Saturday, October 27, 2007


For Halloween II: "Sonnets of the Midnight Hours" by Donald Wandrei

I. "After Sleep"

It is not blessed sleep. It looms as hateful,
As dreaded as some strange disease's pain,
As fearful as the haunts of the insane.
The days for which the heart should be most grateful
Are sick with memories awesome, eerie, fateful,
Of nights that seemed eternities, of vain
Attempts to flee from depths where hope was slain;
Of secret worlds that have no name or place.

For in the midnight hours, when sleep descends,
I dream through realms where naught begins or ends,
Where all things are, yet are not; time and space
But phantoms; life and death part each of other;
Where far, unhuman beings' dark embrace
Holds me till in unending dooms I smother.

II. "Purple"

There where I wandered, purple shadows ran
Along a purple ground to purple cliffs
And back; and purple suns flamed northerly
Across a velvet sky. And when I came,
And when I crossed the imperial weaving span
Of purple leagues, violet hippogriffs
With wings of beating purple flew to me
Through sullen skies empurpled with vast flame.

And so I soared on pinions of the night
Through mightier gulfs where still the purple rule
Held sway, with purple dreamlands all around.
And when my steed permitted me to light,
I seemed to sink in some huge cosmic pool,
And in a sea of purple shadows drowned.

III. "The Hungry Flowers"

The fleshly flowers whispered avidly:
This being's face is soft, he shall not pass;
And all the little jeweled blades of grass
Made mutterings that sounded like low glee.
I looked across the great plain warily.
These glittering swords that shone like splintered glass,
Though singly impotent, might be in mass
A savage, indestructible enemy.

So, hesitantly, I put forth my foot
To seek, beneath the flower-heads, a path.
I found my leg become a hellish root,
I saw the hungry flowers toward me crawl
With bright-eyed ecstacy, exultant wrath,
And on my flesh their mouths, devouring, fall.

IV. "The Eye"

A deep force pulls me toward the window-blind,
Some impulse urges me to raise the shade;
Why is it that I tremble, half afraid,
With formless terrors running through my mind?
What are the dim dread images that bind
My hand? Why is my arm so strongly stayed?
What sense of overhanging doom has made
Me fearful? What the sight that I shall find?

Some warning voice calls out: Go back--go back!
I could not turn though fronted by the rack.
And so I slowly raise the shade to greet
Whatever on the other side should lie,
And stare and stare in horror as I meet
The leering of a huge and sightless eye.

V. "The Torturers"

As I remember, there were clanging gongs
That beat the air to frenzy; dirges, knells,
A tolling like a myriad decibels
From metal monsters humming voiceless songs.
As I remember, there were flaming tongs
That flayed my flesh, and I was bound by spells
Of lunar sorcerers; a thousand hells
Were better than their hideous, measured wrongs.

As I remember, in my agony
I begged the gods to save me from such pain.
I heard a sound of cosmic revelry,
Then beating to the chambers of my brain
The answer came, where I in torment lay,
For silence unto silence died away.

VI. "The Statues"

I knocked upon the portal till with clang
On long, metallic clang, the brazen door
Curled inward, flowerwise. I stood before
Weird, lifeless birds that talked and harshly sang.
Quick to my side two black, sleek leopards sprang
With eyes of golden fury; while a score
Of revelers turned statue, and no more
Their mirthless muttering through the palace rang.

Past them the leopards led me on and on
Where vast, dark marbles stood in endless miles,
And when I saw these titans, thereupon
Their enigmatic laughter filled the aisles;
But when I passed and left them in their gloom,
the vacant halls were quiet as a tomb.

VII. "The Old Companions"

Amidst great cobwebs hanging everywhere
My old companions waited all around:
Wan hands and heads that showed no trace of wound,
Misshapen creatures peering through the air.
Out of a dusky corner came the stare
Of some white form that made a rattling sound.
Along the walls dwelt living mummies, bound
In swathes of long, still growing, human hair.

What goal, what new companion did I seek?
Was it an hour? Eternity? A week?--
Until I felt that tongue or talon stroke
My neck, and heard that husky, gurgling choke
As of some ancient corpse about to speak . . . .
I could not move though mind and spirit broke.

VIII. "The Head"

The head most strangely seemed like one I knew;
It rolled, and spun, and stopped in front of me,
While its pale eyes kept watching patiently
Till memory slowly came, and knowledge grew.
It was my own; my own face had that hue,
My own the lineaments that seemed to be
Bloodless, the blind eyes of eternity,
The mouth where something dark was trickling through.

It watched me, waiting, while I stared as long
As all the years of Hercules' great labors,
Stared at my own dead eyes unearthly lit.
Oh heart, cease beating; ears, close; sight, be wrong:
The head sprang high; but slashed by unseen sabers
It fell in parts, and I was part of it.

IX. "In the Attic"

Slowly I climbed the worn old attic stairs
In darkness absolute, and listening hard,
For what, I did not know, yet tense, on guard
As I went onward toward those upper lairs.
Then at the top I stood on magic squares
That glowed with fitful lights, and each one starred
With signs unreadable, on each the shard
Of some imprisoned thing with old despairs.

I watched them till, from out the greater dark,
The swart hand crawled, through mid-air lengthening,
And I drew back; but still the hand with stark,
Trememdous fingers, growing, strengthening,
Pursued and pounced; an arm that had no source
Yet twined around me with inhuman force.

X. "The Cocoon"

My loved one made soft cooing sounds, and so
I stroked the glistening webwork on its head,
The strange cocoon, not living yet nor dead
But inbetween; whose phosphorescent glow
And shining eyes bespoke caresses, slow
And languid, warming into life; no dread
Had I, although I knew on what it fed,
The substance of it in the long ago.

But all at once the shell of that cocoon
Burst; mindless, mewing as it tried to speak,
Not woman, man, or child crawled in my lap,
But something from the dark side of the moon
Whose balck, scaled body had for head a beak,
A beak that, darting, closed me in its trap.

