Star Apocrypha


A brilliant expression of philosophy and feeling, Christopher Buckley's latest poetry collection explores growing up in the America of the fifties and sixties and coming to terms with the aging process. In dazzling language, Star Apocrypha bears the beauty and weight of the big questions. The poet looks to nature-the interior and exterior landscapes-for his answers and with wit and high-pitched intelligence accepts his art and life in the ...

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A brilliant expression of philosophy and feeling, Christopher Buckley's latest poetry collection explores growing up in the America of the fifties and sixties and coming to terms with the aging process. In dazzling language, Star Apocrypha bears the beauty and weight of the big questions. The poet looks to nature-the interior and exterior landscapes-for his answers and with wit and high-pitched intelligence accepts his art and life in the twenty-first century.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"With patience amounting almost to agony, with certainty all the while climbing very real Hills of Paradise, Christopher Buckley has, for a long time now, been the tireless Wayfarer of American Poetry. His new collection, Star Apocrypha, unfolds the deep intelligence of his Way, inventing and sustaining a new kind of meditation as it goes. In poems like 'Zeno Said' and 'Some Last Existential Thoughts at Surf Beach,' Buckley gifts us with illuminations not excelled by any in this day. He has made his way to Mastery."
—Donald Revell, author of There Are 3: Poems

"[Buckley's] poetry . . . should be known by a large American public; for if taken to heart it can help us survive with dignity."
—Philip Levine

Publishers Weekly
Stars and dust appear in nearly every poem in poet (not political humorist) Buckley's 10th collection, marking the end points of an extensive argument about the presence of the supernatural in the outer and inner worlds we inhabit. Dust, Eliotic and biblical, stands in for death, and a teaser for life's whence and whereto, while stars become a seductive vision of legible meaning in the natural world. Buckley's conversational voice smoothes the way for a varied vocabulary and body of knowledge, as he moves easily from landscape poems, to memorials to 1950s pop clich?, to historical fictions based on the Huguenots and early-20th-century American religiosity. Regardless of the particulars of the landscape he is reading, the question is the same: "the unlikely probability of constellations,/ Snowflakes that never fall, bread crumbs/ that never reach our hands. What more/ is there left to make of things." Some readers will find the appreciation of these constellations a little too neatly packaged, and will leave off. But those who stay with it will catch Buckley's wavering but insistent affirmation of the human tendency to read metaphorically, whether or not the patterns we see were placed there by divine design, a tendency which is closely linked to our capacity for love and forgiveness: "Maybe an indifferent sign,/ indecipherable,/ inadvertent,/ but there are at least these four green clues/ to some happiness beneath the sky...." The stellar and particulate matter here wind up a little overworked, but readers looking for provisional solace from the pathos of wonder will revel in "the fish jumping blue and silver in the unappreciated beer-gold sky." (July) Forecast: Buckley chairs thecreative writing department at the University of California, Riverside, and is the recipient of several Poetry Society of America commendations, a Fulbright (to Yugoslavia) and an NEA grant. This book marks his jump from small presses like Orchises, Bk Mk and Copper Beech to a major UP; the prestige may lead to greater po-biz visibility. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780810151130
  • Publisher: Northwestern University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2001
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley is the chair of the creative writing department at the University of California, Riverside. He has received two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, most recently for 2001; a Fulbright Award to Yugoslavia; four Pushcart Prizes; and two Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grants and has twice received the Gertrude B. Claytor Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America. Among his works are the poetry collections Fall from Grace, Camino Cielo, Dark Matter, and Blue Autumn.

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Read an Excerpt

Star Apocrypha

By Christopher Buckley


Copyright © 2001 Christopher Buckley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0810151286

