Zumwalt Poems Online

Archive for January, 2012

Nuit Blanche

Nuit Blanche

February’s snow buried midnight
And swallowed one a.m. in subsequent flurries
Monday’s second hour
Like one of Ilium’s layers
Awaits its inexorable interment
Atop the wrecks of its predecessors

— Zumwalt (19 February 1979,Washington, DC)


Decline and Fall

Decline and Fall

Chilled and solitary
I feel the Fall
A season flickering
A time cooling
Summer’s dissolute heat and aureate fury
In long shadows
Darkly déjà vu
Gibbon scents the dusk
Crisp disquiet
October has pierced the city
Like Alaric’s Goths
Rude and barbarous
In its gusty fury

— Zumwalt (15 October 1979)

Letter from Grad School

Letter from Grad School

By way of prolegomena
Of arms and the man I sing
Of a man with arms
And hands, for that matter
And nothing that matters to do with them
But push gliding yellow felt pens
Across the faceless fees
Of physicians
Dealing the New Deal daily, deftly
To the deaf shipbuilders and jet mechanics
An ocean of OSHA’s owings
To obscure Oshkosh and Oklahoma patients
With a yellow felt pen
Felt pen is all he’s felt, lately
So come, Muse
(someone should)
And tell of the student-cum-bureaucrat
The man with arms
And hands
With nothing to do
But disburse billings
And perhaps go blind.

In medias res
A caffeine haze
Like the stained smog of the womb city
Swirled, buzzing beneath his 4:00 am skull
Like a Santa Ana locked in a cave
Bleary, blurry, bushed
Home to the ‘burbs
Brimming with the firm breasted wives
Of the prowlers of the power corridors
Brown and nondescript his mentality
Two unkempt letters
On an unkempt bed
From an unkempt friend
A composer schizophrenic
Beethoven of tunes and software
And heterodox harmonies
Keeper of a faith
When all have lost faith
But a faithful foolish few.
Insanity issued from the violated envelope
Rushing, leaping, prancing
Shades, demons, ghosts, apparitions of times past
Dionysian and demented
When loons were lords of the land
(Or at least Orange County)
And rationality relegated to the serfs.
The barons of bats sat lunatic and lecherous
In a Coco’s booth sucking the bean
And contemplating coitus – elusive
And so all the more important—
Jolly jester gestures jump
From penciled pages
And in a laughing gasp at once accusatory and amusing
For the faith is fading, dwindling
Like a soft candle stump
A fleeting flame flickering faintly from
A shriveled wick.
For I am playing pool with a drunken
Busboy lothario
The two of us—Lear and his Fool—
Leering and fooling around
With a round romp
And her dart-faced female friend.
For the roundtable is ruptured
With the tennis stud talking Tupperware
And decamping for Texas;
The Great Beard,
Erstwhile Falstaff with a joint,
Presently playing it cool
Hawking high finance
To bag some bills to pay the bills;
And the genius leader of liberated wit
Is doing a Ulysses gig in Asia
Beating knowledge into brown brains
And contracting dysentery
For the white man’s burden.
For stimulation is scarcer
Than a willing woman
And I’ll settle for a long distance laugh.

Murmured the pen pusher pushing off,
Toddling, tottering to sleep.
Waking the afternoon next
A cool spring Sunday
He gripped his pen determined
To pay his debt.

Agon Aristophanic
So the student
Who sings for his supper
With a yellow felt pen
And writes arcane expositions
Of the arabesque antics
Of the politics of Riyadh and Jeddah
Essayed, assessed
Saying sayings not quite sane
What he means is what he said;
Sotos speaks, so to speak.

An auspicious year, the eighty-first of the twentieth
Sophocles stooges—Clotho and her cronies—early
Gave the Greek grief
Tried to hand him brooches
But he’d seen that one before
And they left for Lauderdale lawn chair lounging
But not until his transmission was translated
Eighteen miles from Phoenix
For half a K
Plastic money and smiling despair
Got him off of Saddleback Avenue and on the road
Two days long a longue duree
At the El Rokay Lodge.
Jojo’s has migrated
Like mildew across a map
And Peasant Lunches paid with plastic
Fed the moustache all across the continent.

