© 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,
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,
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 long and lowering shadow
of ravening pursuit,
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,
The unknown other
I’ve lost myself in absent reflection.
Lost, lost in a labyrinth of invention.
Now, at last, be gone
all idle aspect and intention.
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 is an answer
ringing in the void
left by the flight
of every question.
a solitary icon
when all choice else departs.
Silence is the truth,
between one easy compromise
all the other gentle kinds of lies;
one contentious measure
o’ertopped by any other;
the balance point of random pain
and desultory pleasure.
‘til comes another.
The truth would rid the air
O, let me tell about truth.
Let me tell.
A long time since I’ve held to simple talk.
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 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.”
“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.
All the world a wave.
Dark, our thoughts.
Vast rocking world.
Knew I only mine.
Touching her forehead with mine.
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
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.
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