauty of others, you are a monster in your heart.

If you resent the sins of others, you are a greater sinner in your heart.

If you resent the lives of others, you are a murderer in your heart.


          ___________________________

O
N THE POLITICAL TURN

The past’s a charnel-house where we go seeking
A bone with rotten flesh enough to chew,
Some moral sadism that still is leaking
Proof that the criminal’s not me, but you.

The past’s a place where giants in the torment
Of loss and death and error would pursue
Some excellence or art unborn and dormant
That might grow up to something wild and new.

When we’re creating nothing, and we know it,
The only way to bear it’s if we knew
Something that cuts the wings from off a poet
And we can put them on as if we flew.

The past’s the place where we seek ancestors
That we can slander as we lick our sores.

PLAGUE MOON

The moon rides close to this plague-ridden planet,
Its great gaunt face looks over the hot land.
We are all mad, as plagues have always made us mad.

We cannot trust what we now think and feel.
The cruelty we do to us and others
Is part of our dark metamorphosis.

But not to be a victim’s not to be a victimizer.
The plague moon is a killer and a fertilizer,
A hunter and and a bringer into birth.

There is a violence in the act that makes us human,
We penetrate and we are penetrated,
We pass through pain, we fall into the world of light,

We open up our eyes and cry.

THE WOKE ONES

What’s wrong with the relief of suffering?
Isn’t the greatest evil pain?
To ask these questions is a foolish thing:
Why answer them again?

Even the brutes will value pain as less
Than loss of life, of liberty,
Of sex, of young, of place, of worthiness
Within their hierarchy.

We’re measured by what we will trade for pain:
This generation has no measure.
What triggers no discomfort in the brain
Is all they have of pleasure.

THE CYTOKINE* STORM

The body’s a seven-gated city
Whose citizens live by a norm,
Competing and sharing, in praise and in pity,
Except in the cytokine storm.

When the guardians designed to defend us
Come to hate those who do not conform,
Then what should befriend us becomes what will end us
In the wrath of the cytokine storm.

With a knee on the throat of his brother
The guardian has turned to the germ,
And the kinsman or lover is marked as the Other
And drowned in the cytokine storm.

When the Right is the poisonous virus,
The Left is what does us more harm;
When the Left is the toxin to fire and inspire us,
The Right is the cytokine storm.

We live in a sickening spiral
Where form is destroyed by reform,
Where the message that’s worst is the one that goes viral,
Unleashing the cytokine storm.

The only recourse in this fever
Is refusal to go with the swarm:
Reject the deceiver, instruct the believer,
And silence the cytokine storm.

*cytokine -- a peptide involved in cellular communication. In a cytokine storm, uncontrolled release causes massive organ damage and often death.


AFTER COVID

What is this creeping from the chrysalis?
An ancient form of life.
What is the purpose of its metamorphosis?
Creation out of strife.

A strange return to cottage industry;
A kind of money-mine;
An odd contemplative philosophy;
Home redesigned as shrine;

A silence in the tumult of the sky;
Cities designed for friends;
Roads turned to streets, walks for the passers-by;
Places not means but ends;

The marketplace become an everywhere;
Work as its own sweet scrip;
All persons servants, everyone an heir;
Wealth made of craftsmanship;

The family come back from its long death;
The person valued for the mind;
Earth breathing now its green and azure breath,
Gardened by humankind;

And now the universe is opened wide,
The bold explorers fly:
Our wings now grown to bear us on the ride
Into the starry sky.

 

        __________________

 

 

THE SUNNY DAY*

This huge bright sky with fleets of flying clouds
Is a grand theater of blue and white,
With giant players among lesser crowds
Walking the world’s stage in the sun’s vast light—

A stage that is a riot of avid green,
Dying and growing, star-scattered with flowers,
Hill beyond hill, a gaudy-painted scene,
Violet-horizoned, dimmed with distant showers;

And far beyond, we know, the blue goes black,
Boiling with shoals of stars still freshly sown,
And worlds invisible, all the way back,
Dragoned perhaps with green life of their own.

