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Sappho’s Boat
1982

JOAN

Today, May 30th, Joan

of Arc was burned.

She was 19 and

when she died

a man saw white doves

fly from her mouth.

Joan was born in 1412

between Lorraine

and Champagne. Joan

was raised on legends.

Merlin said France would be

lost by a woman and saved

by a virgin. Joan was

not an adventurous girl, not

a tomboy, but very dreamy,

good, stay-at-home,

the baby of the family.

Joan never got her period.

She heard these voices

in the bells, she saw angels

in colored glass. She believed

the sun moved around

the earth because that’s

what she saw. She believed

God wanted Charles VII

to be King of France

because that’s what Michael,

Catherine & Margaret told

her when she listened to

the bells. Her father

said he’d drown her

if she didn’t stop this

nonsense.

She was 19 years old

when they burned her body in the middle of town

while she was still alive. A white dove

came out of her mouth as she died.

Five hundred and forty-eight years ago today.

A dove leaped right out of her mouth.

“ROMANTIC PAIN”

And in the first bar

the woman next to me said, “

How would you like to be introduced

to a couple of muscle-bound . . .”

Then she talked about when she

had been chef, “Moist juicy

salad with russian dressing”

I gulped my bourbon & walked

out the door.

The second bar was all women.

Bartender, a chubby Diane Keaton.

Woman to my left, also

in the bar business. Woman

to my right, passed out.

I sipped my bourbon and listened

                 to the jukebox.

I’d been asleep all day. I wanted to

be tired again. I looked up

and the sky was very dark.

I must see morning. I must

get off my ass, walk

and get tired.

Passed Canal Street. Walked through the plaza

of the criminal courts. Lit a cigarette

near a potted tree on Chambers Street.

World Trade towers immense quiet and barely

lit. Past the giant post office,

patriotic trucks coming in and out of the garage.

Retreat to the womb. A pregnant silence.

Rounding the corner, catholic relief place,

free lunches for old sailors. I

decide to ride the escalator

like I never do . . . up into the

ferry building. A last resort.

People sacked out on wooden benches.

Strange ladies room with door

wide open so everyone watches you look at

               yourself. No one watches.

All crashed out on benches. I re-assemble

a red-stained newspaper. Get askance

stares like I’m a young bag lady.

I looked pasty in the bathroom.

Eyes like raccoons. My hair’s screwed up.

My jacket looks “boxy.”

The sign that says NEXT BOAT

goes green. We herd on,

rumpled, tobacco-mouthed, the black guy

calling the white woman with the little dog

“Weird” “a weird bitch”

He looks to me. Looks at me.

I try to tell him it’s OK,

I am a weird bitch. The boat smells of

donuts and is filled with cops,

conductors, strange people coming home

from strange nights. I go in the

ladies room & see the woman

with the little dog. She plucks a

Winston from her pack. And an

oriental woman. Terribly neat. I

want to look at myself in the mirror

but I look so shitty I don’t want

to expose my third-rate vanity. The

other two of us light a cigarette.

Three women at different angles

smoking cigarettes. We each sneak

peeks at ourselves in the mirror.

Push this piece of hair. Move

that collar      Inspect that eyelash.

               I can see us from overhead

and call the configuration “Feminism”

And the boat pulls out. I am brave

I am Hart Crane, I push the

      brown door aside and stand out on

            the deck. This is what I

came here for. The “me” movie,

            me on the deck in slight rain at

            5 A.M. looking at the Statue of Liberty

swathed in mist. I want to wave.

I always want to wave at her.

It’s kind of cold and I think of

            various deaths in my family,

            how I’d go to see various gravestones

trying to exert some sorrow. Trying to

              create the sorrowful setting as

this one is “romantic pain,” me alone in the

            rain on a boat and it’s cold

                 and I want a cigarette.

I huddle under the overhanging upper deck

            trying to light one. A cop comes

                 by & I stealthily turn,

the wind picks my pack from my hands

                 and I chase it and it scares me

me running on this deck &

              I think how desperate I was

              looking and I think the

              cop thinks now that I’m

going to jump & I sit on the

                 orange boat-bench

thinking what a fucked up reason for

        suicide that would be,

        just living up to some cop’s anticipation.

