FREE AS A BIRD
When the pipe smoker’s heart, lung, and kidneys sent him to the workshop for yet another stay, hooked him up to an intravenous drip, a wretched fellow, and forced him to swallow a growing pile of pills ?— ?round, oblong, brightly colored ?— ?all whispering warnings on their side effects; when grumpy old age kept asking peevishly “How much longer?” and “What’s the point?” and neither lines of ink nor strings of words flowed from his hand; when the world with its wars and collateral damage slipped away, and he sought only sleep, a sleep torn to rags, and estranged from himself he began to lick his wounds in self-pity; when the last fountain had run dry, I was revived, as if mouth-to-mouth resuscitation were still in use, by the moist kiss of a part-time muse on call, and images and words came crowding in; paper, pencil, brush lay close at hand, autumnal Nature made its frail offering, watercolors began to flow; I delighted in scribbling and, fearing a relapse, began eagerly to live again.
To feel myself. Light as a feather free as a bird, though long since fit to be shot down. Unleash the dog with no sense of shame. Become this or that. Awaken the dead. Wear my pal Baldanders’ rags for a change. Lose my way on a single-minded quest. Seek refuge among ink-lined shadows. Say: Now!
It seemed as if I could change skins, grasp the thread, cut the knot, as if this rediscovered happiness had a name I could say again.
ON EACH NEW LEAF
With red chalk, lead, graphite,
with goose-quill and ink pen,
with sharp pencils, full brush,
and charcoal from Siberia’s woods,
with watercolors damp on damp,
then back to black and white ?— ?
to scales of layered grays,
bring forth the shadows’ silver gleam;
and since from death-like death
the muse’s kiss first startled me,
forcing me stark-bare naked
I’ve looked on each new leaf in turn,
obsessed by yellow,
enflamed by red,
faded by fall,
hoping the green would wake again,
seeking the way out, wafting gently,
like a feather falling from the blue.
SEPIA AU NATUREL
Again and again the dream where I milk a midsize squid. It’s easy underwater, like making love to a daring mermaid strayed from her flock.
You swim up from behind, quite innocently, stay patient, and when the moment is right, attach the pump to the muscular opening of the gland and activate it by pressing a small button. Soon, half forced, half willingly, the squid expels what’s normally released as a dark cloud to befog a nearby enemy.
That happened a lot at first, when I was in too great a hurry to harvest the inky brew. Time would go by and still nothing. I would run out of breath. Surface, then try again. Milking squids, like pleasuring mermaids, takes practice.
Since then black milk stands stored in canning jars, a borrowed metaphor. A soupy extract used for pen and brittle brush drawings alike. Washed they reveal streaks of a slimy substance.
The drawings retain the smell long after, at first fresh, then increasingly pungent; especially on days of high humidity, the squid-ink ink recalls its origin.