XI. "The Metal God"

In that far, future time where I wasa fleeing
Through mighty chambers, hunted and alone,
I came upon a curious great throne
Where sat an even greater, stranger being.
A king who saw but used no eyes for seeing,
A metal titan shapen like a cone,
Quicksilvery, pulsing with a deep soft tone
That filled all worlds, all space; vibrations freeing
All substances and creatures from the bond
Of aimless life, of aimless death. Long since
The hands wrought it vanished in its power,
And I, though struggling, in that selfsame hour
Felt flesh dissolve in motes of silver tints
That streamed to join the nothingness beyond.

XII. "The Little Creature"

Oh little creature, lost in time and space,
You've come again. You keep me company here,
You drift upon the moonlight hovering near
And watch, or seem to watch, me for your face
I can not find, nor do I seem to place
Your limbs, if limbs you have; nor is it clear
What form you have, for always you appear
Changing and new, so hard to know, to trace.

Oh little creature, whether old or young,
Make this your home for I will make it yours;
And though you never talk (do you have tongue?)
I'll talk of future times and alien shores.
Oh little creature, here's a tale of doom . . . .
How strange. How strangely empty is the room.

XIII. "The Pool"

Unto my feet a little trickle crept
Progressing slowly underneath the door
And widening inch by inch along the floor
Until, my shaking limbs grown weak, I stepped
Aside. The flow turned toward me, and it kept
Increasing, spreading more and ever more
As if there never were an end in store.
Now here, now there I fled; still on it swept.

Around me, solid walls of no escape,
Before me, one closed portal, and the flow
Whose source could only be some fearful shape
With blood that had so curious a glow:
The door must open, showing why the hue
Of this fresh pool of thin and brilliant blue.

XIV. "The Prey"

Vast wings were flapping in the night. I heard
Them fill the air with measureless strong beat--
What nameless hunter searching for its meat?
So huge the wings, I wondered what the bird
That clove through midnight where no other stirred,
What sight in later hours would haply greet
The dawn, when those great wings had made retreat:
For in the talons I was fast immured.

Though endlessly we traversed far abysses,
At length all motion ceased, upon a crag,
And when the talons loosened, I could see
The burning harpy eyes, head of a hag,
Before I dropped away, for I was free--
To fall amid colossal precipices.

XV. "The Rack"

They clamped hot irons on my throbbing head;
They poured fresh acid on my blinding eyes;
They added madness to my frantic cries
By bathing me in streams of molten lead.
They slit me till a hundred raw wounds bled;
They burned me, bound me with deep-knotted ties;
They crushed me, broke me till I could not rise,
Then hurled me shapeless, on a needle-bed.

Beyond the rack's red searing agony
One thought more torturing usurped my brain,
A thought my tongueless mouth could never speak;
Though they, with cruel joy, had given me
This never ending night of mounting pain,
It merely hinted of the coming week.

XVI. "Escape"

Now was I destined after all to die,
I who had fought so hard to reach my goal?
Would maggots in my starved, gaunt body loll
When I collapsed beneath that burning sky?
The sun stared on me like a blood-rd eye,
In all this hideous land the only soul!
Yet, wehn toward farther desolate wastes I stole,
I thought ironic laughter passed me by.

Though they who tortured me were far behind,
My bloodprints in the dead sands marked my trail.
Each step eternal, on I struggled, trying
to reach the haven I would never find.
I stumbled forward, knowing I must fail,
For they were deathless hunters, I the dying.

XVII. "Capture"

They caught me in the wasteland in the west,
Caught me with safety but a league away.
For my escape I knew what I must pay:
Tortures would mark the finish of my quest.
They drove me back with never pause for rest,
Back through the desert for those fiends to flay,
To burn, to break; their pleasure not to slay
But punish, since their power I dared to test.
The dark walled city slowly came in view,
The magic towers, the skyward thrusting spires,
The windows burning bright with eldritch fires;
And when at last my captors bore me through
the ebony gates, one savage curse I cried,
And I, and all that phantom city, died.

XVIII. "In the Pit"

Now they have buried me in this dark pit,
And all around their other victims wait,
Like me uncertain of their final fate
Though they are broken too, and their flesh slit.
There's one small shape that mews upon a spit;
The chewed remains of something used for bait;
Another mass their hungry pet half-ate,
Rejected. Nameless others near me sit.

They gave me back my eyes so I could peer
Around and see the comrades that are mine;
They left me morsels, curious and queer,
To make my sufferings worse if I should dine.
I know that I'll by them be watched for ever
And in recurring deaths escape them never.

XIX. "The Bell"

All night I heard the tolling of a bell;
All night I heard the cadences of doom
Across the boiling seas' own muffled boom;
From sunken cities rose the solemn knell.
The waters mounted in one surge whose swell
Laid bare the mystery of the vast sea-tomb,
And from those giant caverns' lifted gloom
The tolling came like measures for a spell.

Then all the seas united with a roar
Of wave that smote against colossal wave,
engulfed again the riddles of the ocean;
The bell beneath the seas, beyond the shore,
Grew fainter in the silence of its grave:
I heard alone the surging tides in motion.

XX. "The Ultimate Vision"

I dreamed the waters of the world had dried,
The ocean beds were open now, and free,
And all strange things once covered by the sea
Showed everywhere, while flopping creatures died.
There lay a bed of shells and bones; I spied
A city of vast antiquity;
Ten thousand ships and more; shapes great and wee
And weird encrusted forms on every side.

I saw the vales and mountains of the deep,
I saw the dwellers of the ocean night,
The weedy pastures and the drowned, the dead;
And in the fading vision of my sleep
I saw rise up a substance soft and white
That feebly moved its pulpy, eyeless head.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


For Halloween: "Fungi from Yuggoth" by H. P. Lovecraft

I. "The Book"

The place was dark and dusty and half-lost
In tangles of old alleys near the quays,
Reeking of strange things brought in from the seas,
And with queer curls of fog that west winds tossed.
Small lozenge panes, obscured by smoke and frost,
Just shewed the books, in piles like twisted trees,
Rotting from floor to roof - congeries
Of crumbling elder lore at little cost.