                 Ha! I chuckle,

                 my kind of death

        and I head downstairs

          where the scum are allowed to

        smoke, the windows thick

              with grime, the smell of

          decades of sour-mouthed

              smokers      and I smoke.

                    And I watch Staten Island

approach.

                     Feeling the fool

      I make a U-turn in the

              hallway & look for the entrance

                         to the New York ferry.

               I hope the crew is different.

               I check the name of the boat but

                   it doesn’t matter. I didn’t

notice the other boat’s name.

                 I make my perfunctory

              tour of the deck. I feel

like Hart Crane. The wind smacks my

          hair, washes it over my cheeks &

                         I wish I could cry.

          The boat feels right this time.

                 Downstairs to smoke.

I always smoke. And it’s crowded

               this time. Morning people,

foggy like night people but cleaner.

              Clean shirts, nylons, heels

        people drinking coffee as they

        smoke their cigarettes. The

          fat man over there,

               he keeps winking at me.

        I think, thinking I have no subway

                 money, “For 50 cents I’ll

          give you something to wink

                         at.”

All the way home

            through Chinatown, through

            the Bowery, back in the

business section, the awakening city,

        sitting on the bench across

              the street from

        the brand new FAMILY COURT

                     building,

            I keep looking for it, that wonderful

                 10, the 20 dollar bill

               waiting for me, lying on the

ground. I keep my head

            down all the way home. My feet

              hurt. And I missed the

               dawn. The

            goddamn dawn, Said Hart Crane.

LA VITA NUOVA

                           Love is an assumption

               that is my argument

                           rudely transposing me

                     as a certain process

                                or in relationship to sanity

                     or I suppose this is an argument

                                                         between the body &

                     the soul

                                      whether the chicken hatches

               the egg.

          Alone in my soul

                           or through the bodies of others

                                      which confuse

                                      & disarm

                         in a really provocative manner.

                                O

                 what financial disaster

                 to lie among sheep

               propose that all men are sheep

                                      all women.

                   Plato has me hot in drag

                                      and they’re all brilliant

                           perceptions. Who amongst

                                  me is really getting off? Trans-

                         positions rudely transposing me.

                           In my argument I am amused.

                                      I’d really like to tell

                         you of my love. But

                     in describing I would name,

                                lose

                           my love in attempts

                                                                   to praise.

                                You must know I’m talking to you.

              The absolutely horrible

cotillion of my thoughts.

      I like to get really stoned

and revise everything I’ve ever done

            Leaning

          against the refrigerator

thinking I would kill to be

              in bed with you right

               now.

               I get up.

          Turn down my hamburger, re-establishing

      myself

            into a reading at the

               Gotham, a man next to me

comments, “It’s amazing

        how Irish Catholics

  are so uncomfortable inside

               of their bodies . . .”

          I smile knowingly

                           Bernadette Devlin crossing

                                the border

                         I get up again to put cheese on

                                my burger

                           theorizing of poems based

                   on appetite, the time elapsed

                         proceeding on the multitudes

                   of varying angles

                           separate climes . . .

Am I not inside my life?

               Is my life the many places I can be

                   alive in & not get nostalgic

                                  about?

               Is man alone in the Universe?

                   What about me? I’m

                     replacing a lightbulb

               and thinking about you.

I’m a phoney. The illusion of love

      is no substitute

                   for the actual

experience of being a carpenter

                 which I have never

                           ever considered being.

EXPLODING THE SPRING MYSTIQUE

Good Morning, World! Captain Eileen here

At her little morning desk

Dying to tell you at the crack of dawn

How dearly she hates it

How Spring truly sucks.

Here we have it outside my morning window

Birds twittering, buds newly greening on perky branches

                 “Tweet,” another fucking bird.

And I had to go through a whole night to get here.

That’s the part that’s really hard to swallow.

I had to lie awake for hours thinking of how I hate just about

Every man, woman and child who walks the face of this earth

Myself included, I find self-hate extremely motivating

I thought of everyone I’ve ever fucked or wanted to and

Thought how unrewarding it was. “Can’t take it with you!”

Like they say.

I thought of the conversations I’ve had.

Nearly the mystery was unraveled in 1962.

Then in 64, 67, 72, 73 and 74. And those were the transcendent

Conversations. Not to mention the warm friendly variety, or

The pitiful confessional motif. Both of you

Pour out your sorrows and feel instantly better.