Chapter One

Keeping My Own Company quien habla solo espera hablar a Dios un dia -Antonio Machado After all, the afternoons are off gossiping among the pines, and the first excursions of stars won't start up south of here for an hour, climbing that bright net, and there at the far end of evening, beyond the dim light of the patio, they will again confirm nothing so absolute as the inattentive moon. Closer to home, jays annotate the doubtful margins of the oaks, and a mockingbird tells all he's learned from trial and error-little more than a coating of dusk on his wings to show for it. Otherwise, I have only met up with middle age, a man in shirt sleeves walking away, across the ruined fields, a man who, without noticing, crosses over to another country where the roadside grasses are still burning at his heels, where the same clouds clang overhead, and that ache in his back-dull as those tin clouds-says only that the dark is coming on. It seems improbable that more might be revealed on a day no different than the rest, when I have again gone dreaming the roads of my youth with their white discouraged dust, alongside olive and lemon groves, with roses burning beneath the sun, a fragrance of sorrow on the air. And so I also miss the Milky Way, the swirled spangle and milt, allthe misplaced evidence of God swimming away. Who am I talking to each evening across the table, the candle wavering between us? A boy with a satchel of stolen tangerines, a man sporting that dust-colored houndstooth coat from the Thrift? Lord of the warblers, Lord of ice in the heart of the red-shouldered hawk, Lord of dust that has settled all week in the glasses for wine, today I desire nothing from the world. Here I am, the same so far, heart like a weed holding on, the globe hardly moving. And it comes to me that I was never meant to interpret the heavens, meant for nothing more than the minor admonishments of wind, a scoured sky responding to the last blue petitions of the sea, where I wish again for a little space to breathe, where I am taken with the spindrift, the implicit small talk of stars. Apologia: The Bible-History Student Returns Home SANTA BARBARA, CALIFORNIA White clouds pass high above the invisible pillared sky, as if they'd somehow forgotten everything. Yet I recall Xerxes and Darius Mede, heavy iron the Hittites bore, the dangling horticultures of Babylon which aren't even sand any more.... Only up the coast in Guadalupe and the Nipomo Dunes, The Ten Commandments was shot by Cecil B. de Mille, who abandoned the obelisks and cement Sphinx, the high parapets of Egypt, to the sea of 1923, to the sands shifting anonymously as any distance in Assyria. Sweet Jesus, we then went door-to-door in our cloud-white parochial shirts, in the blood of the lamb, hawking booklets of Holy Seals to be rewarded with the plastic bodies of saints glowing in the dark, who looked nothing like the photos of bony, balloon-bellied Pagan Babies the archdiocese pinned to classroom walls, the better to drive us out into the streets collecting more. For every twenty dollars we named a child, and sent those poor souls forth beneath the ungodly weight of Constantine or Charlemagne, anointed for the vainglorious world of 1958. But weekends free among the hills, unreformed at heart, I was fearless of the perpetual fires, for there was no angel's blood on the lintel of the air, no sign above the thin, indefinite music of the sea-my lack of faith revealing only that dry leaves scattered in my hands like old light, like sand. I heard no voices falling from the scaffolding of wind as I shot through my thirties like a bottle rocket fizzing into the blank reaches of noon until one March along the shore-wearing my Chinese cap, same ivory scarf against the salt wind at our throats- he looked right through me, a rind of sun humming above his head. A gust came up, spun me around with bits of seaweed flagging the air; a veil of sand, and I could swear finally only to a chalk-colored silhouette slipping away, muffled by the sea-the fine dry silt of contemplation come to little more than the clouds dragging their dark anchors across the foothills of home, suffused by the low sea-moan and limbo of the dark. I tug my cap down against the onshore breeze, a little salt drying on my cheek; I have returned from my travels in the East and am halfway meek. The birds lead silence through the air-"Midcareer" must have come and gone-my mind like a sponge wrung out with the watery, high apotheosis of the past, with the lost phrasing of those stars still overhead, the galaxies' buzzing light like bees at a spring bush.... Perhaps there was something else, all this way from Nineveh. Eclipse This was predictable, a science of heavenly bodies, and Sister Stella Marie told us how Columbus, knowing his charts and stars, astonished the inhabitants of the New World and saved himself and his men saying-as the sky went black as metal for five full minutes-he would not return the sun.... And so at half past 9:00 we were marched out of arithmetic and 1956-fractions and flash cards clustered across our desks-and onto the playground. Each of us had one eye closed and one brown negative our mothers packed us off with pressed to our other eye as the sun slid like a dark half-dollar into the greying envelope of the sky, an ink blot bleeding through. The morning turned the color of tea and poured around our outstretched arms; I saw the yellow moon of the tetherball turn pale as skim milk and the shadow of the flagpole dissolve into the asphalt. The sun burned fully black and Sister admonished us not to look directly at it or the fringed light of creation would burn our eye blind. The softened smoky air, the ghostly figures on the negatives- a bleached tree, the first house I could remember, my father with hair whiter than a star, foreshadowing the ash he would become, that we all were, there on the other side of light- revolved in the dim and unfamiliar daylight like a constellation of dust, like talc shaken off the shoulders of an old coat over the grey sea. I watched the cold blossom of time dissolve while the soot of light lifted and turned finally back into high blue gauze, the red edges of our fingers pulling the sun back to us above the bright horizon line- all of us there below it, shining again for a short while, adding up like clockwork, before the common denominator of the dark. Early Cosmology Where am I when I first hear the high orbiting harmony of April Stevens and Nino Tempo's "Deep Purple," or the Marcels' doo-wopped "Blue Moon" nonsense circling the lyrics of love and reverberated on KIST's Top 40? Somewhere unknown on night-wide State Street, submerged in that boat of a Belair, cruising forever on a dollar fifty's worth of gas, tuning in each bomp bomp-bomp-bomp, ba bomp ba bomp bomp, dip da dip-dip, thinking ... God knows what I was thinking-the charged gloss of streetlights rebounding off the chrome buttons of the radio-all that electricity spinning off into the everlasting sky. Kathy Young & the Innocents swirled "A Thousand Stars" through bad speakers in a rust-bucket Chevrolet-a six-pack in the trunk, and a misery mute enough on the side streets as I turned up the tunes and took in the salt air's intoxication as if I understood the mind's invisible source of light, and from where in the under-elaborated heavens it was likely to break clear. And just for the record, I never knew Art Rimbaud and his all-star jazz quintet- who played alto and who sipped rum from a flask tinkling the ivories to "I Left My Love in Babylon"-never knew who slipped out of Toledo with guns or booze, threw that cymbal shining like the rings of Saturn from the window of the Merc, the radio slurring "Stardust." I picked it all up later with black and white spanning the prairies; Halo shampoo and Old Golds-a Word from Our Sponsor. Coast to coast, Edward R. Murrow at the center of a solar system of smoke. Andre Kostelanetz's "Sabre Dance" was the music of the spheres on Ed Sullivan for some soul sweating it out in a tuxedo and pencil mustache frantically balancing dishes on sticks, running along a table, spinning another before the first ones collapsed from orbit in that starry air-Father fiddling with the wiry arms of the antenna when the images went ghostly. A couple minutes of stage light and suspended saucers were all the black & white '50s required. What chance now someone out there in the unwavering wherever will one day care to uncode our beams, and figure where, on the background track, among some stuttering powder-bright stanzas, we ever were? Each night of your remaining few thousand nights, all those galaxies and plasma-colored nebulae still spinning in your head, you walk up the dark hill from work, looking out to the Milky Way, the hiss wobbling in the center of the egg-yolk wheel- and you retrace every constellation you know, all the self-conscious metaphors and shapes that confirm nothing more than what a glimmering plate of dust it all might be. Road to Damascus

