Thursday, July 27, 2006

"Spiky Palm" and "Illya's Honey/Dallas Poets Community"

I want to thank the editors of Spiky Palm, Carol Cotton and Chuck Wemple, for publishing my poem Seashell in their latest issue and Ann Howells of Illya's Honey/Dallas Poets Community for accepting two poems-Glacier and Sea Wife-for their December issue.

Monday, July 24, 2006

In memory of Cydney W. Adams-"School Days" by Keith Harvey

School Days

A two-wheeled trailer, parked
on a hill in a pasture near Nacogdoches,
casts a silver shadow
toward an anemic creek
with water the color
of a fly’s eye,
as a November sun set.

James, a bottle of Jim Beam
in his hand, said to Cyd
and me, “I love The Dead.
I love it something awful.”
He guzzled the last swallow
of the pint and threw it against a stump.

I opened a Coors that James had driven
to Dallas on a whim to buy and added,
“Me, I like those mystical Germans-
Hesse and Mann, with their long, serpentine
sentences slithering down the page.
Tonio Krüger or old Aschenbach.
That’s for me.”

Cyd, pulling a rotten tooth
from his dwarf sized mouth,
the true poet among us,
sucked on a Camel and said,
“Thomas. That’s the ticket.
The old Dylan.”

James staggered to the trailer,
crawled beneath,
to lie on the earth and sleep.
He wrapped himself in a red blanket
that my Choctaw Granny made me.

“What the hell are you doing?”
Terry asked.
“Resting,” he replied in November
in the piney woods
in 1974 at the end of the war.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Cain and Abel and Corn-Mother

While working on my cycle of poems about Adam and Eve, I returned to Genesis 4:1-8. In thinking about the difference between Cain, the first born, and Abel, the second, it is obvious that the struggle arises between the agriculturist and the shepherd. One sacrifices produce and the other blood. As I was thinking about this difference, it struck me that what is really occurring here is a struggle between an older polytheistic matriarchal society and a newer monotheistic patriarchal one.

Vegetation or agriculture was traditionally controlled by female gods, such as Isis and Demeter, something that would have been abhorrent to the early Hebrews. Consequently, Cain is aligned with the corn-mother or the corn-goddess, while Abel is associated with the very male Hebrew "Lord." The offering of grain and corn is no longer sufficient; instead, the male "Lord" requires blood to be spilt and a life sacrificed.

This interpretation seems plausible when we discover that an ur-text is the Sumerian tale The Wooing of Inanna. This story tells of the ancient conflict between nomadic herders and settled agrarian farmers. Dumuzi, the god of shepherds, and Enkimdu, the god of farmers, compete for Ianna, the chief goddess. Because Dumuzi is brash and aggressive, he wins the favor of Inanna and Enkimdu relents and tells Inanna to marry Dumuzi. Later he wanders away like Cain.

"Corn" by Keith Harvey


Disguised as a crow, he discovered the cornfield nestled in a valley,
a trough of fertile land stretched between two thighs of hills west
of the red river and south of his first cave, where thousands of crows
circled above green stalks, chiseled into brightness against blue
skies, topped and heavy with maize. Watching the birds
he learned the lesson of the corn and soon he was tearing cobs
from the stalks and eating the white, red, and yellow kernels.
Having eaten his fill he gathered corn in his arms and returned to her;
and, even though it was he that discovered the grain, it was she that saw
its importance and after she had eaten her fill she gathered their possessions
and forced him to move their camp to the hills above the field.
Once there she named it mother because the field nourished them
as she nourished her firstborn from her breasts. She took charge
of the field and told her son that he would be a man of the corn
rather than a febrile crow man like the other, his father.
The son listened carefully and called her corn-mother, confusing the two.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Paul Celan as Shaman

Michael Hamburger in his excellent Poems of Paul Celan, Persea Books, 2002, places two poems side by side, creating, at least for me, the impression that they are to be read together. The two poems are From Darkness to Darkness/ Von Dunkel zu Dunkel and Epitaph for François/Grabschrift für François. The truth of the matter is that Epitaph was written a year before Darkness. Nevertheless they both involve and elicit an understanding of death and its relationship to life and they are both haunting in their simplicity and depth. Ted Hughes believed that the poet was a shaman and that his poetry was ritualistic in nature and had the power to transform the reader. I believe Hughes and I think that the shaman’s power is alive in these two poems. The shaman, like our friend Hermes, is a psychopomp; he leads us to the underworld and then back again. In Darkness, the “I/ich” sees his own darkness in the eye of the other. “Du schlugst die Augen auf-ich seh mein Dunkel leben./ You opened your eyes-I saw my darkness live.” In Epitaph, the dying child opens the two doors of existence-life and death- and the living, the survivor, carries the “green” memory of the dead forward.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

"Lone Wolf" by Keith Harvey

Lone Wolf

She knew that I dreamed of wolves and so on a frigid moonless night
she told me the story of a lone wolf, the only wolf left in a western state,
who traveled several hundred miles north to find a mate
and when he arrived at his destination in another country
this lone wolf discovered for the first time that he was an old wolf,
too old to mate with the young females of this pack,
even though he had sniffed her out on a hint of air.
Too exhausted to return to his country, he hung about the pack,
still a lone wolf but close enough to smell her in heat.
After weeks of following the pack and being driven from his kills
by younger wolves he sickened and died in a stand of ash.
As she told me this story I recognized the wolf in her golden eyes
and I smelled her canine breath as she rested her dark head
on my chest. She smiled, baring her teeth, and I knew
that she saw my gray thinning hair
and the scars on my shoulders and legs.
She knew that my time was passing
and that if I didn’t join the pack now,
her faithful gaze would soon fade away
at the sound of the howls of younger wolves
and she would leave me to the cold and snow,
to hunger for her warmth and starve.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Alchemical Transformation in "As You Like It"

From time to time, while writing, an image will emerge that possesses a magical quality. These images spring forth from the unconscious mind and contain archetypal connections that produce a response in the reader that is somehow related to our deeper non-intellectual understanding. Recently, while reading Shakespeare’s As You Like It, I felt that such a mythic image entered quickly, unbidden and unsuspected, to provide the ultimate solution to the comedy. Further, I believe that these images are alchemical symbols acting as short hand exemplars of transformation.