I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap
Took up the nearest tome and thumbed it through,
Trembling at curious words that seemed to keep
Some secret, monstrous if one only knew.
Then, looking for some seller old in craft,
I could find nothing but a voice that laughed.

II. "Pursuit"

I held the book beneath my coat, at pains
To hide the thing from sight in such a place;
Hurrying through the ancient harbour lanes
With often-turning head and nervous pace.
Dull, furtive windows in old tottering brick
Peered at me oddly as I hastened by,
And thinking what they sheltered, I grew sick
For a redeeming glimpse of clean blue sky.

No one had seen me take the thing - but still
A blank laugh echoed in my whirling head,
And I could guess what nighted worlds of ill
Lurked in that volume I had coveted.
The way grew strange - the walls alike and madding -
And far behind me, unseen feet were padding.

III. "The Key"

I do not know what windings in the waste
Of those strange sea-lanes brought me home once more,
But on my porch I trembled, white with haste
To get inside and bolt the heavy door.
I had the book that told the hidden way
Across the void and through the space-hung screens
That hold the undimensioned worlds at bay,
And keep lost aeons to their own demesnes.

At last the key was mine to those vague visions
Of sunset spires and twilight woods that brood
Dim in the gulfs beyond this earth's precisions,
Lurking as memories of infinitude.
The key was mine, but as I sat there mumbling,
The attic window shook with a faint fumbling.

IV. "Recognition"

The day had come again, when as a child
I saw - just once - that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same - an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.

I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starryvoids - and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!

V. "Homecoming"

The daemon said that he would take me home
To the pale, shadowy land I half recalled
As a high place of stair and terrace, walled
With marble balustrades that sky-winds comb,
While miles below a maze of dome on dome
And tower on tower beside a sea lies sprawled.
Once more, he told me, I would stand enthralled
On those old heights, and hear the far-off foam.

All this he promised, and through sunset's gate
He swept me, past the lapping lakes of flame,
And red-gold thrones of gods without a name
Who shriek in fear at some impending fate.
Then a black gulf with sea-sounds in the night:
"Here was your home," he mocked, "when you had sight!"

VI. "The Lamp"

We found the lamp inside those hollow cliffs
Whose chiselled sign no priest in Thebes could read,
And from whose caverns frightened hieroglyphs
Warned everyliving creature of earth's breed.
No more was there - just that one brazen bowl
With traces of a curious oil within;
Fretted with some obscurely patterned scroll,
And symbols hinting vaguely of strange sin.

Little the fears of forty centuries meant
To us as we bore off our slender spoil,
And when we scanned it in our darkened tent
We struck a match to test the ancient oil.
It blazed - great God!... But the vast shapes we saw
In that mad flash have seared our lives with awe.

VII. "Zaman's Hill"

The great hill hung close over the old town,
A precipice against the main street's end;
Green, tall, and wooded, looking darkly down
Upon the steeple at the highway bend.
Two hundred years the whispers had been heard
About what happened on the man-shunned slope -
Tales of an oddly mangled deer or bird,
Or of lost boys whose kin had ceased to hope.

One day the mail-man found no village there,
Nor were its folk or houses seen again;
People came out from Aylesbury to stare -
Yet they all told the mail-man it was plain
That he was mad for saying he had spied
The great hill's gluttonous eyes, and jaws stretched wide.

VIII. "The Port"

Ten miles from Arkham I had struck the trail
That rides the cliff-edge over Boynton Beach,
And hoped that just at sunset I could reach
The crest that looks on Innsmouth in the vale.
Far out at sea was a retreating sail,
White as hard years of ancient winds could bleach,
But evil with some portent beyond speech,
So that I did not wave my hand or hail.

Sails out of lnnsmouth! echoing old renown
Of long-dead times. But now a too-swift night
Is closing in, and I have reached the height
Whence I so often scan the distant town.
The spires and roofs are there - but look! The gloom
Sinks on dark lanes, as lightless as the tomb!

IX. "The Courtyard"

It was the city I had known before;
The ancient, leprous town where mongrel throngs
Chant to strange gods, and beat unhallowed gongs
In crypts beneath foul alleys near the shore.
The rotting, fish-eyed houses leered at me
From where they leaned, drunk and half-animate,
As edging through the filth I passed the gate
To the black courtyard where the man would be.

The dark walls closed me in, and loud I cursed
That ever I had come to such a den,
When suddenly a score of windows burst
Into wild light, and swarmed with dancing men:
Mad, soundless revels of the dragging dead -
And not a corpse had either hands or head!

X. "The Pigeon-Flyers"

They took me slumming, where gaunt walls of brick
Bulge outward with a viscous stored-up evil,
And twisted faces, thronging foul and thick,
Wink messages to alien god and devil.
A million fires were blazing in the streets,
And from flat roofs a furtive few would fly
Bedraggled birds into the yawning sky
While hidden drums droned on with measured beats.

I knew those fires were brewing monstrous things,
And that those birds of space had been Outside -
I guessed to what dark planet's crypts they plied,
And what they brought from Thog beneath their wings.
The others laughed - till struck too mute to speak
By what they glimpsed in one bird's evil beak.

XI. "The Well"

Farmer Seth Atwood was past eighty when
He tried to sink that deep well by his door,
With only Eb to help him bore and bore.
We laughed, and hoped he'd soon be sane again.
And yet, instead, young Eb went crazy, too,
So that they shipped him to the county farm.
Seth bricked the well-mouth up as tight as glue -
Then hacked an artery in his gnarled left arm.

After the funeral we felt bound to get
Out to that well and rip the bricks away,
But all we saw were iron hand-holds set
Down a black hole deeper than we could say.
And yet we put the bricks back - for we found
The hole too deep for any line to sound.

XII. "The Howler"

They told me not to take the Briggs' Hill path
That used to be the highroad through to Zoar,
For Goody Watkins, hanged in seventeen-four,
Had left a certain monstrous aftermath.
Yet when I disobeyed, and had in view
The vine-hung cottage by the great rock slope,
I could not think of elms or hempen rope,
But wondered why the house still seemed so new.