Back to the marble city
With minds missing marbles
And the pater patriae has a phallic
Monument mocking
The felt pen scribe scraping by
With his social life on display at the Smithsonian
Said to be extinct.

Well, can’t complain
One supposes—Eros escapes
My grasp but platonic pleasures placate.
Lots of late night nonsense with Eve’s daughters
Watching omelets cater to a Charybdis appetite
And catching two-dollar talkies at the Circle.
Taystee Diner bean brew and juke box jokes
While Hall and Oates
Simon and Garfunkel
And Queen
Eat my quarters;
A couple of babes—a lanky blonde
And a petite brunette who claims she’s a blonde—
So let’s just say he’s reveled past midnight
With two blondes.
Fun ladies and dynamite looks
Knockouts but not for knocking.
When it comes to romance his social life
Is in formaldehyde waiting for someone
To identify it.

Between hubris and hamartia
Thrice has the world whirled
Complete circuits encompassing the sun
Since the Greek marched east like Alexander
To conquer Persepolis.
Most that started the march have finished their anabasis
Dared dementia and cut the cord
With Alma Mater
But Alexander pushes on
Pushing the yellow felt pen
And checking the views at the Strait of Hormuz
Holding court, he’s
Doing okay for a tortoise.
Just a hundred pages or so to go
But if feels like walking the wastes of Gedrosia.
Let’s look to emerge a year from now…
Meantime he makes time and money green enough
With the yellow felt pen
Streaking beige bills
At Fran Perkins’ Annex.

It all adds up to the bottom line:
Amassing a Master’s stretches time and taffy
Like some Einstein joke
The faster you work,
The more tenuous and ephemeral
The whole pandering postgraduate program seems.

Anagnorisis of a sort
Beckoning from beyond an unborn year
Are the vegetables on display, evergreen and plastic,
In the kitchen appliances at Sears
Waiting to be consumed.
Legitimacy and actuality and parental approval
At some point you have to face forward
And take it like a Man.

Rustling from behind
In the grottos of your mind
Are the petrified relics mined
Memories of a golden age
(Or maybe just brass)
Pulling you back.
Is this metamorphosis imperative?

Balancing the abyss between
Plastic peas and petrified pasts
He hangs on the words, hard shells of
That span from the solid past
To the faceless, featureless future
An unraveling chaos with a Camarillo laugh.
He doesn’t know where he’s headed, but he’s got a
Handle on where’s he been.

By way of epilogue
The song is done
Evaporated, evanescent
As the balance in his checkbook.
The yellow felt pen pusher
Pushes on
Staining audiologists’ invoices
And the lives of those around him.
The Greek still seeks his telos
But not without some longing looks back.

 — Zumwalt (3 May 1981)

Afternoon Off

Afternoon Off

Muscling for the right of way
With horn-blast exclamations
Traffic mutters its scat song score

The sun today
Like most days
Doesn’t shine postcard gold and honeyed
It glares
Through the inversion layer
A klieg light in a smoky cabaret
Just the same it warms
The square

Sprawled on the grass
Midtown midday characters in
Pershing’s street show
Young Chicanos scout for chicks
And advertise adolescence
Studied, casual, tough

Some shirtsleeve transient
Sporting scrimshaw arms
Scans a racing form
His shoe leather face focused more
On Santa Anita
Than the saints
Shouted, proclaimed
By an antique black
Whose white wisps of whiskers
Cling to his accusing chin
Clouds about a crag
That trembles with every thundered damnation
As the old man makes the park
His pulpit

Basking in my own insouciance
I consider
How best to consume the remainder of the day