The play tells the story of two noble families. In each family a brother has betrayed and usurped his brother. As a result of the usurpation the “better” brother is forced into the forest. The forest here is the place where confusion is resolved and consequently takes on the characteristic of a psychological temenos, an enclosure that cooks the participants and transforms them.

The main two characters are Rosalind and Orlando. Rosalind is the young daughter of he banished Duke Senior and Orlando is the younger son of Sir Rowland de Boys. Orlando has been usurped by his oldest brother, Oliver, and denied any participation in his legacy. In fact, as the play opens Oliver plots to have his brother killed in a wrestling match.

Although the plot initially seems to be a revenge play, we eventually learn that it is a comedy and that it will end in marriage. In the end four couples marry and a conversion occurs to Oliver. This conversion is a magical event fraught with mythic overtones. However, it occurs offstage and seems tacked on.

Orlando finds his brother lost and asleep in the forest. A snake is about to enter Oliver’s mouth when Orlando comes to his rescue, driving the snake away; however, a female lion waits in the bushes and attacks Orlando, wounding him severely. Here is the magic-the mythic image of the snake and the female lion serve as a conduit to the mythic plane. On one hand we are to read the scene realistically but on the other we understand that the snake and the lion are familiar archetypal images, as well as alchemical symbols, which transform Oliver through their power. Note that the snake was about to enter Oliver’s sleeping mouth. The snake was about to be ingested and thereby assimilated, while the lioness, the darkened female image, was about to consume him. However, his brother saves him and is wounded by the female lion, which results in conversion and order.

Both the snake and the lioness symbolize “Mercurius or the divine mercurial water of transformation, and the prima materia.” Once again our friend Mercurius or Hermes appears to act in his role of transformation. I believe that Shakespeare used the alchemical images as short hand to show that Orlando and Oliver lost in the forest undergo a psychological sea change.

Friday, July 14, 2006

"Opossum" by Keith Harvey


Sniffing strawberries,
she trips a sensor
and two halogen beams
bathe her in light,
blinding her.
She tiptoes,
helpless and exposed,
sniffing her way,
across Mexican tile,
searching for an escape
from this unbearable clarity,
this day for night
on a suburban stage.
She smells the strawberries
and lingers in her desire.
She knows the way back:
across the grass,
up the gingko tree,
scratching its tender bark
with her claws,
a run along a gnarled limb,
traversing the fence,
a jump to the live oak,
a descent to the alley,
a sprint to the drainage ditch
that passes beneath the freeway,
and finally an escape into the woods.
However, the smell of the berries
traps her within the light
that reveals her vanity:
her hairless tail,
her blanched fur,
infested with lice,
her sensitive snout,
and her weak, moist eyes.
Like a diver,
she hesitates
before her jump.
But the light hurts,
so she flees
and as she does
the light fades
but she lacks courage
to return.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

"Anger" by Keith Harvey


She finds him in a hollow
talking with a red fox,
their two heads pressed together
in quiet communion.
The sight of him dressed in his feathers,
whispering confidences to the silky fox,
so angers her
that if she were not holding
his newborn son on her hip
she would smash his head
with the first smooth stone
that would fit her hand.
The child, sensing her anger,
fights against her grip
and fills the hollow
with his fledgling cries,
forcing her to shift him
to the other hip
and frightening the fox
who flees
into a copse
of ash.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

"Herm" by Keith Harvey

This is a photograph of a herm as it finally developed in Greece.

A herm as we discussed in several postings on Hermes was a marker. Originally, it was a pile of rocks, sometimes piled into a phallic shape, that marked a direction or a distance. As time passed, the Greeks refined and concretized the image to include the likeness of the god Hermes with a phallus scuplted into the base. The herm dramatically illustrates the mythic process. The inner psychological image and characteristics of the travelling god was thrown or projected onto the stone markers until an image, shared and discussed by the countless travelers passing by, concretized. Once concretized the image acted pictorially on the conscious mind of all future travellers, thereby adding to the inventory of stories and images associated with Hermes.

In a recent addition to my cycle of poems on Adam and Eve, the herm makes an appearance.

The Herm

Covered in crow feathers,
he danced on one foot
shaking his dried gourd,
singing a love song
until she disappeared
behind the yellow horizon.
He tired,
sank onto salt grass,
and listened to the cicadas’
vibrations rise and fall
like frothy waves.
On the second day,
he watched
a murder of crows,
so socially astute
that he felt an ache
like hunger,
circle and gambol
in the western sky.
On the third day,
he gathered stones
into a motley heap
and wove feathers
within the crevices
like fingers interlaced.
He inserted a twig,
its green point aiming
at his feathered back,
as he jiggled west,
chanting softly,
punching each step
with a comic slap.
On the fourth day,
she found the stones
and grunted
as she shifted the newborn
to her left hip.
As her magic,
she deposited
a sparrow’s wing
and a wasp’s nest,
before following
his crow feet prints
on red sand.