And stranger still, behind these eyes that see,
Are inner engines, scale nested in scale,
Seething with wet electrochemistry
In intricate exchange, contest, and sale.

With such enormous gifts, how could we fear
This universe has not the generosity
To give us all we need, preserve what’s dear,
Bring all things to their proper destiny?

For what it says is goodness: love abounding;
Exuberance in play; a merry dance;
A curiosity, odd and astounding;
A kind of self-exploring innocence.

Then will I give my trust to such a being
(Being it is, the “uni” of the “verse”),
And see this as an earnest, guaranteeing
The better outcome always from the worse?

But how did all this richness come to be?
What process brought this drama to the stage?
Ah, it was death, extinction, agony,
A billion branches pruned on every page,

A vast and dreadful storybook of waste,
Stars broken, planets scorched, and species lost,
Languages quite forgotten, tribes erased,
Oceans depopulate by fire or frost.

And all my loves, my friends, my own odd mind
Must surely go that way, into the past,
Into the great darkness that rears up behind
The gorgeous stage where each scene is the last.

Of what strange tissue, then, must my faith be?
First, like all else that paid the final price,
I must thank those that gave their lives for me,
And copy them, and come to sacrifice.

But all there ever was is living still,
Flying in waves of subtle information
Between the stars undying yet, until
It be embodied once more in creation;

Memory’s just a hint of what is stored
Within the body of this theater;
A coin we keep back from the dragon’s hoard
With her permission, redolent of her.

So second, I must learn to take the light
Not as a token, but reality;
And walk its passage with a step as light
As clouds in air, as fleets upon the sea.

Dragon creatrix, mistress of the play,
Who keeps a register of all she’s given,
Agia Sophia, may this shining day
Be for your children but a port of heaven.

         *from More Light, Mundus Artium Press, 2017

        __________________

 

ADDENDUM TO THE REPORT
O
F MAJOR TANG HUŎXȊNG,
CULTURAL OFFICER,
5TH MARS EXPEDITION, 2036

Approach to the abandoned US site
Proved hazardous due to the storm event.
Two hours short of bingo fuel the wind
Slackened enough for visibility.
I and Lieutenant Yueh investigated
What seemed the base’s wrecked command module
As detailed in the field report above.

I add this personal reflection in
Respect for our abandoned predecessors.
It was no satisfaction to us surely
To see their work betrayed by those at home.
We all watched the disruptions of the ‘twenties
And saw the rehabilitation camps set up
In Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia,
We saw the great castrati, Musk and Bezos,
And all the other guilty CEOs
Led through the howling crowds to their confinement;
The show-trials in the Nascar stadiums,
The pictures of the docile boys in school
Dull-eyed and stabilized with Ritalin,
The passage of the social justice laws,
The burning of the banks, the great tribunals
That followed on the wage and price controls.
It seemed to me that we rejoiced too much:
What was a loss to our opponent was
Also a loss to our humanity.

The bodies are recovered, and the data
Logged from their still undamaged field computers.
But as we left the wind veered round a point
And the sand blew fiercely on their aerials,
And a torn sheet of bright titanium
Began to sway and creak, and then the wind
Caught it, and suddenly a rhythmic groan
Began and rose into a somber howl.
It seemed a huge and grieving human voice.

Tell them back home: our enemies who came
And died there, shall be heroes of our own.

 

        __________________

 

PORTRAIT OF A MAN

My friend Fred Feirstein doesn’t lack for nerve:
Six times he’s faced death one way or another,
Stark horrors weathered with a kind of verve,
Drunk yet on poetry: my Jewish brother.

Doing the Lindy with his I.C. nurse,
Shooting a basket with an aneurism,
Writing his headlong, incorrigible verse,
He is a man, a fine anachronism.

He is the world’s most sentimental lover,
An addict quite besotted with his wife,
Able somehow to always rediscover
That mystery he’s worshipped all his life.

