Monday, January 13, 2014

Psalm For A Sojourn

©  Steve King
All rights reserved

(Note:  This piece has been a seemingly never-ending work in process for me.  For those with the patience for a long poem, your unsparing criticism is very welcome.)


I am no stranger to strange places, ma’am.
I’ve been a-seeking since this life began
to find a place where I could play my hand.
I come here not bereft of gifts or grace,
for I can turn my hand to anything
that can be dreamt of.
If a thing be dreamable
I have held it somewhere in my mind.
Somewhere soaring in my vagrant time.

But I forget myself again
and speak of lingering dreams in vain.
I will ask you…
I will ask you…
ah, but I forget again…

Such an inconstant star that leads my tracks!
How’s that for an epitaph?
I’m thinking tombstones more and more these days.
I’ve chiseled out a few across the years,
but always someone else to wear the suit.
You’d never know from looking out
upon this wretched ground
how rich it is in corpses.
Why, I’m afraid to break the surface
scratching a latrine
for fear of being dragged
into some wretched thing’s Hades
before my righteous time.
Ah… “ …’Ere my righteous time…”
How’s that for an epitaph?
Someone else, of course.

How many lives I’ve led,
how many different paths I’ve taken now,
out and away from the ancient matrix,
new treads rutting down the score
where others’ fleeing footsteps fell before.
Might I retrace my steps to find
proof that a life was onetime left behind?
And where then would that journey carry me?
And what sense would it make to ply
a path of least resistance in reverse?
Oh, ye of certain provenance
ought to rejoice the fact.
There is at least one terminus
to anchor your track.
You must not fault the world-forsaken man—
who knows not whence he came—
bewailing the night sky.
Those who ask ‘What’s in a name?’
most often-time own one.
There’s something more in place for them
than two eyes and a grimace
peering through the mirror’s vacant visage.

Yes, someone put a word to me, back when.
I started out as somebody, but don’t know how I’ll end.
I’ve since worn a score of names,
and by any remain the same.
Without a doubt, no ordinary Joe;
no Tom nor Dick nor Harry that I know.
There should be words for everyone.
including those of us that run,
callow orphans of the sun,
random atoms,
it’s all one…


There is no escaping this earth.
My spirit is bound to its great cause,
And from some hold of nature springs
To briefly soar and barely pause.
So time alone shall gather me.
The gods have banished all prophets
and damn these doings from afar.
No divine canto lingers near.
No nymph’s enchantment echoes,
these days,
in the ear.

Still, there’s a certain story found
in every dusty, ache-boned cavalier
who stumbles from across the great divide
that I’ve traversed just now.
Imagine, if you can, what makes a man
discard the common vestiges of life,
to wander like the vagabond remains
of some lost tribe?

It helps to be a fugitive, I s’pose,
with memories worth leaving on the way…
It helps to have observed the follower
giving chase to the scrap of life
that you must call your own:
the follower,
the long and lowering shadow
of ravening pursuit,
savoring destruction
of a soul’s remains,
the image of a destiny,
all darkness in its train.

Oh, then is the running
and endless flight,
the blind and furied headlong,
toward sheltering night.

And close the future does await
to settle expectation and old faith,
to hold a mirror to a lingering soul,
or gauge an absent spirit’s remnant hole.
One day and on,
each then by each,
past and future clinging fast
to stay me in their reach.

So if I turn behind to peer,
it’s only out of habit holding dear.
Just lookin’ for that shadow
along the edge of evening,
the dark shape ‘round the corner,
the dimly-seen reflection
within each passing pane
of someone, something,
lolling beside.
Now there!
The unknown other
lingering close.
The pursuer.
The past.
The future


I’ve lost myself in absent reflection.
No more…
Lost, lost in a labyrinth of invention.
Now, at last, be gone
all idle aspect and intention.
No more.
No more…

What’s in my journey
through the ancient track?
Nothing really to it all,
nothing grand or fine to bid recall;
sure no story yet for epitaph:
I lack that pretty prelude to a death,
the right adornment to the mortal spoil,
that word, that creed, that parting song,
to validate the living breath,
a chronicle to justify
a middling sorry sinner’s fall.