Why not take some time off work, go for a spin, recall the bumper-to-bumper satisfactions of chrome, the wide tail fins on your '59 Belair? Here's an afternoon, as much yours as anyone's-a sky off-white as charity, as old linen hung on a balustrade, stains of a last few clouds like tea spills, like nostalgia, like guilt, almost rinsed away. And that bright landscape of the mind, gold mandala floating above the turquoise bay-the angels' own arias skim over the arboretum. Go there. See if it does more than waver a moment in your heart's thin air. All this about sparrows up early and hard at it, grateful for any opportunity, just doesn't work. Keep the priorities in order, shoulder to the grinding wheel, eye on a star, and see where it gets you. Eight in ten lose heart halfway to no place, really, at all. Middle age already, a draft in the wall you can't find hitting you square between the shoulder blades. It does no good to look for a spot dim beneath the level of the street, lit with a Hamms waterfall or Pabst Blue Ribbon neon asking "What'll ya have?" And there order long-neck beers while someone shoves another dime in the box and pushes the buttons for Julius La Rosa or Vic Damone, the way the beaten fathers of the '50s did to hang on a bit longer in comparative peace with second-rate sentimentality on the air and cold roast beef on white as they shook their heads which never cleared, and wondered what hit them. My father walked out of there long before the rest, but until the day he died got up and put on the sport coat and tie of their kind and ran himself ragged selling one damn thing or another-died leaving two wristwatches, a rack of pressed slacks and tweeds, and not, as he said time and again, one red cent. You've looked to stars-look at the five empty points of each hand, the rags and tail ends, the streets back there littered with promises and lost profits, unredeemed by those easy stars that dropped from sight as soon as work weeks lost track of themselves in the smudged city skies. Who gave themselves unquestioningly to that and came out the other end to the fanfare of Oldsmobiles and color TV? More than enough if I'm any judge. That road like any other-plenty of dust to pass the time, and of course the dead weight of a past you can't carry or put completely down. The days follow you out, hand on your shoulder as you second-guess the callbacks of one crow to another along the roadside suggesting you're off the map. You pull over on the next rise and get out for the sunset view-bleached light leveling the sky, the blank horizon a paradigm past all appeal. It's only the world going up and falling back, a fine dull talc, a little more salt worn from your skin. The wind's hand in your pocket yet again, your cap flying off in an updraft over the cliff-almost everything beyond reach as you stand there, waiting to see it all suddenly radiant as never before. Prayer to Escape the East