“And I thought I was fucked up!” each thinks.

I thought of my dreams of becoming a great poet & then I

          thought of

My poet friends who dream no differently. I thought of my

Poet friends and how they have no right to live within

The revolting egocentric realities uniquely expressed in

Syntax all their own and then they print their own poems

In their own little magazines.

Was it Marlon Brando who said, “Looking up the asshole

          of death.”

Anyhow, by 35 most poets either can’t do it anymore

Or have ruined their lives or the lives of others or have

Simply realized that all of it was a farce.

Suddenly struck at 35 by the genuinely mediocre fact of your

          life

Which previously stood as a backdrop to the cosmos or

          culture

And now . . . Har, Har, Middle-Aged Poet!

Joke’s on you. Broke and not very good-looking.

Though I don’t plan to stop at this moment.

Sure, I hate my friends and they hate me and there’s no one

          around to

fuck except the ones who won’t fuck me and they like to

          torture me

And I like it—my poems keep getting better and better.

But the fact is

If I am no longer a poet, then I will have to face being a

          useless and

Mediocre human being now, rather than when I’m 35, as is

      the norm

35 will be terrifying.

A) Unless dead or raving mad or abandoned with a large

          shopping bag

And a pint of Wild Irish Rose, I will be B) teaching a

      workshop

or C) penning a villanelle, as one poet puts it, or

D) just taking a shit and suddenly the joke will be swarming

          all

Around me, a nettle of fears and doubts, cold icy sweat,

          perhaps

I’ll be standing on a stage reading a fucking sonnet and

Whomp! “Your life is meaningless! This is the last

          message!”

“What, What . . .” I’ll mutter, swinging my arms around

          spastically

But I know what it means: “You blew it, Baby It was a joke.”

So I go home to my lover (If I’m that fucking lucky when I’m

35 . . . Why should it start then? But listen, this is the clincher . . .)

I go home to my lover, who’s of course in her early 20s

A Younger Poet. There’s a note on my pillow

Sorry, Honey, you peaked.

Arrrgh! I shriek at the heavens.

All those years I chortled at men: Ha! you guys are done in

at 18. Your “prime.” We women don’t peak until 35.

I collapse on my bed, a sexual and artistic homicide.

Though still breathing, and it is Spring.

MY RAMPANT MUSE, FOR HER

               Tuesday night      reading For Love on

      my bed. Or writing For Love

          poem is wishing

              when I stop waiting. One thousand times

I’ve read & wrote For Love

              wear my sneakers, drink

      my bourbon,

                                be 28 in spite of me

                     in mirrors, Christ!

                 I look fucking old

                                What does the evening

mean? I could fall for lamp-light,

          radio-song,

      “the oval shaped frame of which

      he was particularly fond . . .

                                For Love I would dream

when my schemes fall through, Man,

          could that little girl dance! For Love I will read

it 10,000 times      for my tomboy cousin Jean Marie,

              for radio song, For Love

I would not pity me, my 28, sneakers, bourbon

                                      the unseen

      future of my communications, and      the lamp-

          light, Her, she holds me here, so

                     rampantly

               in her evening beauty.

WHAX ‘N WAYNE

for Barbara

THE stars were glowing tonight

like all the paranoia in the universe

The air was chill

though it’s early March

but that makes sense

Doesn’t it, Love, Doesn’t it?

and a five-dollar bill

is cold upon my ass, my blood is cold,

footsteps shattering the stairs

up to my level

then past it.

I only want a place on the line, I don’t

want it to stop with me or start

with me, really I don’t want it to know I’m here

at all, I only love what finds me invisible

and touches me deeply. Cold does that

and that’s how I love the vanishing winter. I used to count

breaths in the night, one night I counted the church-bells

          falling

into a marsh and growing silent. It was two days before I dis-

covered boys, and tonight is two days after. I feel like

a woolen sock on the line, rippling, the season doesn’t care

about me and I’m using it without its permission.

It’s the new god, the one that doesn’t know about me at all,

who misses me in movies, restaurants, who doesn’t count my

wheels spinning—who could count silence? that’s the one I

          love.