Stopping a while to watch the fading day,
I heard faint howls, as from a room upstairs,
When through the ivied panes one sunset ray
Struck in, and caught the howler unawares.
I glimpsed - and ran in frenzy from the place,
And from a four-pawed thing with human face.

XIII. "Hesperia"

The winter sunset, flaming beyond spires
And chimneys half-detached from this dull sphere,
Opens great gates to some forgotten year
Of elder splendours and divine desires.
Expectant wonders burn in those rich fires,
Adventure-fraught, and not untinged with fear;
A row of sphinxes where the way leads clear
Toward walls and turrets quivering to far lyres.

It is the land where beauty's meaning flowers;
Where every unplaced memory has a source;
Where the great river Time begins its course
Down the vast void in starlit streams of hours.
Dreams bring us close - but ancient lore repeats
That human tread has never soiled these streets.

XIV. "Star-Winds"

It is a certain hour of twilight glooms,
Mostly in autumn, when the star-wind pours
Down hilltop streets, deserted out-of-doors,
But shewing early lamplight from snug rooms.
The dead leaves rush in strange, fantastic twists,
And chimney-smoke whirls round with alien grace,
Heeding geometries of outer space,
While Fomalhaut peers in through southward mists.

This is the hour when moonstruck poets know
What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon's continents,
Such as in no poor earthly garden blow.
Yet for each dream these winds to us convey,
A dozen more of ours they sweep away!

XV. "Antarktos"

Deep in my dream the great bird whispered queerly
Of the black cone amid the polar waste;
Pushing above the ice-sheet lone and drearly,
By storm-crazed aeons battered and defaced.
Hither no living earth-shapes take their courses,
And only pale auroras and faint suns
Glow on that pitted rock, whose primal sources
Are guessed at dimly by the Elder Ones.

If men should glimpse it, they would merely wonder
What tricky mound of Nature's build they spied;
But the bird told of vaster parts, that under
The mile-deep ice-shroud crouch and brood and bide.
God help the dreamer whose mad visions shew
Those dead eyes set in crystal gulfs below!

XVI. "The Window"

The house was old, with tangled wings outthrown,
Of which no one could ever half keep track,
And in a small room somewhat near the back
Was an odd window sealed with ancient stone.
There, in a dream-plagued childhood, quite alone
I used to go, where night reigned vague and black;
Parting the cobwebs with a curious lack
Of fear, and with a wonder each time grown.

One later day I brought the masons there
To find what view my dim forbears had shunned,
But as they pierced the stone, a rush of air
Burst from the alien voids that yawned beyond.
They fled - but I peered through and found unrolled
All the wild worlds of which my dreams had told.

XVII. "A Memory"

There were great steppes, and rocky table-lands
Stretching half-limitless in starlit night,
With alien campfires shedding feeble light
On beasts with tinkling bells, in shaggy bands.
Far to the south the plain sloped low and wide
To a dark zigzag line of wall that lay
Like a huge python of some primal day
Which endless time had chilled and petrified.

I shivered oddly in the cold, thin air,
And wondered where I was and how I came,
When a cloaked form against a campfire's glare
Rose and approached, and called me by my name.
Staring at that dead face beneath the hood,
I ceased to hope - because I understood.

XVIII. "The Gardens of Yin"

Beyond that wall, whose ancient masonry
Reached almost to the sky in moss-thick towers,
There would be terraced gardens, rich with flowers,
And flutter of bird and butterfly and bee.
There would be walks, and bridges arching over
Warm lotos-pools reflecting temple eaves,
And cherry-trees with delicate boughs and leaves
Against a pink sky where the herons hover.

All would be there, for had not old dreams flung
Open the gate to that stone-lantemed maze
Where drowsy streams spin out their winding ways,
Trailed by green vines from bending branches hung?
I hurried - but when the wall rose, grim and great,
I found there was no longer any gate.

XIX. "The Bells"

Year after year I heard that faint, far ringing
Of deep-toned bells on the black midnight wind;
Peals from no steeple I could ever find,
But strange, as if across some great void winging.
I searched my dreams and memories for a clue,
And thought of all the chimes my visions carried;
Of quiet Innsmouth, where the white gulls tarried
Around an ancient spire that once I knew.

Always perplexed I heard those far notes falling,
Till one March night the bleak rain splashing cold
Beckoned me back through gateways of recalling
To elder towers where the mad clappers tolled.
They tolled - but from the sunless tides that pour
Through sunken valleys on the sea's dead floor.

XX. "Night-Gaunts"

Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membraneous wings,
And tails that bear the bifid barb of hell.
They come in legions on the north wind's swell,
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare's well.

Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul lake
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But oh! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!

XXI. "Nyarlathotep"

And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark One to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
Throngs pressed around, frantic for his commands,
But leaving, could not tell what they had heard;
While through the nations spread the awestruck word
That wild beasts followed him and licked his hands.

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth's dust away.

XXII. "Azathoth"

Out in the mindless void the daemon bore me,
Past the bright clusters of dimensioned space,
Till neither time nor matter stretched before me,
But only Chaos, without form or place.
Here the vast Lord of All in darkness muttered
Things he had dreamed but could not understand,
While near him shapeless bat-things flopped and fluttered
In idiot vortices that ray-streams fanned.

They danced insanely to the high, thin whining
Of a cracked flute clutched in a monstrous paw,
Whence flow the aimless waves whose chance combining
Gives each frail cosmos its eternal law.
"I am His Messenger," the daemon said,
As in contempt he struck his Master's head.

XXIII. "Mirage"

I do not know if ever it existed -
That lost world floating dimly on Time's stream -
And yet I see it often, violet-misted,
And shimmering at the back of some vague dream.
There were strange towers and curious lapping rivers,
Labyrinths of wonder, and low vaults of light,
And bough-crossed skies of flame, like that which quivers
Wistfully just before a winter's night.

