Read an Excerpt
Cool, Calm, & CollectedPoems 1960-2000
By Carolyn Kizer
Copper Canyon PressCopyright © 2002 Carolyn Kizer
All right reserved.
The Ungrateful Garden
Midas watched the golden crust
That formed over his streaming sores,
Hugged his agues, loved his lust,
But damned to hell the out-of-doors
Where blazing motes of sun impaled
The serried roses, metal-bright.
"Those famous flowers," Midas wailed,
"Have scorched my retina with light."
This gift, he'd thought, would gild his joys,
Silt up the waters of his grief;
His lawns a wilderness of noise,
The heavy clang of leaf on leaf.
Within, the golden cup is good
To heft, to sip the yellow mead.
Outside, in summer's rage, the rude
Gold thorn has made his fingers bleed.
"I strolled my halls in golden shift,
As ruddy as a lion's meat.
Then I rushed out to share my gift,
And golden stubble cut my feet."
Dazzled with wounds, he limped away
To climb into his golden bed.
Roses, roses can betray.
"Nature is evil," Midas said.
My mother -- preferring the strange to the tame:
Dove-note, bone marrow, deer dung,
Frog's belly distended with finny young,
Leaf-mold wilderness, harebell, toadstool,
Odd, small snakes roving through the leaves,
Metallic beetles rambling over stones: all
Wild and natural! -- flashed out her instinctive love, and quick, she
Picked up the fluttering, bleeding bat the cat laid at her feet,
And held the little horror to the mirror, where
He gazed on himself, and shrieked like an old screen door far off.
Depended from her pinched thumb, each wing
Came clattering down like a small black shutter.
Still tranquil, she began, "It's rather sweet ..."
The soft mouse body, the hard feral glint
In the caught eyes. Then we saw,
And recoiled: lice, pallid, yellow,
Nested within the wing-pits, cozily sucked and snoozed.
The thing dropped from her hands, and with its thud,
Swiftly, the cat, with a clean careful mouth
Closed on the soiled webs, growling, took them out to the
But still, dark blood, a sticky puddle on the floor
Remained, of all my mother's tender, wounding passion
For a whole wild, lost, betrayed, and secret life
Among its dens and burrows, its clean stones,
Whose denizens can turn upon the world
With spitting tongue, an odor, talon, claw,
To sting or soil benevolence, alien
As our clumsy traps, our random scatter of shot.
She swept to the kitchen. Turning on the tap,
She washed and washed the pity from her hands.
Let Dodo rejoice with the purple worm....
... the worm hath a part on our frame.
For I rejoice like a worm in the rain....
This was childhood:
Walking through the worms
After a rain,
Trying not to wound
Not to maim the self
By any kind of death.
Move among the worms,
Pearly and purple,
Curling and opal,
Tickled by the sidewalk,
Heaped over the lines
Of childhood's first map:
Step on a line
Break your mother's spine
Step on a crack
Break your mother's back.
Take care of Mother,
Beware of Father,
Protect foot and finger,
My heart and my heel.
Tiptoe on the spaces,
Don't tread on sex!
Life in small forms --
The recently born --
Whelms us in childhood:
We grow as we move
Close to the ground,
Eyes in our toes.
The morsels of soil
Cling to a worm
When he comes to rain
Fresh from the ground:
Bruised as a blueberry,
Bare as a rose,
Vulnerable as veins,
Naked as a nose.
The earthworm smell
Of each commencement,
The sense that the new
Owns all that it is.
When the torrents end,
God gloats at the world.
By the Riverside
Do not call from memory -- all numbers have changed.
FROM THE COVER OF THE
Once I lived at a Riverside
1-3-7-5, by a real stream, Hangman's Creek,
Named from an old pine down the hill,
On which three Indians died. As a child,
I modeled the Crucifixion on that tree
Because I'd heard two Indians were thieves
Strung up by soldiers from Fort Wright in early days,
But no one remembered who the third one was.
Once, in winter, I saw an old Indian wade,
Breaking the thin ice with his thighs.
His squaw crouched modestly in the water,
But he stood up tall, buck-naked. "Cold!" he said,
Proud of his iron flesh, the color of rust,
And his bold manhood, roused by the shock of ice.
He grinned as he spoke, struck his hard chest a blow
Once, with his fist ... So I call, from memory,
That tall old Indian, standing in the water.
And I am not put off by an operator
Saying, "Sor-ree, the lion is busy ..."
Then, I would tremble, seeing a real lion
Trammeled in endless, golden coils of wire,
Pawing a switchboard in some mysterious
Central office, where animals ran the world,
As I knew they did. To the brave belonged the power.
Christ was a brave, beneath that gauzy clout.
I whispered to the corners of my room, where lions
Crowded at night, blotting the walls with shadows,
As the wind tore at a gutter beneath the eaves,
Moaned with the power of quiet animals
And the old pine, down the hill,
where Indians hung:
Telling my prayers, not on a palefaced Sunday
Nor to a red God, who could walk on water
When winter hardened, and the ice grew stronger.
Now I call up godhead and manhood, both,
As they emerged for a child by the Riverside.
But they are all dead Indians now. They answer
Only to me. The numbers have not changed.
A Widow in Wintertime
Last night a baby gargled in the throes
Of a fatal spasm. My children are all grown
Past infant strangles; so, reassured, I knew
Some other baby perished in the snow.