A man in honor and unthinking pride,
A mad and indefatigable talker,
A healer always on the patient’s side,
A kvetcher and a generous New Yorker.

To power he’s his own worst enemy,
Neglects the means, and ravens for the ends;
He’s never learned the arts of flattery,
Distrusts the world, and over-trusts his friends.

And in this man there is an innocence
For all his overt cynicism still;
God give me too that fine insouciance,
That man’s, who is so very hard to kill.

And so his chess-game with the patient Reaper
Becomes an easy old familiarity;
To see him play makes everything get deeper:
I cannot say how much he means to me.

 

        __________________

 

 

THE HOMEBOY'S TALE

I was caught drinking from the womantap
And now I’m stripped and put into the pokey.
I’m not so timid though, so sad and anxious,
And now I’m writing—they don’t know I can.

I’m lucky, though, to be in Young-Folk’s Land—
Five of them now in California.
Nine of the ladies now are pregnant, and
I have a chance of being someone’s Dad.

They got a batch of red-hot videos,
And took me off the manwater for days,
So I was jerking like a maniac—
They must have milked a pint for the supplies!

We always get the best of everything:
Government issue, no shit bootleg stuff.
After the 90’s demographic crunch
They knew they’d need more young to serve the old.

The ladies here are pretty nice, I guess.
Last night they all were partying.
The serving-boys went easy cleaning up
And Jimmy told me what was on the news.

It seems we’ve had a boost, and Cal is up
To two mil now, despite the suicides.
But rare-earth stocks are down—more power cuts!—
And even birthing centers won’t be spared.

That shouldn’t faze our pretty little heads.
We eat our soy and look out at the bay
And breathe the fresh clean air, don’t have to shave,
And drink our manwater till duty calls.

But sometimes, though, when I can sneak a peek,
I see the videos the bosses see
(Against the law!) that come down from the sky,
And get the strangest feeling in my groin.

Up there among the asteroids, real men
--Like me!—are building out new worlds,
The women aren’t always in command,
And there’s a thing called friendship there between them.

I have to be more careful. Billy-Joe
Last year went off the manwater for months
And toxic-masc got into him, and then
He touched young Madam Maud and got in trouble,

And now he can’t pee straight and has no balls.

                  __________________

 

TERATORN

I am the dragon who has no companions.
I am the angel who lacks for a mate.
Here, let me tell you how I in the pride of my manhood
Broke all the bonds of humanity--burst through the webworks of fate.
I was the one who turned the key of the chromosome,
Unlocked the art of the ribosome, that great spinner of cells,
Sought and found in the chaos of introns and reduplications
The master paradigms, sunk in their fathomless wells.
Lightly I came to know the pattern of epigenetics,
Form that follows on use,
How the brain twitches the form that its carapace takes,
Letting our history loose,
The genes half buried of mammal and bird and dinosaur,
Still resurrectible, insect and mollusk and shelly crustacean,
Sleeping unwakened for hundreds of millions of years,
Awaiting the call to their second creation.

And I, the first, and maybe the only,
Found the innermost path of pure contemplation
Where the mind, unfellowed and lonely,
Alters the body itself in its self-immolation,
Seeks out the gates of its lost metamorphosis,
Falls into trance and fashions a self-mausoleum,
A stony obdurate chrysalis;
Finds it future encased in its own dark museum.

The internal organs dissolved, and all but the brain
Broke down and liquified, seething with hot transformation—
How can I tell of the pain
And the exquisite spasms of pleasure and wild liberation?
Oh, it was horrible too: for spouts of bodily fluid, unneeded now in the process,
Jetted from me, with clouds of unspeakable gas,
The great gestalt, discarding the dregs of osmosis,
Shrank by two-thirds of its mass.

Two of my vertebrae, each of them bearing a rib
Torn from the breastbone and tipped now with fingerlets,
Clothed themselves out with fine membranes--each mast with a jib--,
Sprang out and away, fibers emerging from spinnerets,
Pulsing with hardening fluid, the cores of the wings.
These now were suddenly pimpled with gooseflesh,
Out of which grew the very strangest of things,
For look, each feather that made up the fletch
Was a dragonfly pinion, the rustly transparent rotor of a cicada.
Some virus back in the Permian doubtless wormed its way in
Carrying DNA wisps from an insect to ravish its Leda,
And leave a trace, a putative unspoken origin.