Great moors led off to sedgy shores unpeopled,
Where vast birds wheeled, while on a windswept hill
There was a village, ancient and white-steepled,
With evening chimes for which I listen still.
I do not know what land it is - or dare
Ask when or why I was, or will be, there.

XXIV. "The Canal"

Somewhere in dream there is an evil place
Where tall, deserted buildings crowd along
A deep, black, narrow channel, reeking strong
Of frightful things whence oily currents race.
Lanes with old walls half meeting overhead
Wind off to streets one may or may not know,
And feeble moonlight sheds a spectral glow
Over long rows of windows, dark and dead.

There are no footfalls, and the one soft sound
Is of the oily water as it glides
Under stone bridges, and along the sides
Of its deep flume, to some vague ocean bound.
None lives to tell when that stream washed away
Its dream-lost region from the world of clay.

XXV. "St. Toad's"

"Beware St. Toad's cracked chimes!" I heard him scream
As I plunged into those mad lanes that wind
In labyrinths obscure and undefined
South of the river where old centuries dream.
He was a furtive figure, bent and ragged,
And in a flash had staggered out of sight,
So still I burrowed onward in the night
Toward where more roof-lines rose, malign and jagged.

No guide-book told of what was lurking here -
But now I heard another old man shriek:
"Beware St.Toad's cracked chimes!" And growing weak,
I paused, when a third greybeard croaked in fear:
"Beware St. Toad's cracked chimes!" Aghast, I fled -
Till suddenly that black spire loomed ahead.

XXVI. "The Familiars"

John Whateley lived about a mile from town,
Up where the hills begin to huddle thick;
We never thought his wits were very quick,
Seeing the way he let his farm run down.
He used to waste his time on some queer books
He'd found around the attic of his place,
Till funny lines got creased into his face,
And folks all said they didn't like his looks.

When he began those night-howls we declared
He'd better be locked up away from harm,
So three men from the Aylesbury town farm
Went for him - but came back alone and scared.
They'd found him talking to two crouching things
That at their step flew off on great black wings.

XXVII. "The Elder Pharos"

From Leng, where rocky peaks climb bleak and bare
Under cold stars obscure to human sight,
There shoots at dusk a single beam of light
Whose far blue rays make shepherds whine in prayer.
They say (though none has been there) that it comes
Out of a pharos in a tower of stone,
Where the last Elder One lives on alone,
Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums.

The Thing, they whisper, wears a silken mask
Of yellow, whose queer folds appear to hide
A face not of this earth, though none dares ask
Just what those features are, which bulge inside.
Many, in man's first youth, sought out that glow,
But what they found, no one will ever know.

XXVIII. "Expectancy"

I cannot tell why some things hold for me
A sense of unplumbed marvels to befall,
Or of a rift in the horizon's wall
Opening to worlds where only gods can be.
There is a breathless, vague expectancy,
As of vast ancient pomps I half recall,
Or wild adventures, uncorporeal,
Ecstasy-fraught, and as a day-dream free.

It is in sunsets and strange city spires,
Old villages and woods and misty downs,
South winds, the sea, low hills, and lighted towns,
Old gardens, half-heard songs, and the moon's fires.
But though its lure alone makes life worth living,
None gains or guesses what it hints at giving.

XXIX. "Nostalgia"

Once every year, in autumn's wistful glow,
The birds fly out over an ocean waste,
Calling and chattering in a joyous haste
To reach some land their inner memories know.
Great terraced gardens where bright blossoms blow,
And lines of mangoes luscious to the taste,
And temple-groves with branches interlaced
Over cool paths - all these their vague dreams shew.

They search the sea for marks of their old shore -
For the tall city, white and turreted -
But only empty waters stretch ahead,
So that at last they turn away once more.
Yet sunken deep where alien polyps throng,
The old towers miss their lost, remembered song.

XXX. "Background"

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,
Where from my window huddled roofs sloped down
To a quaint harbour rich with visionings.
Streets with carved doorways where the sunset beams
Flooded old fanlights and small window-panes,
And Georgian steeples topped with gilded vanes -
These were the sights that shaped my childhood dreams.

Such treasures, left from times of cautious leaven,
Cannot but loose the hold of flimsier wraiths
That flit with shifting ways and muddled faiths
Across the changeless walls of earth and heaven.
They cut the moment's thongs and leave me free
To stand alone before eternity.

XXXI. "The Dweller"

It had been old when Babylon was new;
None knows how long it slept beneath that mound,
Where in the end our questing shovels found
Its granite blocks and brought it back to view.
There were vast pavements and foundation-walls,
And crumbling slabs and statues, carved to shew
Fantastic beings of some long ago
Past anything the world of man recalls.

And then we saw those stone steps leading down
Through a choked gate of graven dolomite
To some black haven of eternal night
Where elder signs and primal secrets frown.
We cleared a path - but raced in mad retreat
When from below we heard those clumping feet.

XXXII. "Alienation"

His solid flesh had never been away,
For each dawn found him in his usual place,
But every night his spirit loved to race
Through gulfs and worlds remote from common day.
He had seen Yaddith, yet retained his mind,
And come back safely from the Ghooric zone,
When one still night across curved space was thrown
That beckoning piping from the voids behind.

He waked that morning as an older man,
And nothing since has looked the same to him.
Objects around float nebulous and dim -
False, phantom trifles of some vaster plan.
His folk and friends are now an alien throng
To which he struggles vainly to belong.

XXXIII. "Harbour Whistles"

Over old roofs and past decaying spires
The harbour whistles chant all through the night;
Throats from strange ports, and beaches far and white,
And fabulous oceans, ranged in motley choirs.
Each to the other alien and unknown,
Yet all, by some obscurely focussed force
From brooding gulfs beyond the Zodiac's course,
Fused into one mysterious cosmic drone.

Through shadowy dreams they send a marching line
Of still more shadowy shapes and hints and views;
Echoes from outer voids, and subtle clues
To things which they themselves cannot define.
And always in that chorus, faintly blent,
We catch some notes no earth-ship ever sent.

