Poems for Feb 13 Poem Club




They burned lime on the hill and dropped it down here in an iron car

On a long cable; here the ships warped in

And took their loads from the engine, the water is deep to the cliff. The car

Hangs half way over in the gape of the gorge,

Stationed like a north star above the peaks of the redwoods, iron perch

For the little red hawks when they cease from hovering

When they’ve struck prey; the spider’s fling of a cable rust-glued to the pulleys.

The laborers are gone, but what a good multitude

Is here in return: the rich-lichened rock, the rose-tipped stone-crop, the constant

Ocean’s voices, the cloud-lighted space.

The kilns are cold on the hill but here in the rust of the broken boiler

Quick lizards lighten, and a rattle-snake flows

Down the cracked masonry, over the crumbled fire-brick. In the rotting timbers

And roofless platforms all the free companies

Of windy grasses have root and make seed; wild buckwheat blooms in the fat

Weather-slacked lime from the bursted barrels.

Two duckhawks darting in the sky of their cliff-hung nest are the voice of the headland.

Wine-hearted solitude, our mother the wilderness,

Men’s failures are often as beautiful as men’s triumphs, but your returnings

Are even more precious than your first presence.





How many turn back toward dreams and magic, how many children

Run home to Mother Church, Father State,

To find in their arms the delicious warmth and folding of souls.

The age weakens and settles home toward old ways.

An age of renascent faith: Christ said, Marx wrote, Hitler says,

And though it seems absurd we believe.

Sad children, yes. It is lonely to be adult, you need a father.

With a little practise you’ll believe anything.


Faith returns, beautiful, terrible, ridiculous,

And men are willing to die and kill for their faith.

Soon come the wars of religion; centuries have passed

Since the air so trembled with intense faith and hatred.

Soon, perhaps, whoever wants to live harmlessly

Must find a cave in the mountain or build a cell

Of the red desert rock under dry junipers,

And avoid men, live with more kindly wolves

And luckier ravens, waiting for the end of the age.


Hermit from stone cell

Gazing with great stunned eyes,

What extravagant miracle

Has amazed them with light,

What visions, what crazy glory, what wings?

—I see the sun set and rise

And the beautiful desert sand

And the stars at night,

The incredible magnificence of things.

I the last living man

That sees the real earth and skies,

Actual life and real death.

The others are all prophets and believers

Delirious with fevers of faith.





A flight of six heavy-motored bombing-planes

Went over the beautiful inhuman ridges a straight course northward; the incident stuck itself in my memory

More than a flight of band-tail pigeons might have done

Because those wings of man and potential war seemed really intrusive above the remote canyon.

They changed it; I cannot say they profaned it, but the memory

All day remained like a false note in familiar music, and suggested no doubt

The counter-fantasy that came to my eyes in the evening, on the ocean cliff.


I came from the canyon twilight

Exactly at sunset to the open shore, and felt like a sudden extension of consciousness the wild free light

And biting north-wind. The cloud-sky had lifted from the western horizon and left a long yellow panel

Between the slate-edge ocean and the eye-lid cloud; the smoky ball of the sun rolled on the sea-line

And formless bits of vapor flew across, but when the sun was down

The panel of clear sky brightened, the rags of moving cloud took memorable shapes, dark on the light,

Whether I was dreaming or not, they became spears and war-axes, horses and sabres, gaunt battle-elephants

With towered backs; they became catapults and siege-guns, high-tilted howitzers, long tractors, armored and turreted;

They became battleships and destroyers, and great fleets of war-planes…all the proud instruments

Of man imposing his will upon weaker men: they were like a Roman triumph, but themselves the captives,

A triumph in reverse: all the tools of victory

Whiffed away on the north-wind into a cloud like a conflagration, swept from the earth, no man

From this time on to exploit nor subdue any other man. I thought, “What a pity our kindest dreams

Are complete liars,” and turned from the glowing west toward the cold twilight. “To be truth-bound, the neutral

Detested by all the dreaming factions, is my errand here.”