Perhaps a saunter to the Biltmore
To grab a joe and watch for ghosts
Or a march upcountry to Bunker Hill
To glimpse the glass castles
Mercantile and magnificent
Then again
I might, like a rookie on the bench,
Sit attentive, listening
To the traffic
And the sermon
And see what happens

— Zumwalt (ca. 1977)

Black with Sugar

Black with Sugar

A mellow companion, rich
Whose waving vapors indicate
The only friendly warmth in this
Orange-and-yellow plastic always open Tabernacle

Silent on the Formica
Sweet Latin scents caress the senses
Blows from the nicotine grayness
And insipid ceiling-speak Muzak

Smooth and sepia
Spirals down the throat, wet, warm
For a moment attention drifts
From the bleary graveyard denizens
        the three-day growth denim jacket derelict
        the greasy ember of a cook
        the scrubbed behemoth cop
        A granite waitress

A quiet witness
To a melancholy 3:00 am solo
        the neon punches holes in the glacial black
        splaying stark pastels across the street’s lonely void
        Indifference frosts the electric décor
The mug is chipped
But its contents fight the chill and bring a
Welcome, wistful

— Zumwalt (1977)

Beach Café

Beach Café

Chiming glassware
Lusty laughter and liquid murmurs
Midsummer night in Balboa
In the dream-dark
Charcoal curls spiral from the tables
Writhing arabesque and rococo
Like nomads’ campfires.
From a darker corner enclave
I survey the scene sucking my mug of java
Black and bitter.
The bartender
Grins through a wizard’s beard
Pouring, mixing, performing
For the waterfront gentry
While a waitress weaves a winding honey dance
With ball bearing grace bearing trays of beers
Through the clustered tables.

The locals
Burned and blonde
Gleam polished keyboard smiles
Brandish biceps and exhibit cleavage
Perched like cheetahs poised for game.
Or, Heineken in hand, they prowl in puka shells
Floral shirts and sandals
Sporting the seashore regalia
And predatory as the alligators embroidered
Above their hearts.

My focus withdrawn
I study the brown pit of my cup
Embarrassed by my suppressed, cynical envy
And my incipient paunch
Which spills below my sternum and sits
Like Signal Hill
Above my belt.
I spin theories about Their intellect or character
Judging smugly
But knowing, too
That the judgment’s just jive
And petty consolation
For my social shortcomings
A shoring up of a shaky soul
Discomfited by the competition and the game.
So I stroke my moustache
That drooping display of virility
And stay stoic behind an Agamemnon mask
Listening to an Aegean known only to me
Aloof and passive
As a walrus on an offshore rock.

The band
Back from break and beer
Slide into the electric haze
Tune up with playful foreplay before performing
Then splash emotion in the whisky illumination
The bassist
Measures out time like a beating heart, while
The drummer—a clock—
Clips it off
As the sax man belies his horn’s brassy brilliance
And cries the blues.

Behind the dancing tobacco curtain
I am anchored at my corner table
Cloistered in a turtleneck and straight leg jeans
An anachronism looking
For an age to join.

— Zumwalt (1978)

Repost of Wednesday Poetry Challenges #7 and #8

The New Year is upon us.  Toss your hat into the ring for one or both of these challenges.   Looking forward to reading your journal of your thoughts on fellow blogger poems or established poet’s poems.

Click on Mr. Linky to see the journals I have started and any others added since this post.  I think its a great New Year’s resolution to read and think about one poem a day, one poem a week or even, if time-constrained, one poem a month.

Poetry Challenge #7 is to create a journal of links and your reactions to poems by established (living or dead poets.) Details are here.  Example response is here. Mr. Linky for Challenge #7 is directly below:

Poetry Challenge #8 is similar to Challenge #7 but the poems are all poems by “unestablished” poets posting poems to their blogs.  Details are here.  Example response is here. Mr. Linky for Challenge #8 is directly below:


Have a great New Year!!!

