All posts by Robert Reeves

Better Poems: Beads

I was about to embark on a study of the opera Boris Godunov (which will eventually have something to do with poetry, I promise), but it’s only right that I should atone for the seven icky unpublished poems I inflicted on you last week by showing you seven new unpublished poems—not necessarily less icky, but poems I’m prepared to stand by for now, till I make a new cut at least.  This is how I work of recent years:  write a batch of poems, look them over every few weeks, throw out the ones that don’t do anything for me, keep some as they are, tinker with others:  not what you’d call revision, I think, in the sense many of my colleagues swear by (I mostly only revise while writing), but dropping or changing a word here & there.  Sometimes poems make it through nine cuts to perish on the tenth.  This one’s only survived two.


“Beads” might mean a string of separate thoughts.  It seems to be a love poem of sorts, although some of it is to a living person & some to a photograph of her.  It remains in actual life till the end, when it goes to a fantasy place (reminiscent of Taos).  It seems to be moving further away from itself & me the longer it lasts.




Before I come to play with the night,

I understand the round facets of your face (their sinkings and risings)

physically, with polite and impolite greed.


You prefer hiding between your skin and the hairs on it.


I’m not a necrophiliac, even in my thoughts,

but what if I saw you on the bed and sex leapt in me,

and then I checked to make sure you were breathing,

and you weren’t.  Would I be one then?


I’m not at all loyal to my past, whatever people think,

in the way of wanting anything to be what it was,

but I do want songs I hear now

still to mean what they did when I heard them first.


I’ve been chasing the cat very slowly, so I didn’t get to mention

the little plastic Taj Mahal near the main door of the Taj Mahal restaurant

which has electric lights inside that can be switched on and off.

Who is home?


The college kid has a pretty face,

not the kind that’d type him as gay to anyone who knew better,

not even the kind gays are drawn to,

but the kind that got him called gay and got his ass kicked all the way thru lower school,

with the result that now he’s an extra mean fag-basher.


I’m giving up, there won’t be any more worship of people I don’t like,

there won’t be any evasion of the fat terrains of me or the shriveled.


You shut your eyes—foundation’s being applied to the lids—

and your head becomes a cameo I faint in front of.


So I faint.  This is some country road,

the grass where sidewalks would be looks intolerant,

a gray-green of smallest effort.

Is it honeysuckle I breathe, is that all?  My mouth waters.

My eyes want more in the way.

longing song

To end this week of forgotten & unpublished work, a little song from 1999.  These are song lyrics, not a poem:  different standards apply, I hope.  I’ll include a recording of the song itself.  Be warned, I can hear in my voice how horribly depressed I was:  that kinda thing can be contagious.

longing song

with the freeway out your window

and the scratches on your back

you could get away tomorrow

if you really felt the lack

you could get away tomorrow

and you’d have nowhere to go

’cept the freeway out your window

or the river when it’s slow

but the freeway out your window

makes a hungry little sound

like a wind across the meadow

some confusion in the ground

some confusion in the shadow

where there’s people without fire

and a night comes on the meadow

and a night comes on desire

and the river runs in circles

like the scratches on your back

you could take me and my worlds

if you really felt the lack

we could get away tomorrow

when the freeway falls asleep

thru the doorway of your window

if the scratches aren’t too deep

if the scratches aren’t too deep


I debated whether to share this poem:  it’s really pretty rotten.  But a few years ago when the Alibi had its villanelle contest & several of my friends, as well as my wife, were submitting, they had to listen to my spuming about how form was dead & especially things like the villanelle … so here’s one I wrote in 2002, long before I made all that noise.  I’ve actually been writing them ever since reading Stephen Dedalus’ wonderful example in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  This is a rather lousy one, as I say, but it’s all I still possess of my many attempts.  “Drunken Master” was the nickname of the addressee, not mine, though it would’ve fit me quite well.


Drunken Master’s Villanelle


Neither your glitter nor your glee

Will drowse for long in that pious den.

Come back into your heart with me.


The waters wasting out of your sea

Are tidal, and draw back in you again.

You can be loved on top of free.


Neither your crying nor cruelty

Can save you cold in the flames of men.

Come back into your heart with me.


Straw for your hair, straw for your fee:

You earn now only what you spent then.

You can be loved on top of free.


Never the pollen, often the bee,

Acrid the inks in your honeyed pen,

Come back into your heart with me.


Give up none of your dignity;

Give up none of your fiercest yen.

You can be loved on top of free.