Ah, my great battle is now long done,
the ancient saga forgotten, not sung;
history reduced to darkening past;
a cinema of beggars’ dreams
that I shall long outlast.

Like an actor on a darkened stage,
or poems clinging on a yellowed page,
or hatreds that surpass their spawning rage,
so life itself outlives its useful age.

But if this life be anything
it must be everything.
There can be no time beyond this one.
I could not task myself to spend
a human share of sense again.
There could be no condign recompense
for such another passel of misdeed.
It has always been enough
to contemplate this ebbing spark
as if no other could matter.
As if the chosen or found track
was all that ever reckoned me;
as if the ‘now’ upheld the ‘all’
to satisfy every old season
and each new felt thrall…

And yet I weigh against it all.
Against the odds, I’ll hold upon this life,
against all expectations will I ply,
against all shape and style of men I’ll hold,
against the many futures they’ve foretold,
against the rip and pull of distant tides,
against the very turning of the earth,
against the silence and against the cries,
the petty acquiescence and the sighs.

It was simple, once-a-time,
amid the dreams and bye-and-byes,
before I had to fathom rhymes
and expiate the ancient crimes.
It seemed easy, some before,
to stride beyond the darkened door,
to wade out from the welcome shore,
and back again, to wade once more.
There was laughter, once, to spare,
and rapture in the morning’s air;
evening’s dreams to banish care,
love’s full tide to drown despair.


There is no possible disguise
when doubt unfolds within your eyes.
Swaddled in my pleasantries
you’ll find the truth as a surprise.

The truth:
what’s left.

The truth is an answer
ringing in the void
left by the flight
of every question.

The truth:
a solitary icon
when all choice else departs.

Silence is the truth,
and solitude.

the interlude
between one easy compromise
and another,
all the other gentle kinds of lies;
one contentious measure
o’ertopped by any other;
the balance point of random pain
and desultory pleasure.

The truth.
One word,
‘til comes another.

The truth would rid the air
of distractions
and distinctions.

O, let me tell about truth.

Let me tell.


A long time since I’ve held to simple talk.
Asking, waiting,
silent, hearing…
Reading between lines,
interpreting the sighs
in measured leisure time.
I wish that I were wise like you
and could conserve myself.
I cannot hold a single thought inside.
No sooner have I fashioned it
than do I spill it reckless all around.
I should be stoned for profligacy,
flinging my conjectures.
The seed is lost in this hardscrabble world,
and thoughts are rootless in the deed,
so perfect suited to grand empty gestures.


My dreams once drew me through this hard-spun world.
Dreams that led me, dreams that followed me,
dreams and dreaming through each age-long night,
with ne’er a dawn to make the dreaming right.
Most dreams are gone now, as I wished they might,
as one might pray a troubling spirit pass,
forgetting why such troubling came to last,
awaking now, and feeling oneself free,
imagining it thus should ever be.

You may conjure yet with dreams.
I will take the night.
I have come from out of the east,
out of the sun,
out of the light,
seeking that place
where darkness is.
It is now my waking dream, the night.
My hope, for now.
My ever now.

O, let it come, the night.
and hide me from the follower behind.
The night will be mine.
Let it come, the night.
Already have I had my fill of morrows.
Let it come, tonight.
The death of every simple sorrow.
Let it come.


I have said so many things,
have set this note myself to sing,
and sparked a coal left long unlit.

So…to what will you commit?
What then would you say to me
if strange musings came to be?

Oh, is that so?
And that, as well?
How’s a gentleman to tell?

And is that the all of it?
Have I fathomed every bit?
Is there nothing yet to know…?

I am waiting.
And so I wait.
And so I will.

You see me looking now,
embracing without touch,
devoid of all familiar shames.
And I imagine you thrill
as you imagine the extent,
the substance of my dark imaginings.
But how may I account aright
for your unsayable desires?
Speak what your spirit wills, and do.
Find in you the song of primal whispers
and the thrum of new-felt need.
Come, come, to the penumbra of my heart’s fire.
What shadows shelter your desire?
What playthings will your tastes require?
Come, come with me into the dark ambit.
I see the wanting spirit in your eyes.
Come, the trip shall be all danger and surprise,
filled with strange unsought epiphanies.