Loneliness sharpens into something sweeter, my sadnesses

          sharpening

themselves, christian thorns, You bet! Apples bananas

          particularness

which doesn’t exist at all is a bird too big for churches so

churches grow as good as movies, restaurants      silence is

          running

tonight to get hot coffee, to smoke, to breathe

everyone is going home to someplace, me too, love creates

          loneliness,

I never knew that before.

Television is what the night eats.

I eat some soup, some bread, old black coffee reheated like

          favorite

shoes, you’re like a fireplace I just want to be around.

Five bucks chill upon the ass, I think I’ll buy the morning

          and some

of the afternoon. O pink tulip, 2 yellows,

the length of this room, peaceful cats, outside it’s cold,

damn it whatever happened to Spring? She comes before

          the other,

don’t you know, you know, Primavera—get it, get it, get it?

I can stand in back of anyone I want, man or woman and

          anyone

who wants to stand in back of me is welcome, in fact they

          can stand in

front of me if they know how to do it, do you get it?

I think we are an army of trees. When I tripped

I only wanted to sit down everything was moving so much,

catholic poets only pray, no matter what they say

if I’m really vain I could propose to jump back into the pool,

just like it was a room, just like I’m not a stupid feather on

an immense wing, Love’s taught me a loneliness I never

          imagined.

This side of the hallways, umm I don’t know . . . smokier? I

          always

thought I really loved Dante but now I know what he

          meant.

Mark says 9 represents chaos,

Dante thought 9 was the music of the spheres.

Mark is a musician and if you could draw a line between

          those two guys

I would call it history, hang a sock or two like me.

Affluence is holding out a dollar and receiving exactly what

          you want,

I call that economics, when I say “television” you know

          exactly

what I mean, I call that a modern idea, a word, “television,”

get it? Let’s do it again: “time,” Take the word breast,

take tit, what gets erotic is which word you prefer, what gets

warm is speechless . . . the cold things are easy to enumerate:

stars, paranoia, ideas under blankets

kiss my teeth. If a woman wakes up remembering her dreams

and she tells her lover and she doesn’t lie at all

and the next day the lover dreams something entirely different

and all day both lovers think about each other’s dreams

and go and have different dreams the next night

and they just enjoy telling the dreams each morning

with their coffee. If a cat nibbles on flowers

I lift it off the table and make it stop because it is ugly.

Dreams are some kind of flowers and when I pour coffee

          into my cup

this morning, for example, and I feed the cats this stuff I

          wouldn’t

eat, I go to the bank, drink some orange juice at Binibon’s.

Stuff with real pieces of orange in it. I drink a real big glass

of the stuff. The New York Post has one article about

          “peace,”

one about “terrorism.” A guy in Weehawken is watching

The Ten Commandments on “television” Boom

a cuban storefront explodes while Moses is receiving the

          tablets.

Let’s call that channel religion. Or science fiction.

Then the New York Post has an article about SHAPING UP.

I’m always thinking about that and I suppose my body

          reforms

accordingly. Lover, lover, here’s a flower.

It doesn’t think, It’s like my mother.

I wasn’t interested in the newspaper

it was just something I needed to hold. All the time I have

          dreams

that could have happened. “No more orange juice” or

          someone turns

to me and speaks a line I just wrote and I wonder if they

read a poem of mine lying on my desk or am I dreaming or,

I don’t know, maybe there’s different flowers in the vase

from when I fell asleep—well I don’t live alone so there’s no

reason to be surprised that different flowers are in the same vase.

When I dream I dream nothing extraordinary. That’s what

          I’m

trying to say. If something’s broken maybe the cat did it.

The wooden counter at Binibon’s is more interesting

than the newspaper but if I sat here reading the counter

I’d look like an asshole. Reading a little bit

from each article I read like a bird.

I used to read like a horse until I went to college.

I felt all that knowledge coming at me through a screen.

Television fills the silence, I pay my check and leave a tip.

“The word is at the end; it’s the thing’s dead body.” Words

of the Baby Bertolt Brecht. O—please pick up your grilled

tomato and cheese—please eat it. I didn’t mean what I

said. All week long I’ve seen nothing but Lilacs.

