The Muse of History

The Muse of History


“let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth”

The past’s fantasia cannot hold or let
us go. Flycatcher catching itself in
the pool’s glint gaze, Samarkand where Tamerlane
hewed his bloody thread, unspooling across
the hacked-to-pieces field, a triple axle
splitting Clio’s cataract, muddy then
clear, the opal of a rain-sheened open
eye that looks at nothing but yet holds
our look.
Euterpe, my head is in my hands.
Flies speckle the field. The sizer, hissing,
straps dynamite to a waist no bigger
than a fly’s wing span, but the daughters
of Babylon do not tarry—the road flares
burn blue, bog irises, erect, quivering.

“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”

The coiled snake sheds and eats itself, its bitten
tail an omphalos, the arrowhead’s
stung fire hitting the scorched bulls-eye,
the crooning singer stopped mid-note, his silent
measure hung in air, a pillow-slip, cotton
turning to cloud, immeasurable—
the President, singing.
At Appomattox,
when General Lee said to Ely S. Parker,
a Senecan, who recorded the terms
of the surrender, “It is good to have
a real American here,” he replied, “Sir,
we are all Americans.” The century
folds, a white flag rent with frazzled tears.
Let my demons rage so I know who they are.

“O daughter of Babylon”

The calico licks each knuckle to a moonscape,
her velvet pupils two quotation marks.
What’s the opposite of oxygen?
Pure carbonation, the children trail their cartoon
balloons past where last night, sleepless on
my duck blind-barge, I steered the ragged sofa
across Persia’s raveled coast and ran aground.
Cat and fiddle, dish and spoon, their voices
tinsel, threading time’s slit-eye needle—
Does the moon hold water? The moon, or our
idea of it? Shall I come kiss you? Yes, please.
Fugitive, the cut-throat sparrow captive
bangs its head and takes the future’s measure,
an echo climbing Eurydice’s stair.

“we hanged our harps upon the willows”

Every moment’s a time bomb. The scorpion
inside a cage of flame will strike himself,
two of them will kill each other, black
carapace glimpsed through the needle’s eye.
The flame darting where you laid it down
is Giotto’s circle lit with paraffin,
your halo full of whirring bees. Come, lost
one, out of the shadows—the children’s
sparklers constellate the sequined lawn,
Orion’s arrows pinning fallen stars.
No man meets me. I strut the stair, half-dare
myself to miss the tread, shy spider,
all hands and legs—If you don’t see me,
you ain’t gonna have to wonder why.

V. INSIDE OUT (for Michael Vincent Miller)
“If I forget thee, O Jerusalem”

Say what you see. I see a door. A door?
Is it open or closed? It is opening.
No, it’s closing. Now it’s closed, I think.
I think it’s closed. Where is the door? What
sort of door is it?
An inside door,
the door of a room. Which room? When
I was a child. A slipper of light.
But it’s the wrong door! Is there another door?
When Charlemagne invited Alcuin
of York to Aachen to supervise the new
clear handwriting of God, the herded letters
jumped the fence like lambs. Moss on the door,
the hinges rusted shut, damp green on green.
I put my ear to it, the thick plank vibrating.

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