Ash ascending the altitudes of dawn- and all along these tarnished clouds have refused to accept our suffering. Down a side street, the wind goes on tuning its violin, a pizzicato off the thin strings of hope, a melody of dust. If you knew anything as true as a bird's magnetic heart, where wouldn't you be instead of here, looking out on the blank grey measure of another year, a street lamp at the outpost of dusk? All the old failings circling in the moth-spattered light, ones you've held on to so long now they just about shine, like the sparrows in evening's rusted trees- almost the same birds above Rincon or Malibu, the trees still simmering in that '60s slow Pacific sun, the glassy waves repeating their incomplete sentences about the present, and the past-surfboards spiked upright in the sand like totems for the last city of gold. And looking off in that lost direction, back that far west, the string section in the palms picks up, and who's that on Coast Highway 1, blond as Tab Hunter or Sandra Dee, pulling up to Trancas in a convertible Chevrolet? If there were angels, why would they come forward now to acknowledge another complaint? And what small comfort could there be in their terribly bright memories of everything? It's the same future waiting there regardless, unthreading through the blue eucalyptus-your guess as good as the birds', singing their hearts out for nothing but the last crumbs of daylight pinpointing the small space of their lives. What use asking what more you could ask for. You might as well look out there to where they said the big picture was and watch the credits roll before the bandages and plastic bottles arrive on the tide with the grainy underbelly of industrial light. What's left to contribute to the dark? The echo and churn of the waves? Only that to confirm the eternal at your back. So why not pick up this dust-colored feather, carry it to your rented room and open the glass doors above the river, unclench your fist, and let it float out in the first direction, as unlikely as luck. Winter Residue Brown shoes beaten into submission, witnesses to everything-yellowed rind of light in the pocket of my old tweed coat, there, in the smooth inner lining just above the heart, where the ash of stars has been collecting since I was 39. The dead of afternoon, and a little sun, like old wishes, like bruised gardenias in a bowl, filters through the paralytic trees- the white glare off the sea speaking in the syllogisms of salt, that invisible distillation, syllables and anaphora of breath, the least that is required in the atelier of the wind. The liquid pattern of swifts, their music and dark recapitulation across the green spring air, but now what do they, what do we, bring to the sky? A dull speculation, the unlikely probability of constellations, snowflakes that never fall, bread crumbs that never reach our hands. What more is there left to make of things? The boundaries of air take us just so far-in return for nothing, the edges of shadows, indifferent shapes absorbed into the grey walls. From the slope of the roofs a low mist rolls away at dawn and anyone can tell that the houses are a little drunk with it all, but by afternoon, all the past will again be almost clear. And down the old halls, all we have is the smoke from abstractions- intellectual soot, the conditional absolutes that pulled no one from the sea. Yet, something of me might hover with fog in Montecito above where I left my blood on the asphalt in the school yard; or on the dashboard, something of my shouting just before the impact and scattered glass might be lingering over that hairpin turn on Indio Muerto Street-steam from the radiator gone to powder, to air, skid marks climbing the dark.... And always above Mission Canyon, such loneliness by the yellow acacias as we knew, the rain that fell all through childhood. Nearby, my white parochial shirt remains in the air like a small cloud bled of grace. How long has my soul been gathering wool? O stupid clouds, O fates among the irreconcilable webbings of the sky-a bit of everything floats back down to us. Above that, enough dust to keep the sky contrite, vaguely blue- above that, the cold light of space. But today, not even the bird that I hid in this poem for later, to save us from some least portion of remorse, returns singing with a twig.


Excerpted from Star Apocrypha by Christopher Buckley Copyright © 2001 by Christopher Buckley
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Keeping My Own Company 3
Apologia: The Bible-History Student Returns Home 6
Eclipse 9
Early Cosmology 11
Road to Damascus 14
Prayer to Escape the East 16
Winter Residue 19
Zeno Said 25
Last Days of the Hot-Rod Kids 30
Phlogiston Theory & the Clouds of the Old World 33
After a Reading, Charles Bukowski Returns & Gives Me the Lowdown of Fame, Mutability, the Afterlife, et al. ... 36
Some Last Existential Thoughts at Surf Beach 39
March 21, & Spring Begins on Benito Juarez's Birthday in Mexico 43
Star Apocrypha 46
Photograph of Myself 51
Observation: Middle Age 54
Watchful 55
Lost Sky 59
Allegro Non Troppo 63
Metaphysical Trees 65
Via Dolorosa 71
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