And I can see it in your eyes.
Again and again, that spirit must obey,
that would not venture through the light of day.


“The night draws together earth and sky.”

“We two are as separates under the one cloak.”

“We two.”

“We two await cessation and the dying of all things.  The reduction of all distraction.  The dying.”

“Silence.  All things merging to the one.  Alike to the rolling earth and sky beneath the counterfeit cloak of night.”

“All things.”

“We two.”

“All things.”

“Under the one cloak.”

“Earth and sky are merged.”

“But poised for rupture.”

“Under the counterfeit cloak.”

“Even words dying…”

“The surest prelude to surprise.”

“Dying.  Posed for rapture.”

“Yes, merging earth and sky.”

“Yes, waiting, you and I.”


Sweet kiss of the christ!
Never felt nor beheld …
The ancient flower set astir
in the wafting volition of desire,
captive this eternal hour.
Brought I hungry mouth to devour,
graze like a stallion in bounteous fields.
A quiver ran as the feast enfolden me.

Then to move with the waning moon
racing dawn to the finish,
eclipsing each the other’s form
signaling by touch,
bound distant by the tethers
of private inviolate desires
as if adrift,
each parting the other’s way,
rocking as the great mother rocks.
Us all.
All the world a wave.
Dark, our thoughts.
Vast rocking world.
Knew I only mine.
Touching her forehead with mine.
Mine own.
She knew.
I knew not what she knew.
All in the touch,
again rocked we,
shadowed sails upon a warming wind,
rocking sweet song
of distantflown waters,
clinging, as the tide
that would bind
opposing shores.


It is the legacy
of many lessons learned,
of too many dreams broken
upon the anvil of the rising day,
that I should hesitate,
that I should draw this hand
as from a beckoning flame,
away from the phantasm of your face--
the lessons of a straitening time
to calculate what is and isn’t mine.

Now must I look with a child’s eyes,
and see to all beginnings,
see you in your dreaming as you are,
not as I’d have you be.
Shedding gloss and glamour and all things
that would tarnish newness,
now must I hear an innocent’s voice
hiding in the harmonies you construct.
I must teach you,
I, older than all beginnings,
I rife with recollection and despair.
My touch will be almost as nothing,
far from thoughts of fantasy and love.
It is not a time for doting
or revoking hard perimeters of self.
It is a time and moment made whole
by the imminence of leaving,
the hard kernel at the core of fleeting dreams,
the glimmer of abandon,
soon to be eclipsed
as future reveries of love
appear to intervene.


But now has something filled your eye.
I can see too clearly.
I am but a near remembrance
settling to impede
the coming of impatient dreams,
someone, somewhere, sometime when,
a passing product of the faintest chance.
Even now, a quirk of happenstance.

My words are just familiar artifacts
cluttering your gathering disinterest,
nothing really to concern yourself,
just puzzling mementos
to molder on an ever lengthening shelf.


What may I tell you when you break your sleep?
Are there leavings apposite to this?
A rebirthing to a time and place
that ties you always to a place and time?
Is it your choosing, this and nothing more?
I am beneath notice in this place,
just suitable for dangling on a whim,
my newness in your dreams a camouflage
for what must be if ever I should stay.
I came like a supplicant before you,
trailing sin and hunger and despair,
so as to be at one with all the world,
to shake you from your satisfied slumbers.
Still you smile, innocent of life,
not thinking of the vision I portray.
Even that is not enough, it seems,
to agitate the content of your dreams.

What may I leave you, when it comes to that?
I can give you memory of me,
while I do carry yours along the way,
a livening burden, growing much in weight
the further it is borne.


And yet the end of every road
retreats with each new hill I crest,
with every trek, still more to go,
with every pause, new restlessness.

The morning casts long shadows
trailing or before,
howeverso that one may turn,
with the world or away,
each dawn ringing ‘round another center,
the advent and surcease of all we know.
There is a directness to it all.
Dawn is the onset of so many things,
it is impossible to stay a choice.
Here is but an open way,
an unimpeded journey for your day
directly to the horizon of choice,
the mind still mining dreams
to populate the silence that surrounds.