But no. The cat was making love again.
Later, I went down and let her in.
She hung her tail, flagging from her sins.
Though she'd eaten, I forked out another dinner,
Being myself hungry all ways, and thin
From metaphysic famines she knows nothing of,
The feckless beast! Even so, resemblances
Were on my mind: female and feline, though
She preens herself from satisfaction, and does
Not mind lying even in snow. She is
Lofty and bedraggled, without the need to choose.
As an ex-animal, I look fondly on
Her excesses and simplicities, and would not return
To them; taking no marks for what I have become,
Merely that my nine lives peal in my ears again
And again, ring in these austerities,
These arbitrary disciplines of mine,
Most of them trivial: like covering
The children on my way to bed, and trying
To live well enough alone, and not to dream
Of grappling in the snow, claws plunged in fur,
Or waken in a caterwaul of dying.
One to Nothing
The bibulous eagle behind me at the ball game:
"Shucks a'mighty!" coming through the rye
And 7-Up, "I didn't mean to kick you, lady.
When you go to the Eagles' convention, you just go!"
Then he needles the batter from Sacramento:
"Too much ego!" he yells. "The old ego curse,
That'll hex him. The old ego never fails.
See?" he says to his phlegmatic friend,
"The bastard fanned!" And "Schucks a'mighty!"
Says again, an American from an English novel,
Named Horace or Homer, a strange colonial bird,
A raw provincial with his outmoded slang.
"Say!" he cries to his friend, "just now I opened
One eye, saw the catcher, then the batter
In a little circle. And everything went brown.
What happened?" "Nothing!" says his friend.
He leans beside me, proffers the open pint.
My ego spurns him. "Fly away!" I say
To the badge on his breast. Eagle flaps down,
Confides in the man on first: "Just once a year
I have fun -- see? -- at the Eagles' convention.
Later I meet the other dignitaries
At the hotel. Forgive me. I'm from a small town,"
He sighs, puts his head in the lap of his friend,
Listens to the portable radio, as the announcer
Makes sense of a blurry ball game
When batters turn brown, curl at the edges,
Fan and fan, like girls in early English novels,
And you can't tell the players, even with a program.
The count is two and one. We hear the crack!
Bat skids across the grass. The runner's on!
But eagle sleeps; he dreams away the ball game.
The dozen wasted hits, the double-plays
are lost on him, as we lose, by one run.
Having his inning curled in a little circle,
He emerges, sucks his bottle; his badge mislaid
In the last of the ninth. We surge to the exits
While this bird claws among the peanut shells
In search of his ego. Carry him, friend,
To the dignitaries, to the eagle's aerie,
Where his mate will hone her talons on his breast.
As D.H. Lawrence wished, he has cracked the shell
Of his ego, but devoured it like a nut
Washed down with rye. And he finds oblivion
Like the lost hero of a Modern English Novel.
What happens? Nothing. Even the brilliant infield
Turns brown. Lights out. The circle fades below.
Shucks a'mighty. If you're an eagle, you just go.
The Death of a Public Servant
in memoriam, Herbert Norman
ENVOY ACCUSED OF BEING RED KILLS SELF
Cairo, April 4, 1957 -- Canadian Ambassador Herbert Norman
committed suicide early today, apparently because of charges in a
United States Senate subcommittee that he was a Communist.
The Canadian government had denied the charges.
The embassy announced the 48-year-old career diplomat leaped
from a high building. It stated he was an "extremely conscientious
public servant" and that "recent unpleasant publicity and accusations
greatly distressed him."
This is a day when good men die from windows,
Leap from a sill of one of the world's eyes
Into the blind and deaf-and-dumb of time;
Or by ways desperate or ludicrous
Use one of the world's machines for God's,
As George used his gun by the swimming pool
And was found in the flamingo-colored water,
Or John, drowned in a London crater,
Saw a drowned world there before he plunged:
A baby-carriage frame, a plumber's elbow,
Memorials to his dying as he died;
Now you, in Cairo, and I do not know
How that young, dedicated intellect
Was forced away at last from its long service.
Someone in Parliament says you were "killed by slander."
Wounds to your name were mortal to your mind.
Dead friends, who were the servants of this world!
Once there was a place for gentle heroes.
Now they are madmen who, scuttling down corridors,
Eluding guards, climb lavatory walls
And squeeze through air-vents to their liberation,
Where the sensitive concrete receives them
From the world's vast, abstract hate;
So they are smashed to sleep.
Or they, found wandering naked in the woods --
Numbed from the buffets of an autumn storm,
Soaked blissfully in its impersonal furies --
Are wrapped and rescued after a long dark night,
Are bustled into hospitals and baths
While the press explains away their aberrations:
"Needed a rest ... and took no holidays ..."
But even so, they have managed to catch their death.
I mark the fourth of April on this page,
When the sun came up and glittered on the windows
As you fell away from daylight into heaven:
The muck of Cairo, and a world silenced forever.
A poet, to whom no one cruel or imposing listens,
Disdained by senates, whispers to your dust:
Though you escape from words, whom words pursued,
Take these to your shade: of rage, of grief, of love.
Excerpted from Cool, Calm, & Collected by Carolyn Kizer Copyright © 2002 by Carolyn Kizer. Excerpted by permission.
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