XXXIV. "Recapture"

The way led down a dark, half-wooded heath
Where moss-grey boulders humped above the mould,
And curious drops, disquieting and cold,
Sprayed up from unseen streams in gulfs beneath.
There was no wind, nor any trace of sound
In puzzling shrub, or alien-featured tree,
Nor any view before - till suddenly,
Straight in my path, I saw a monstrous mound.

Half to the sky those steep sides loomed upspread,
Rank-grassed, and cluttered by a crumbling flight
Of lava stairs that scaled the fear-topped height
In steps too vast for any human tread.
I shrieked - and knew what primal star and year
Had sucked me back from man's dream-transient sphere!

XXXV. "Evening Star"

I saw it from that hidden, silent place
Where the old wood half shuts the meadow in.
It shone through all the sunset's glories - thin
At first, but with a slowly brightening face.
Night came, and that lone beacon, amber-hued,
Beat on my sight as never it did of old;
The evening star - but grown a thousandfold
More haunting in this hush and solitude.

It traced strange pictures on the quivering air -
Half-memories that had always filled my eyes -
Vast towers and gardens; curious seas and skies
Of some dim life - I never could tell where.
But now I knew that through the cosmic dome
Those rays were calling from my far, lost home.

XXXVI. "Continuity"

There is in certain ancient things a trace
Of some dim essence - more than form or weight;
A tenuous aether, indeterminate,
Yet linked with all the laws of time and space.
A faint, veiled sign of continuities
That outward eyes can never quite descry;
Of locked dimensions harbouring years gone by,
And out of reach except for hidden keys.

It moves me most when slanting sunbeams glow
On old farm buildings set against a hill,
And paint with life the shapes which linger still
From centuries less a dream than this we know.
In that strange light I feel I am not far
From the fixt mass whose sides the ages are.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Some Poems by Poets from the Caribbean

"Brief Lives"

Gardening in the Tropics, you never know
what you'll turn up. Quite often, bones.
In some places they say when volcanoes
erupt, they spew out dense and monumental
as stones the skulls of desaparecidos
-- the disappeared ones. Mine is only
a kitchen garden so I unearth just
occasional skeletons. the latest
was of a young man from the country who
lost his way and crossed the invisible
boundary into rival political territory.
I buried him again so he can carry on
growing. Our cemeteries are thriving too.
The latest addition was the drug baron
wiped out in territorial competition
who had this stunning funeral
complete with twenty-one-gun salute
and attended by everyone, especially
the young girls famed for the vivacity
of their dress, their short skirts and
even briefer lives.

--Olive Senior

* * *

"Leaving the Coast"

Leaving the coast behind,
tastebuds still tied to the
sea's salt-heavy hand
will feel the bland of absence
as familiar coastlines fade

Travelling through the unseasoned air
of inner spaces, tastebuds may kick
against resolutions to steer inwards
as mouths flooded with longings
for the old dishes draw steps backwards

To find the centre,
tastebuds must learn to live
in the absence of accustomed flavours,
and practice the art of relearning
to taste life without the pleasures of salt

--Jennifer Rahim

* * *

"Driving Through Kingston"

alias "Cisco Kid" and "Tiger"
bully their rights of passage through
barefoot handcart boys burning
callouses for brakes. Under
sagging power lines blue
with old man's beard hedges
crushed in the embrace of love bush,
lips orange, keep on kissing
while grass like lightning
zigzags down the cracked unlevel sidewalks.

Bougainvilleas flame their murals
on flaking whitewashed walls
with such incendiary blooms
the air is singed with purple.
Random mango trees lounge lazily
in yards enclosed with fences
out of plumb, lurching like files
of drunken soldiers to the sea—
nothing perpendicular or square,
even the horizon bent.

No wonder our foreign policy
is non-aligned, our art
an anti-architecture
of angles right at eighty-nine
degrees, pedestals an inch
too short, corners inclined
to argue where to meet.

In the white heat black faces
drip blue sweat and melt into themselves,
pulling shades over their eyes.
Such resignation burns
deeper than anger or is the peace
that passes understanding. Or worms.

--Ralph Thompson

* * *

"Lime Cure"

I'm filling my house with limes
to keep away the evil spirits.
I'm filling my house with limes
to help me cope.
I have limes on the counters, under the sink,
inside the wash basin.
My refrigerator is stuffed with limes
(there's no long any space for meat and potatoes).
Faking onionship, they hang from the walls.
Like golf balls, they have the run of the carpet
(but I would not drive them away).

I stash them in flowerpots.
I put them on bookshelves.
I keep them on my desk, cuddling with my computer.
I have two limes in every drawer of every chest
of every room.
I don't bathe, I marinade.

At night, I think of their cores, plump and wet.
I imagine myself taking off the peel and squeezing
until they burst in my hands.
I taste the tart juice dripping on my tongue.
I shudder.
Then I sleep peacefully inside green dreams of lime
and when I wake, I bask in the morning's lime light.

Were it not for limes, I would not know
what to do with myself.
I could not bear this loneliness.
I would burst. But there is a wisdom in limes, an uneventfulness
that soothes my seething, and whispers to me:
think, be still, and think some more,
and when night arrives, dream of juice.

--Gustavo Pérez-Firmat

* * *

"At Dawn Beach"

We soon decide they are lovers:
an older man
whose hair retreats
from his forehead
like shy waves abandoning the shore
and a second, younger and blond,
who sits close and cocky in
trunks slick as a black spill.

The older dons a towel bunched
like rabbit ears
to protect his tanned and oiled head,
then bends to wipe sand from his small toes.
The youth watches, his face
a jumpy portrait of ambivalence--
with that mixed look of
love and impatience only old friends
and spouses wear.
He presses one firm finger
into his old lover's arm
--leaving a white spot the size of a dime--
and points.

The light in the Antilles is strong
so what they stare at we soon see:
a thin-necked bird--white--
with a pointed orange beak.
The bird walks on two sticks-for-legs
across a spot of green foliage,
carefully moving first one foot then the other
toward the sand that slopes to the sea.
His steps press the leaves lightly
as the local Passaat breeze,
leaving barely a trace.