This parting is what does define:
the stepping from,
the moving toward,
full melancholy cast of mind,
the changeling who has stay’n behind…

And I shall seize my bag of dreams,
and strange, unkempt imaginings
to keep them for another day
when kindlier muses might hold sway.
Yes, ever sorry for the loss,
            but there are horizons to cross…

How soon each footstep falls the same
upon the still unyielding plain.
So soon again, another day,
another eon, fledgling, on its way.
Goodbye morning, now I say,
with a nod to the new old sun.
Now goodbye all,
now goodbye, everyone.

For Imaginary Gardens With Real Toads
and Tuesday’s Open Link Night at dVerse


  1. Dear St reeve,
    You wanted comments and thoughts, but I don't think myself qualified. There were parts that kept me rivited yet others that I was not sure about. For example part 8, stands alone for me, but in style was too different to the rest, but what do I know.

  2. Dear Steve,

    This is a wonderful opus. It feels so terribly sad by the close--I hope all is okay--the "graveness" of the beginning is almost jaunty, though poignant, but so sad as it moves on. It is very difficult to sustain such a long poem, and I am not in a place I can do it full justice--I am in a hotel lobby in Orlando at a law conference!--but it makes me feel on one level just so happy to be having a conversation with someone of your skill and talent and interests. There are Eliot flashes here and so much your own. Many of the parts can stand on their own. I don't know what kind of recommendation I might make there as it is hard to push a long poem, though this reads quite smoothly and has enough movement to move the reader along too. I will come back to it in a better setting. Take care, and thanks. K.

    1. Karin,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read. I feel it's almost an imposition to post something of this length, but I have to dispose of this one way or another. All is very okay. Thanks for asking. This is just imagination. Enjoy Orlando to the extent it can be enjoyed. Too bad you weren't there last week when the ice age visited up here.

  3. Hi Steve, as a fellow writer of the occasional long poem (look up "A Soul in Ev'ry Stone" sometime on my blog), the challenges of presenting them online are fraught. You leave a plenitude of coins for the reader to keep reading, with meter and rhyme to keep things chugging along and easy line-length and breaking things into comfortably-sized sections. Lots of variety in the voices and patterns, too. I felt the Eliot too in this -- more "Four Quartets" in theme, though structurally akin to "Wasteland." But those referents don't mar your own work, or the much older work of Glaucus on his rock lamenting what's become of the life, the work, whatever there is left for one to say in such an unsayable age. The conversation is internal, with a muse -- diffuse, at least, from the life, enough so that references to the external narrative are pretty oblique. Readers start from there, they want to know what's in it for them, so that your conversation sounds like their own; maybe a little more surface detail that fixes this into a time and place might help the reader into the fabulous wood of language here. Loved it, keep it up.

  4. stylistically you have created something very cool here...i like the rather conversational/familiar tone...when you finally bring out that it is a note, yeah that is what it feels like...then you switch it up and put us in a conversation, so it keeps it from feeling long. i felt the journey in the opening...and all the things that come against us being present there in the thing that gets in the way online is our attention span...if this was a book each part would be a different page or pages and we could enjoy it page by, you may have a few that would read every part if you broke it down but the reality is most would not get the whole picture....

  5. This poem is quite a journey, Steve. I like the idea of starting out somebody and not knowing where one will end. Hopefully as another variation of that somebody.

  6. I commend you for taking on such a subject as this character. It is a genre of the traveler, of which I almost posted one myself today. I would hesitate to make a suggestion but I think you could go back through and pare it down to its core messages. >KB

  7. Well..i find myself with unfinished writings..often2..and keep adding and adding until I see the break..or ending apparent...

    But I enjoyed your long expression of philosophy..deep

  8. Steve, I will come back for another read to give it justice ~ The beginning stanzas are stellar however ~

  9. I have to agree with Brian … I want to read this but am short on time. I will try and get to it though as I know you are looking for feedback :)

  10. Hello,

    I read your poem through and it was quite the adventure or should I say the journey of a dream. You have woven some powerful thoughts within this piece. I am sort of speechless as I am trying to digest the full meaning of the words. Some really great thoughts wrapped up in this poem.

