Michael Heller Five Poems

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They remind me
              of all sorts of things
I’ve pitched into the weathered world,
              the endless habitats of meaning.

What furies, and who slams rutted desk
              and rides out
animate impressions of the world
              in justified emblems,

as though tradition
              was indeed a beggary of sense
or at least fought
              against the settled weather of the usual,

and like one’s loves,
              kept themselves alive
by constant surprise of endlessness.


before each word,
the breath—

exhale       the sense of form
is lost
as one’s sensibility
grows       soon

the audience
is part of talk

stops being

political thought
on word, as rider
on horse

but first intensity:
“the grammar of survival
requires personal pronouns”

poetry has no laboratories
but the self

forget your fear of the personal “I”
fear is market strategy
but also poetry


puts a house in the center of a field

plants it in an expanse of scattered stones

a thin tower, thoroughly out of place,

stands off to the left, almost marring

the composition       is it lighthouse,

steeple, an illusory beacon

warding tractors off a rocky shoal?

to the right, a pedestal,

minor monument,

commemorating what?

or disused fountain,

air (heir?) of de Chirico,

a horizon starts from the left,

a line of distant trees,

halfway across

the top of the composition,

then terminates abruptly,

a warning—

one’s thought,

eye brought

to a wild luxuriant foreground,

tree branches, aggressive, leafy


                                          Charles Burchfield’s painting and note

“tortured by a multitude of thoughts,”

he lay awake, looking at luminous sky

“black studded caves” of night

first two emerging stars

then a third, Orion’s belt

“peace and comfort”

came with recognition,

with resolution and familiarity,

“some Being saying ‘All is well’”


This night, Orion

enormous in the East

—tremulous sky

pines dark

against star light

—the constellations

no longer testify

even as they offer


the word cries out

thrall of space

but legatee to emptiness


that brought us close


with loneliness

even as we pointed

to clustered stars

in those dark nights,

soulless nights

of stellar distances


As though a primitive image spoke forthrightly.
No, it was not political, but that one made a turn
to embrace the sweet valor of the Russian
Grossman, drawing close to that part
of the self that seeks for the good. To identify
with his Ivan Gregoryevich, old man, ex-gulag zek
of Everything Flows.
                            Not much of a hero for a novel,
but he has the courage to recount the evil utopian fantasy
he helped create, and wants now that fantasy’s reversal.
His mind wanders back in time to the moment
the impulse came to him on a stony hillside of his youth,
the wind that brought the smell of trees and dank earth,
aware now of the arc that leads from promise to terror.
And he proclaims, in the shock of finding his boyhood self:
“I am unchanged!”
                            Among our poets, I find such hope
in Whitman yet am chastened by the insightful caution
of George Oppen who also rejected his old gods
to find renewal in the light of our thin American dawn,
seeking out words both given and dialectical, over-mastered
orders of truth, the inescapable, it was not political.

This material is © Michael Heller
www.alligatorzine.be | © alligator 2015