My husband and I glance at each other,
and before we return to our books
our heads turn as one down the beach
where men thrust umbrella poles into white sand
and women's bare breasts flop like burst balloons
upon their burning bodies.

They all want what we want--and what our two
lovers want--but seem to show it more.
Even a gentle touch can leave a firm white
print, the bruise of a coin in the heart.

Donna Baier Stein

* * *

"Praise to the mother of Jamaican art"

She was the nameless woman who created
images of her children sld away from her.
She suspended her wood babies from a rope
round her neck, before she ate she fed them.
Touched bits of pounded yam and plantains
to sealed lips, always urged them to sip water.
She carved them of wormwood, teeth and nails
her first tools, later she wielded a blunt blade.
Her spit cleaned faces and limbs; the pitch oil
of her skin burnished them. When woodworms
bored into their bellies she warmed castor oil
they purged. She learned her art by breaking
hard rockstones. She did not sign her work.

--Lorna Goodison

* * *

"Bilingual Sestina"

Some things I have to say aren't getting said
in this snowy, blond, blue-eyed, gum-chewing English:
dawn's early light sifting through persianas closed
the night before by dark-skinned girls whose words
evoke cama, aposento, suenos in nombres
from that first world I can't translate from Spanish.

Gladys, Rosario, Altagracia -- the sounds of Spanish
wash over me like warm island waters as I say
your soothing names: a child again learning the nombres
of things you point to in the world before English
turned sol, tierra, cielo, luna to vocabulary words --
sun, earth, sky, moon. Language closed

like the touch-sensitive morivivi whose leaves closed
when we kids poked them, astonished. Even Spanish
failed us back then when we saw how frail a word is
when faced with the thing it names. How saying
its name won't always summon up in Spanish or English
the full blown genie from the bottled nombre.

Gladys, I summon you back by saying you nombre.
Open up again the house of slatted windows closed
since childhood, where palabras left behind for English
stand dusty and awkward in neglected Spanish.
Rosario, muse of el patio, sing in me and through me say
that world again, begin first with those first words

you put in my mouth as you pointed to the world --
not Adam, not God, but a country girl numbering
the stars, the blades of grass, warming the sun by saying,
Qué calor! as you opened up the morning closed
inside the night until you sang in Spanish,
Estas son las mananitas and listening in bed, no English

yet in my head to confuse me with translations, no English
doubling the word with synonyms, no dizzying array of words
-- the world was simple and intact in Spanish --
luna, sol, casa, luz, flor, as if the nombres
were the outer skin of things, as if words were so close
one leftg a mist of breath on things by saying

their names, an intimacy I now yearn for in English --
words so close to what I mean that I almost hear my Spanish
heart beating, beating inside what I say en inglés.

--Julia Alvarez

* * *

"Immortal Turtle"

As my father slipped from the surface
he became graceful as a porpoise
nosing his way into the illegible
Caribbean's clear blue water.

The turtle he longed to touch,
had lodged in his head as a youth
sitting in the green house where he kept
a turtle against his mother's wishes.

Knock-kneed, chubby, nicknamed after
a gold fish whose luster
was closer to copper, Grubious,
my father's mind was an aquarium

filled with Geographic images of turtles
whose shells were the color of sea glass
smoothed by a million invisible chances.
Now the center of my father's mind

is a cathedral window, the pattern of a great sea
turtle imagined to be immortal, swimming
from unknown depths to visible shallows
to lay its eggs beyond the brain coral.

James Lowell

* * *

"Sea Canes"

Half my friends are head.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.

Tonight I can snatch their talk
from the faint surf's drone
through the canes, but I cannot walk

on the moonlit leaves of ocean
down that white road alone,
or float with the dreaming motion

of owls leaving earth's load.
O earth, the number of friends you keep
exceeds those left to be loved.

The sea canes by the cliff flash green and silver;
they were the seraph lances of my faith,
but out of what is lost grows something stronger

that has the rational radiance of stone,
enduring moonlight, further than despair,
strong as the wind, that through dividing canes

brings those we love before us, as they were,
with faults and all, not nobler, just here.

--Derek Walcott

* * *

"Rootstocks and Cuttings"

The power line's down, its plume of voltage
bright as a ginger flower.
Wind keening on the zinc roof's edge.
Cannonades of breadfruit,
pawpaw, calabash,
as though a galleon stood offshore.
Lianas of rain, rain like a beaded curtain
someone has just hurried through.

On her kitchen table a candle
builds its blunt ruins.
She's been working a needle, bright thread
and darning egg through the hours,
but now she stops and listens to
a sound within all the other sounds.

He is coming up the path again
with rootstocks and cuttings and their wisdom
kept alive for her on the schooner
he shipped aboard: those four o'clocks
from Antigua, their taproot a poultice;
or from the Grenadines, hollowstalk mint
that grinds to a headache powder;
or the bay spurge of Tortola,
its lozenge root laid under the tongue
against wakefulness.

He is calling her name now
and wants to tell her about an Arawak cave
he found on the slopes of Mt. Misery,
its walls covered with petroglyphs
carved out of dreams and visions: the deities
of crop-over, hunting, childbirth,
and in streaming plumage, Huracán.

Leaving the anchorage that last time
with bolts of cloth for Grenada
thirty years ago, the light as he waved
caught the sea scars on his hands,
those pale markings that she always
laughed to tell him were the color
of freshly-opened sugar apples.

He took her life in his hands . . .
then a squall in the Dominica Passage,
and the sea wove a hundred colors together.

What does her soup ladle brim with
in this torn candlelight?
Caulking pitch from the careenage?
Bone? She remembers
the first hurricane after his death,
how she wanted to be taken
if the god would have her.

The flower garden holds deep,
so she dreams herself among those voyage roots
and all their returnings.