  11. Steve, I enjoyed this on so many levels. I like how you wove this with both rhyme and free verse; how it explores and contemplates the topics of dreams and intimacy and age and youth; how the rhythm ebbs and flows, slowing in all the right places to let us breath and absorb the deeper ideas and thoughts that you pose. There are too many lines to quote as favorites—here are just a few:
    "I started out as somebody, but don’t know how I’ll end."
    "Like an actor on a darkened stage,
    or poems clinging on a yellowed page,
    or hatreds that surpass their spawning rage,
    so life itself outlives its useful age."
    "see you in your dreaming as you are,
    not as I’d have you be."
    I especially liked both part 3 and part 13, I thought that the rhyme, wording and verse had an almost Shakespearean "A Midsummer Night's Dream" feel to them. Think that this whole piece would make a nice little poetic novella (if that is the right term for a book unto itself).

  12. this was big and complex, and I admire the work to deliver it.

  13. This is a brave and enviable task and poetic trek, Steve...obviously you had to get this on paper...and epic it is, requiring more than one reading. A summing up of everything...a soliloquy filled with questions of dreams, truth and much more written with great skill. I will return ~jackie~

  14. A lifetime work - I think of Paterson as much as Eliot here. I had many ideas regarding presentation as I read it. The tone changes many times and not necessarily in (for lack of a better way to describe it) a musical composition way. But that remark is a filter for me because I would likely use musical composition as a way of arranging the sections. Each section, as of course you know, is a stand alone poem, and could be disseminated as such; however together they are a totality. I tend to agree with Brendan that to make them more universally personal (if that is not an oxymoron) is to add specific details in places. I think to get more feedback you could break them down and present them per section making sure that they could all be read together in another place (say another blog). I think by breaking each section apart you would get comments that would register the emotional impact of each section. I thought it was deep, philosophical, personal, complex, and erstwhile searching without being any one of those things. It's a massive project and I much admire the poem itself and the work that has gone into it.

  15. This is epic.. and so skilfully woven.. really a great thing to write this.. It is in reality 13 poems tied together with this theme.. Each section has it's own music .. like a symphony in 13 movements... Some passages I read the process of ageing in.. the waiting when it's to late to correct the sins.. and the remembrance of days when life was easier... don't know if I read it correct.. but that what was I felt...

    I think you have almost written a book here.

  16. I like the sectional presentation, each with its own slant but keeping the conversation moving like a journey ~ My favorite parts are section 3 and 6 but part 7 stands out as being the most passionate for me ~ Starting from part 10, you expanded on the thought of leaving & saying farewell ~ I thought this line particularly captures your theme :

    It is a time and moment made whole
    by the imminence of leaving

    This post can be a chapbook ~ A fine fine poem ~

  17. Hey Steve, I am going to revisit this section by section--and I wonder whether you should not consider reposting that way at some point. It is very hard in the internet/modern world for people to focus on something so large and I fear that you do yourself a disservice because the mindset of your audience is not geared for something lengthy.

    So first one--I love that the kind of poetic backtracking that goes on here - a kind of formal informality that reminds me a bit of Whitman--"Do I contradict myself--very well I contradict myself--I am large I contain multitudes."

    Here you do it with a combination of conversational tone, and rather poetic voice --even poetic references--the names- the gravestones-- yes, I know it is an introduction --it could stand alone but is part of the greater story - a sort of introduction of a character--it is wonderful the way that you come back to the need that is expressed at the beginning of this section --(you might wish somehow to tie in the ma-am again, as there seemed to be a particular need of her.) But that is me being the internet reader trying to tie things up before they are ready! (It really is well done.) k.

  18. Hey Steve, thank you for your long comment. I'll respond here, and also looking at two and three-- I love the shadow around the corner, the person as a pane--great use of that word, and in three, the easy back and forth of the pre-rhyming life!