Come back into your heart with me.

to the fairy-fool

my hair whirled high about my cup ears,

head back, i called beyond the night

and wind in whispers fell as my answer

on the grass, around and about.


to the child’s sparkle-white hand

i strode quiet in the trees above the town,

sleepy-soft in the late winter twilight.

snow like a blanket, ’neath my dancing feet.


yours is the darkness, dalua!

to you belong the souls and craven fear of men,

the bridge of your hidden pleasures besought—

i have come with a leaf in my fingers, o fool.


all is the world, all to the gray seas of a moon,

all to fall, all to bliss and in thy magic

with my own.  the honey-folk amidst the april dawn havens,

now framed by snow, cluster and clasp.


ours is this silence, dalua!

the embroidery of our embrace you cannot steal.

sad wandering fool, i call, do you hear me?

above the sigh of breeze i beckon thee, witch.


to the lakes i speak silence, and the mountains will not hear me,

they are too proud.  is the dusk my illusion?

is your hand a shadow played by the fool’s mischief,

or is my sleep your solace, my rose your still vow?


I’m pretty sure this is all of this one:  I recall stanza 4 escaped me for a long time when I started trying to recover this about ten years ago, but I got it eventually.  For all its hideousness, the thing that strikes me about this gushy love poem, written in 1966, is how clearly a Bob Reeves poem it is.  This is still my voice, though I’d never say anything like this in it now (“sparkle-white,” for god’s sake!).  I have no idea whether Dalua the Fairy-Fool was an actual Irish deity.  Fiona McLeod, the Celtic Twilight writer, insisted he was:  but then, Fiona McLeod never existed, she was the creation of an antiquarian called William Sharp.  As you see, at the time I affected cummings-esque lower case.

A Fragment This Time

We proceed further back in time to the beginning of 1968.  I can remember all of this poem except the final verse.  I know there was one, & that it probably contained the word “opposites,” but that’s it.  The only thing that saves this from being a complete piece of shit is its deliciously clever rhyme scheme.  The content’s kinda Blakean, or intended as such.  I don’t have the title.


Without, within, the symbols spin

throughout the sky, until they spill

on Man, and cause his brain to pause

and start to kill.


The man steps down into the town

bearing a mighty case of steel,

the angry rod which faceless God

too cannot feel.


The casing speaks! the terror seeks

no more, but glories in the skin

of Heaven’s might.  To his delight

the brand is in.


So branded we are, you must see

that here-and-there must be our plight,

as new is old, as heat is cold,

as day is night.

Third Reconstruction

Written in 1968 when I was not quite 16, this is another poem I’m very fond of, which sucks.  I love the way it sounds—so oracular & intense—but all the images are so private, they can’t possibly convey any meaning to anyone but me (& maybe to a couple other people who were around at the time, but I doubt it).  If any of you wanna take a stab at explaining them, I’ll send you a copy of my play Odysseus among the Suitors, which tells the same story in plain English.  The occasion for the poem was my return to the Boston area after a year in the West, to reencounter my former circle of friends & former girlfriend.  Everyone had moved on, including me, but I was still refusing to accept it.  “The Regret” is a second-draft title, & again, I don’t recall what the first one was.  I’m not sure, but I think “Eber” in part II is another name for the goddess of Change in part I.  Part II has the same rhyme scheme as Dylan Thomas’ “Author’s Prologue”—the first line rhymes with the last, the second with the next-to-last, & so on.


The Regret



Caught in arms, the arms, the woman

whose name is Change.

Two seats across, the window:

over the river,

spelled in adrenaline garlands at last,

Land City’s length at the second sitting,

flower-wassail over the river.


The woman, Change

will see you airborne,

your wrinkled byword

bastard of the gun.


Land City, workingpart of

the great machine—his, that’s yet the way

his was.  Unthinkable that she should come to that:

we have been alive

as long as alive has been alive,

she, reaping what fancy sends her,

bellied by strife, by Plan’s edges.


The chip-golden skylark

slashed to the logical fronts,

planed to feign

what externity was known.


In the century seventeen castle’s lady

looked like followings of dark dream,

cool to the touch which comforts with warmth,

fur white, sense of a myriad marble,

the cool anterooms of the outlook.


O as in the pit

I know what is the spasm

of what is beholding

my outstretched words.


You sat on the step.

I’m sorry I’ve seen you, you’re sorry I’m lost.

The blessing I offer for yours, O yours:

the blessing for what was once

dream-music, what was the moon’s infant,

become a rich and scarlet shadow

borne by phrases into the scarlet shadow.