I have had very little time to administer this site, so apologize.  Most of these posts are pre-scheduled and I, unfortunately, expect to have very little time during January.  Appreciate all that find time to visit now and then.  Thanks so much for your interest.

Zumwalt Site Adminstrator.

Journal for Poetry Challenge #7

Journal for Poetry Challenge #7

DAY 1: Jan, 1, 2012

Her Kind by Anne Sexton

Poems sometimes are created in one session, but most of the great ones, take many drafts.   It has been noted that this poem took 19 drafts over the course of a week  but before those 19 drafts this existed as another poem, one sent numerous times to be published, each time being rejected.

This finished, final version, is a poem of the highest order — universal in subject matter.  All of us assume roles, do things we are ashamed of — and things that we are enormously proud of.  This poem address how we act and how we are perceived by ourselves and others.

We have all been witches, stronger in bold actions of evil then we can easily own up to, skirting the boundaries between sane action and insane behavior, not quite human in one sense — yet this is the human condition.

We have all been the creative artist and visionary — providing fare only attractive to worms (like those that fed on our body after death) and elves.  This person is generally misunderstood displaying that spirit which over and over ensures the survival of the human species.

We have all been the martyr like Ms. Sexton’s Joan of Arc, burned at the stake, tortured yet fighting for that most important cause — not willing or even able to deny that which we know is true.  We are not ashamed to die for such causes — yet all of us fear death even if we bring it about ourselves.

Anne Sexton was a sufferer of mental illness, taking up poetry at the age of 27 as a means of therapy after a serious emotional breakdown.  Her ability to honestly examine her condition and express herself contributes to her poetry sometimes being referred to as “confessional.”  Yet, as true at this insight is into her own past behavior, it applies broadly to all of us and to the history of humankind.

Please visit the link above to hear a recording of a reading of the text by Anne Sexton.

DAY 2: Jan 2, 2012

Medusa by Louise Bogan

A great loss or other great tragedy, may freeze a moment in time forever — and, in a sense, that person affected by that event is frozen in that moment forever.  Louise Bogan leverages the myth of Medusa to create a haunting representation of the event frozen in time along with the viewer.

Two things strike me as particularly interesting here.  This is not a living Medusa, but a severed head here (“held up at a window.”)  In addition, this structure of this poem appears to be crafted to support the subject matter of the poem — note how the poet extends the second stanza — delaying the resolution (rhyme), extending time.  Also note the use of syllables, meter and use of rhythm.

Please visit the link above to hear a recording of a reading of the text by Louise Bogan.

DAY 3: Jan 3, 2012

Sojourn in the whale by Marianne Moore

After reading this wonderfully written poem, my first impression is that this is auto-biographical  — Ms. Moore sees herself as the inspired artist in an unartistic world, using Ireland and its neighbors as the metaphor.

The title is particularly important to understanding the entire richness of this work and not just seeing this as a poem about Ireland or even Marianne Moore.

Jonah is saved from drowning in tempestuous seas by a great sea monster, that in modern times, is generally identified as a whale.

Being swallowed by a whale is a common metaphor for a descent into the unconscious — and is also a metaphor for calmness with resulting increased understanding.  Similarly, the whale represents one’s intuitive self and awareness. Thus a soujourn in the whale could be a time of revelation or inspiration.

Being swallowed by a whale also represents being overwhelmed  — much in the way Ireland was surrounded by more powerful nations — nations that had mastered the sea. (“”swallowed by the opaqueness of one whom the seas
love better than they love you…”)

Additional, a whale may symbolize feminity (“There is a feminine temperament in direct contrast to ours, which makes her do these things. “)

The title, for me, is the author’s brilliant means of providing the reader with an understanding of the depth and significance of this work.  It is at one level about Ireland, at another level about the poet and her struggles to make her name and, at still another level, most importantly about the struggle of women for recognition by men as their equals.

DAY 4: Jan 3, 2012

Saturday’s Child by Countee Cullen

Simply, yet effectively, Countee Cullen, one of the better known poets of the Harlem Rennaissance, captures the difference between have and have not: the differences between class and economic levels.