The ribs remaining thrust out the breastshell and tilted it
Forming an anchor to root
The cable-thick muscles of flight:
A thorax, a keel, like the obdurate bowl of the lute.
And over the green iridescence of saurian skin
A soft and fuzzy white down burst forth like a snowstorm
To cushion and insulate that red firebox within.
All over the fletching and trimming defined a new form,
As the pelvis sprouted a second leg-set, soon covered with pennae
And the old legs thinned and lightened to match it,
And from my maxillary bones emerged a pair of antennae,
All self-governed by the same epigenetical ratchet.

The eyes of the mantis shrimp in rainbowy clusters
Burst from the shell of the brow-ridge and spread to two domes,
Compound, with sixteen photoreceptors,
Vision beyond all human pictures and poems.
Over them hesitate waves of polychromatic diffraction:
The horror that everyone felt when they saw
Was surely a human reaction;
What is called for is awe.

I am alone,
Lost on the island of I,
Stranded and left on the bourn of the known;
All I can do is to fly.

 

 

ASonnet” for Leopardi

The cedars’ shadows lengthen on the hill,
The urgent wooing doves forever mourn,
A fountain clatters, music never still,
And I compose in cadences outworn.

Cicadas too contest the water’s song,
Shrilling within the laurel by the wall;
Below, a Maserati howls along
The corniche where the precipice must fall.

And so I write, a live anachronism,
One foot in this age, one in quite another,
Too old to care about the criticism,
And old enough to celebrate a brother:

How could I otherwise, in this hill town
Where Leopardi dreamed his hopeless dreams,
As the warm evening gently settles down,
And “is” resolves itself once more to “seems:”

A prolonged sonnet, stretching out the time
Until the obvious and final rhyme.

                          Recanati, 6/17/ 2019

 

Cake or Death

Two things you never get together,
If you have one, you’ve lost the other.
Free love or happy families,
Banking or aristocracies,
A welfare net or immigration,
Consensus or imagination,
Hostile love or untouched soul,
War in the corals, calm in the shoal,
Free life choice or free religion,
Wrongful tolerance, righteous dudgeon,
Medical progress, equal health,
Social justice, social wealth,
Competition or corruption,
Luxury or reproduction,
Mindfulness or exploration,
Drudgery or automation,
Human freedom, human meaning,
Planet cleaning, planet greening,
Zero- or nonzero-sum,
Kingdom now or kingdom come.

 

 

 

 Smell: A Cosmological Inquiry

 

 

     Yin

 

Why do we humans love the smell of flowers?

How do the flowers know the tastes of bees?

Fruit-scent, food-signal, lacks for us the powers

Of blossom-perfume, meant for bees to please.

 

Does this, then, point to some mysterious freeing?

For why would we prefer a plant-hormone,

The wave and pointer of another being,

The bees’ food-sign and lunch-bell, to our own?

 

The world’s all signalings. There is no matter

That is not old and hibernating signs.

What was once information, photon-chatter,

Is knit into the molecule’s confines.

 

The flower’s sweet and tinted symmetry

Traps something more than just the humble bee.

 

 

     Yang

 

Or is it sex that makes us love the scent

Of flowers more than that of offered food?

The starving lover in his ravishment

Neglects his belly for a greater good.

 

But no. His lady strives, with dainty care,

Dabbing plant-perfume on, to hide or mask

The human sex-smell lest it taint the air,

Denying what her lover did not ask.

 

Is then the virtue-signal more perverse,

More fatally attractive than her lap—

Aping the information-universe

When it entombed its light in matter’s trap?

 

And so the flower-smell, with lying breath,

Offers a fruit that makes a mock of death.

 

 

 

 

                

 

 

 

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