Thomas Reiter

* * *

"Shook Foil"

The whole earth is filled with the love of God.
In the backwoods, the green light
is startled by blossoming white petals,
soft pathways for the praying bird
dipping into the nectar, darting in starts
among the tangle of bush and trees.
My giddy walk through this speckled grotto
is drunk with the slow mugginess
of a reggae bass line, finding its melody
in the mellow of the soft earth's breath.
I find the narrow stream like a dog sniffing,
and dip my sweaty feet in the cool.
While sitting in this womb of space
the salad romantic in me constructs
a poem. This is all I can muster
before the clatter of school-children
searching for the crooks of guava branches
startles all with their expletives and howls;
the trailing snot-faced child wailing perpetual --
with ritual pauses for breath and pity.
In their wake I find the silver innards of discoarded
cigarette boxes, the anemic pale of tossed
condoms, the smashed brown sparkle of red Stripe
bottles, a melange of bones and rotting fruit,
there in the sudden light of noon.

How quickly the grandeur fades into a poem,
how easily everything of reverie starts to crumble.
I walk from the stream. Within seconds
sweat soaks my neck and back, stones clog my shoes,
flies prick my flaming face and ears;
bramble draws thin lines of blood on my arms.
There is a surfeit of love hidden here;
at least this is the way faith asserts itself.
I emerge from the valley of contradictions,
my heart beating with the effort, and stand looking
over the banking, far into Kingston Harbour
and the blue into grey of the Caribbean Sea.
I dream up a conceit for this journey
and with remarkable smugness it fits;
this reggae sound: the bluesy mellow
of a stroll on soft, fecund earth, battling the crack
of the cross stick; the scratch of guitar,
the electronic manipulation of digital sound,
and the plaintive wail of the grating voice.
With my eyes closed, I am drunk with the mellow,
swimming, swimming among the green of better days;
and I rise from the pool of sound, slippery with
the warm cling of music on my skin,
and enter the drier staleness of the road
that leads to the waiting city of fluorescent lights.

--Kwame Dawes

* * *

"Frail Deposits"
For Wilson Harris

3. Bone Flute

'This your son?' enquires the curator
As we waltz in for our official tour.

You finger the thousand year flute of bone
As if about to burst out in a tune.

You tell how the bone came from an enemy,
Morsels of whose flesh is consumed by them.

When air is blown into the fashioned bone,
The enemy's knowhow and plans are summoned.

The flute I'm trying to blow a tune on
Belongs to you, got by me over years from

Stringing your thoughts sentence by sentence,
Or what must stand for you in your absence:

Having to check when I've said something
To see if it's your since it has your ring.

--Fred D'Aguiar

* * *

"Fellow Traveller"

You hear the rain crossing the valley?
You know it will strike us quite soon?
You know how this damn roof is leaking?
Well, of course you must know.
for you holed it yourself
when the wind start to blow
on the day that you said
the damn walls hold you in
and you feel like you dead
and you gone on the roof there, to dance.

You said how you were sure
if you climbed right up high
felt the sun right above you,
your hair in the sky,
you would see far far.
That the walls block you up,
that the walls 'paw' you in
and you danced and you laughed.

Now, I was afraid you would fall down.
You said No, and, So what if I do?
Is just safety you want?
I have things I must see
and I can't keep on thinking about you.

But you knew I would stay here inside it.
You knew I would wait for you.
Now I wait and have waited and will wait
but my dancer, the rain's coming in,
and you see how that big storm is brewing?
Where's my shelter?
I drowning again?

You see you, dancer,
big smile on your beautiful mouth?
You see you, seeker?
Fix the roof.
Or I is moving out.

--Jane King

* * *

"To a Daughter"

He never hoped for you, he never not:
it was you who gave birth to a father.

A baby, you wanted often to play
with the only friend you had all day long

but the drug of Work would pull him away
to a desk, piano, easel or stove.

If he felt you were keeping him from other
life like salt running out, he might bark

Leave me alone, in the anger of fear,
and would feel his voice quiver your spine.

But you never stopped running to embrace
him, teaching how gratuitous is love.

Your father's love for you, shadowed by pain,
clouded by duty, was never as free.

Yet though you're now 'tall as a lantern-post,'
you still sit on his knee and hug his neck;

but that he once frightened you still frightens him
shoud he snap Leave me alone, meaning now Don't.

--Brian Chan

* * *


I like fresh flowers around the house.
The faint cloying sweetness of their brief
colourful life. No plastic blooms
or deceitful silks. Like Ama Ata,
I say: "No fake flowers at my funeral."

Flowers in the garden have to survive me.
I'm not a gardener like my mother.
She used to potter in the earth,
digging for peace and sanity.
My husband potters the same way.

He wants to farm, but never has time.
I find pumpkins in the bougainvillaea,
pawpaw in the ginger lilies,
spinach in the bed of impatience
and hibiscus with pigeon peas.

It's a good marriage, body and soul.
I think I prefer neat pretty beds,
but rumpled pigeon peas
and rambling passion fruit
tend to engulf the heliconia.

Still the hibiscus opens to the light.
With pigeon peas we survive the night.

Margaret Watts

* * *

"Lexicon of Hollow Gourds"

in each a memory, dark, coiled, pearls tucked in for the night,
and each night,
with the moon's music, they awaken
from their slumber, they rise & ask for coffee,
speak of what each has dreamt: a father,
leaving, his wide back to the door,
a child perched on the sofa's armrest,
they dress in the best clothes, as though they were going to a funeral,
they shine their shoes, tuck kerchiefs into pockets,
look at their faces one more time
in the mirror, smile to check their teeth,
on their way out,
they don't wave goodbye,
don't lock the door, in fact, leave the door
open, get in their cars, and turn forever at the corner.
Some do return though, because they miss their concave lives,
and each night,
before they go back to sleep,
they say a prayer for the worn, for the lost,
for the unremembered,
my grandmother drank her espresso out of cut gourd,
a little handle riveted to its smooth side,
a way for her finger to worm through,
and she'd say she loved the taste of sweet coffee in her gourd,
how each night,
she thought she could hear
the ghostly echoes of the rain falling,
telling its story of how some travel, how some
become refugees in their own countries.

Virgil Suarez

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