I don’t see any deeper meaning to the poem beyond its surface content. That content though can be readily generalized to pertain to all social and economic equalities and injustice.  That itself is pretty broad and pretty important and makes this, like many of Cullen’s works, timeless and still relevant even when, finally, the myth of racial classification has been completely discarded by everyone in all walks of life and in all parts of the world.

DAY 5: Jan 5, 2012

Of Many Worlds In this World by Margaret Cavendish

Although the science is outdated (four elements, atoms in the Democritus sense), the vision is timeless and aligns nicely with concepts of hidden dimensions, branes and parallel universes.  That poet’s point, which holds up just as well 350 years later, is that nature is ingenious and amazingly imagninative  (“curious” as used here means basically that) and that we should glory in the wonders around us, whether perceived or an imagined possibility (whether supported by mathematics or not!)

I always delight in poems in which the meaning is supported by the implemented form.  The first six lines are unrelenting iambic pentameter — but we get a little bump in the road with “Nature is curious, and such works may shape” — “Nature” being more or less a trochee (long-short) and the line not ten syllables but eleven.)  The poem then continues to go back to unstoppable iambic pentameter with the remaining lines, with the only hint of deviation, appropriately being in “For, millions of those atoms may be in” — emphasizing “millions” — an amount we often take for granted by seeing it in print and in figures, but really, an incredibly large amount.  Ms. Cavendish clearly indicates with that comma she places that  we can’t force read the first two syllables as an iamb.  The comma is not required grammatically and I imagine lesser poets may have tried to make this whole poem nothing but iambic pentameter losing the opportunity for creating special metrical moments that add special interest to this imaginative poem.

The first eight lines are couplets, the last in an ABAACCBB rhyme pattern which nicely traps the line “If every one a creature’s figure bear” between the “be”, “see” and “be” implying a world within each world.

DAY 6: Jan 6, 2012

Dirge by Kenneth Fearing

I think this is best read out loud and very slowly:

1                2             3             was    the  num-ber  he  played         but   to-day   the  num-ber  came     3              2               1;

And so on.  This is really a dirge and needs to proceed at a very slow march-like pace.

Reading this I recall song lyrics like Paul Simon’s “Richard Cory” (based on Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem) and Greg Lake’s “Lucky Man”  — except this is much darker.  Not clear if the subject of the poem died of old age or took his own life, but certainly met with tragedy before the end — perhaps “twelve o’clock arrived too soon” — means that he owed money and it was due before he was ready — perhaps something like a large margin call appropriate if this is for the start of the Great Depression.  Perhaps “took one long look, drew one deep breath, just one too many” refers to taking one too many investment chances.

This is such a musical poem.  The reading below goes much faster than I think this should go, but who knows?   Still a very beautiful reading of a very musical, effective poem:


DAY 7: Jan 7, 2012

Epilogue By Robert Lowell

The painter is not a photographer, the painter reaches beyond reality.    And, the speaker (persona) of this poem appears to decry those times when “everything I write … seems a snapshot.”  But, as if upon reflection, then asks why is that not okay?  Why not capture what happened and as accurately as possible.  We are just here in passing and ultimately captured simply as facts — that is all that will remain of us.

We are imaginative and visionaries — dreaming up new realities.  Nonetheless, we also see truth, uncompromisingly uncovering facts to put together, as best we can, a reliable picture of the reality we currently reside in.

DAY 8: Jan 8, 2012

Thirst by Genevieve Taggard

Does thirst represent necessity or more something like yearning or desire? When we think of thirst we think of the thirst for knowledge.  Is this meant?

The bat is a symbol of the explorer and also represents birth and rebirth. Maybe this poem is simply about our thirst to explore even at great danger to ourselves.  Maybe the poem goes further making a statement about our presence in this physical realm.