Land City

come I to your threshold

often yet to cross

what is missing.


It remains to tell of childhood,

of this the donning of a baptist’s cape,

to twice affront the pleasure-columns

soft in earth’s appointment,

soft in a woman’s will for the reason

and struck upon gold-bordered homes.


Where have I left them

What can we

now become, but

seagull fragments?



The heavier God is past the arm

aloft with the pointing, east and fro,

to gather the closèd ring of space

in what I can travel;  then, pursue

the woman while wrestling at her face,

until solemn Future rays the crown

onto Eber’s omen, castle-caught.

My violence is good to blacken sheets

but so would be more to present light

that thin crescent-spot of rose-hue stain

imprinted thereon, more crime contain.

I’ll use safe medallions for my sight,

who’ll bear me along your pushing streets

and not then forsake me what I sought.

Eber, and the willer’s face is down,

my midnight arises on your face,

a conductor slapped by woman’s cue.

And all graces then, do they erase

the symbol of shock’s blue vertigo,

and suspend the spiral from alarm?

Another Bend in Memory Lane

My old friend Henry, still in the Fold, thinks the Holy Spirit prompted me to remember yesterday’s poem.  Actually it’s always been part of my word-hoard (except for the title) as a poem I consider flawed but like anyway.  Going backward, still from my Catholic period but a year or so earlier, another rhymed poem (both endrhymed & internally), outrageously Hopkinsian or Charles Williams-ish, a pentameter sonnet in fact, to celebrate the wedding of two friends I met through Henry, one of whom has gone on to some modest success as an SF-fantasy author.  The title is the church in Ann Arbor, MI where the event took place.  Several chalices of wine were consecrated at once so everyone present could take communion “under both kinds.”  I was gonna say the meter limps in line 12, but it rather exceeds itself:  I’ve always read it as a hexameter, but never counted till today.  That “held shadowed hand” in the next line—trying to include both active & passive meanings of “held” by leaving out the “in”—is of course a blatant Hopkins ripoff.


St. Mary’s Chapel


The flame was in the starlight round the cups.

The cups turned up to face the flame.  The ground

concreted shouted steady hale.  Baled in a name

were sheaves of shadows waiting on the feast.

The least held high hope-glory, and hope’s priest

with hands like tongues red-tongued the cups with wine.

The Light and Line that cupped the circles full

looked, liked, and apprehended—took to sup

the friends that lightened.  Him they supped and sang.

Cup-calling, filling future round them rang.

Their bread in bowls was mounted up for souls.

While they took, each looked:  he found his own,

he found his food and friend held shadowed hand.

The company of stars lit up his land.

Christian Poetry by Bob Reeves … Go Figure

Last night I found myself reciting a forty-year-old poem in my head, a poem not written down anywhere (till now), a rhyming poem (& those 0f you who know me know how opposed to the use of traditional forms I am), a Christian poem (& again, you who know me know I am if anything violently anti-Christian), written at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Chama Canyon near Abiquiu, NM, at a time when I was seriously – though briefly – considering joining this branch of the Benedictine order, in July or thereabouts, 1972.  The poem’s title might be “Chama Canyon,” but it seems to me that was a replacement title, the original being lost in the mists of my odd memory.  I type it here for curiosity value & also because I think a few lines are fine poetry.  A lot of it, to be sure, makes me wince:  I would no longer, even if my life were threatened, put the words “girth” or “orison” in a poem, or use the impersonal “needs” which doesn’t agree with its ostensible plural subject.  It wasn’t the “beams” of the cross that pierced Jesus’ wrists either, it was nails through the beams.  Oh well.  The poem refers to the custom of gathering around a crude wooden statue of Mary at the end of the Compline service (the last liturgical hour of the day) & singing the Salve Regina, a beautiful poem in its own right.


Chama Canyon


These hills are hoed day after day,

a bit of work for bits of food.

In chapel after, rise to pay

rememberance to a bit of wood,

no longer life that leaned to wave

its bands of leaves by breezes swirled,

but meaning other life, which gave

a mother’s pity to the world.

From girth of carven log she looks

and wraps with love their orison

who move from work to psalter-books,

each one a thorn to crown her Son.

We offspring of the Spirit’s spouse,

whose beams have bored the eagle wrists,

we may not fly or flee this house

the while this round of life persists:

this while these wings must be for toil,

and pinions needs be bent to brood

on sprigs that straggle in the soil,

a bit of work for bits of food.