Up and down Lexington Avenue, St. Mark’s Place, through

windows of classy restaurants. But there’s nothing

classy about lilacs; they used to line the trees on the street

where I lived. Children in spring bringing home big

armfuls, marching up twilit spring nights carrying

purple lilacs home to mothers waiting on screened porches.

Nineteenth century flower book says Lilac—Purple,

first emotions of love. Surprised me, I expected

death, something melancholic and fading. I am so taken

by these flowers these days. Days expanding and shrinking

so I am sure I am no form at all. Just your eyes and

my stupidity. Some people are so sure they aren’t loved

they’ll throw themselves to the task of being hateful. If

only I could buy some Lilacs on a full-moon night and run

here panting and wild. Be something perfect that doesn’t

count and change. But I grew up where lilacs were free,

didn’t everyone? So I’ll just watch them all spring

in restaurants and flower shops . . . full and soft

as the lights go down, the moon comes up and another

season starts shouldering in. But the purple lilacs

are the most beautiful and I will always love you.

YELLOW TULIPS

I was walking along the sidewalk

in all the daily pain

& miserable faces & awful air.

Up above in a flower box

were yellow tulips, too real

to be real, so big

and sexual-looking in

that funny way flowers

always are. I guess

they were like heads

poking in from another

world. How do you

like Wednesday, you

beautiful things?

NEW YORK TULIPS

Then a group of you

found singing in a park

around a stupid old historical statue

Some tulips are completely

red, and some are terribly yellow.

Then the others shaded by both

maybe less clearly this or that.

But the mixed tulips

I love for their compassion.

They soften the blows

of this & that

I find them very beautiful.

LORNA & VICKI

Inside the White House lives the President

of the United States and the First Lady lives

with him. It makes me think about history:

amazing that anyone could,

or would want to live in there

especially to live with a guy who lives

in there. To live with some children, too.

Lesbian mums are shaking in the breeze

or to really tell the truth

this Smith-Corona is shaking the table

is shaking the grey stone mug that holds

the lavender mums so they shake.

I was riding down 5th Avenue yesterday and

the jostling vehicle started getting me off

and I started pressing my finger

against the seam of my jeans between my

legs—it got even better,

but then I thought “Oh Eileen, let nature

take its course. I’ve had orgasms sitting

at the back of the bus—on the far

left, right over the motor. And pedaling

up a hill on a hot summer day I was nearly knocked

off my bicycle by one but I was young

and thought it was a religious experience.

Masturbation will always be my favorite

form of sex, though if I was a tree

I’d just stand there in the breeze.

My mother used to spend a lot of her summer

evenings trying to cajole me

into doing the dishes. Eventually she’d do

this thing called “getting them started”—

or “letting them soak” I couldn’t stand it.

Same way I can’t stand this Smith-Corona

growling or humming while I’m looking for

a word. I like to do my waiting in silence—

I don’t mind that pup yapping out my window

she’s not even mindful of my mums

or my mother or you napping on the couch

or . . . Soaking dishes irritated my abandon.

Despite the fact I’m putting it off,

something’s getting done. Each moment the job

gets a little easier and by the time

I slide my hands into the water and pull

out a plate: “Your idea was a good one, Mom.

Several hours of soaking have certainly loosened

up the food particles clinging to this evening’s

dishes. I’m sure these’ll be done in a jiff

thanks to you.” Or water,

but that’s the point. And sun is much the same.

If you put a couple of tea bags in a quart jar

of water and set the whole mess on your fire-escape

you wind up with something called Sun Tea.

Just think about it. Add some lemons.

It makes me wonder what wind can do—

while you’re not even looking. Apparently

it jostles the leaves and petals too

--it’s nature’s favorite form of sex I bet. Turning

rain into a storm, knocking the angles of rain-

drops around like pool balls. Silently

though. Not the storm but the movement.

Movement is pretty quiet as long as it’s not work.

I guess it was Thursday morning during a tropical

storm called David that I put on this tarp-type

poncho and went up on the roof

to see a lunar eclipse. Naturally the storm

had masked the event—the sun was a smudged

peach but loaded somehow—it actually felt magnetic.

The moon doing this thing you couldn’t see,

well I was standing on my roof inside magic

a very mad and pleased Druidical woman

I wanted to pray to somebody or something,

wind or rain or downstairs in the warmth

when I took my clothes off and got

back in bed and fell asleep.

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