DAY 9: Jan 8, 2012

Escape by  Elinor Morton Wylie  

The persona of this poem, seems willing to put up a fight except when all is clearly lost — the fox has eaten the last gold grape, the last white antelope is killed — at which point she just wants to escape, shrinking to fairy sides, perhaps with magical powers — living in a house safe from intruders than might seek her.   And if one does seek her, they won’t getoff easy, for when blindly reaching for her, one will end up grabbing a nest of wasps.

DAY 10: Jan 8, 2012

Typhoon by Amelia Josephine Burr

Let’s not try to rekindle that moment of passion and let’s not deny it — like a momentary storm it occurred, perhaps unexpectedly and is gone.

Is there more here?  Perhaps the title of Typhoon, indicates that this was not without consequences.  And perhaps this representation of desire, is meant to be applied more generally.

This is a musical poem with a rhyme patter on ABCCAB and more-or-less iambic pentameter in those first five lines.  That sixth line, though, stands out, the partial line seving to underscore its importance and effectively emphasizing “was.”

DAY 10: Jan 26, 2012

Doppelte Nationaltätsmoral/Dual Nationality: A Moral Tale by Zehra Çirac

Zehra Çirak was born in Turkey in 1961 and moved with her family to Germany in 1963.  Link to poem above includes original German and also an English translation.

The socks are the inner layer (Turkish) and the shoes more exterior and what comes in contact with the outside world (walking surface.) To many, the Turkish upbringing is warm and the German life colder, but to others dual cultural influences are problematic in a life as short as a shoelace. Either way such a double cultural existence is like walking on hot coals.

DAY 11: Jan 26, 2012

Very jazzy and beat-like poetry wonderful use of repetition.  “My mind is fingers holding a pen.” is a great line and given its own stanza.

Author controls flow of poen via rhythm and use of accented single syllables either in a series “Jim, Tom, Emmet, Bill” or at the start of a line “Trees, Hawks”  Very musical poem with phrases like “memories make movies” and “dust of the desert.”  Perhaps the observations in the poem occurred while under the influence of something more than traveling down the highway in a moving car.

DAY 12: Jan 26, 2012

 Developers By Alice Lyons

Social commentary about how the obsession with expansion and wanting more (“Greed” is emphasized in the long-short-long-short….-long meter in the first line) has affected our relationship with others (referencing the “Other/Alterity” philosophy of Levinas) and with nature (where the pavement runs out is just another opportunity for further development.)  We are alienated from each other (doors constructed but unrung doorbells) and nature, and, inevitably, per Levinas, from  ourselves.

DAY 13: Jan 26, 2012

To Poems By Arseny Tarkovsky

The poems of the earth are its human inhabitants — the poet here creating a parallel between the earth and the poet.   The poem is rich in meter and in rhymes (proud/loud) and partial rhymes (chance/grass) — how much of this is translator-related is unclear without access to the original and an ability to read the original.

Journal For Poetry Challenge #8

Journal for Poetry Challenge #8

WEEK 1: Jan, 1, 2012

Ladder by Ethel Mortenson Davis

The persona of this poem, innocent and trusting, wonders if the Tarantula, a symbol of entrapment can provide the means necessary to leave our earthly prison.

The poet here as chosen a tarantula, more or less the biggest of spiders, appropriate for the biggest trap of all — the physical universe.  If one can work with this tarantula, one can find an exit from the deepest of holes; however, the tarantula is not only non-cooperative, but is threatening — not a hopeful sign.

The casual tone of the persona contrasts with the implied reality embedded in the poem — there is no means of escape from the endless cycle that keeps us bound to the physical universe.

WEEK 2: Jan, 9, 2012

Squatters by saffronsound

One creates their own reality and here memories start to overtake the objects in view.  This is not a psychotic break but the every day feelings we have when alone with objects that have built up associations to past events that we have been a part of. The author gives us just enough (but not more than we need) to be able to follow and ultimately identify with the persona recounting what is an everyday experience in a way the bring us into the room and sharing these associations.

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