    You mentioned chapter headings. If you do not mind a specific thought--and really this may not at all fit your style or the poem which I do not really know--but I was thinking of the types of chapter title, headings, in which the action is summarized in a mock-comic way. It's kind of a Victorian device used in fiction, and it may just be silly here -- so please take the thought with a grain of thought. The idea though would be something like Canto I (In Which Our Hero/Protaganist/Narrator [just one] Does Not Call Himself Ismael.) That's a silly one. I just felt that the Chapter 1 reminded me of that type of introduction so I went to a humorous vein. But the idea would be to give a very eimple outline of what is to come. It sounds odd, but I think when people understand the destination of a lengthy verse, it makes it easier for them to sit down and enjoy the ride. Simpler titles may also work, but I do think that it might be useful to have something explantory - it would also lend a sense of narrative flow, which I think is very useful in luring a reader through anything lengthy.

    In terms of your long project. 20 years! I have a great deal of sympathy here. i have a few old novels that I have been grappling with for a very long time. They were finished, then rewritten, then absondonned mid-re-writes, then etc. etc. --and are in various stages of repair and disrepair. These, unlike your poem, no longer really reflect me very well, and yet I hate to just drop them, not have them in some finally final form, after all the years of work, for whatever their faults. My problem is I'm not sure I can be quite proud of them in the forms I could get them into (without too much work.) (That would be something like their current form.) And yet, I also do not want to invest a lot more time there. On top of that--their old forms are not so terrible, they are just no longer so reflective of how I write and think. Agh. Anyway, your comment has given me food for thought. As has your poem. Thanks very much. Karin Gustafson .

    Ps - you might try a reading? In sections. Also, have you read Pale Fire--I have to confess I haven't, but I've read all of my children's term papers on Pale Fire, and I wonder whether it wouldn't be interesting for you--I'm going to seek it out--Nabokov's poetic novel--k.

    1. By way of coincidence, my wife recently found several boxes of writings of mine, some dating back to college. I have yet to look at any of it. I really should. It would be interesting to see what I thought was worth saying. You know what Grace Slick said about the Sixties (and Seventies): if you remember them, you weren't really there...not quite my situation, but I think I was in an Ezra Pound phase then in my reading, and that was confounding enough, even without other influences.

    2. It is always interesting to look back at old work. I have these old large manuscripts that I am still dealing with in a way as I just hate to throw them out--even though they are no longer very reflective of my voice. I 'm not sure that my voice has improved--just that they are not longer reflective of my interests==such a difficult problem. I hope you are enjoying yours. K.

  19. Ps - I'm sorry I did not proofread comment and it may be very rambly and repetitive. I am feeling much much better, but still a little bleary eyed--literally - in that screens are a bit hard for me to read, especially in these little comment boxes. So sorry if it's garbled. k.

  20. pps - in terms of your conversation point -- you may be able to bring out the actual interchange--the action as it were --in the title headings--Canto where Narrator Meets the "One", or Canto Where Male Protagonist Meets Female Something or other--whatever--but it may be a way of clarifying action.

    That is funny re Godfather. I do appreciate the offer. k.

  21. 4 and 5 are wonderful. I especially like how the deed gets lost in the talking about it-- too true. Then hard to recover that freshness that intensity.

    I should be stoned for profligacy,
    flinging my conjectures.
    The seed is lost in this hardscrabble world,
    and thoughts are rootless in the deed,
    so perfect suited to grand empty gestures.

    Thanks. k.

  22. Hey Steve-- looking at Part VII now, which has a very Eliot feel to me--perhaps the questioning--and feel of dialogue--because Whitman also comes to mind--I'm thinking of Eliot's similar 'is that all"--I don't remember the lines--but from Prufrock as well as the parting of the hair and Whitman's do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself, I am large I contain multiples. There is a great quotidian feel here, that works very well with the elegance of the rhyme and sense of conversation and confrontation==a dance. K.

    1. Hello Karin,
      Thanks for your persistence in visiting this. I appreciate it, especially since you've immersed yourself in your own magnum opus--which I've enjoyed previewing, by the way. You have such a lucid, but rich prose style...I've already benefited just from seeing this poem in print in front of me, and have some good ideas, I think, about a way to provide it with a unifying arc that's more apparent to the reader. I've been looking at it so long that the difficulties had become submerged. You've labored diligently on my behalf with commentary. Please don't let it keep you from your own fine efforts. Have a great Sunday.