The Eye of the Beholder

Image: Chronicle Press, Franklin OH, 1975

The following poems are from Mr. Sedam’s third published collection, The Eye of the Beholder

Declaration by poet

Whatever I am or ever hope to be
I am in truth reborn in poetry.


On the days that I saw clearly
in the quandary of time’s coming,
my intellect strayed and I could not escape
I drank intoxicating myths
but I created no gods,
and then the leaves fell from the tree
and I recognized you as the new ghost of the sun –

Though I sensed the contradiction
I was afraid to wait
while time came circling the seasons
and I was renewed in its flight
so I have written you into being
and if this divine seed should fail
so be it, for I was saved
when I gave the miracle a chance.

(A slightly different version appears in Between Wars.)


Trusting His promise:
Unto thy seed will I give this land;
I went on and on believing
that my descendants would be many
like the sands among the sea,
that He would make of me a great nation —
I sired a son when I was very old,
proved I had magical powers
perhaps so great I challenged even His,
for jealously He asked me for this son —

My will divined the purpose of the Rod,
no man would kill his son for any god,
and knowing well His promise I had blessed
I thought it time to put Him to a test
and so with Isaac I traveled to that place
and took along a ram
just in case.

(A slightly different version appears in Between Wars.)


Remembering that lost date of steam’s demise
I looked upon my race across the rise
                                       as utter foolishness
that smoke pall was a diesel in disguise
                        a carboned copy
of that trim production-line machine —
               but still the fact remained
here was a reasonable facsimile of a train
and so I stayed and watched until the red caboose
                had traced its path across the plain —

While in the early Western morn
I tracked the fading echo of the horn
and heard the rising rhetoric of the roar
                        converge upon an elementary point
                                           in the objective distance
the SD-45’s had been impressive
                       both in strength and size
but in the wide reflection
                       their dissonant pronouncements
would always be a prose rendition of power —

Then from the East
                  over the sun of some forgotten dawn
the black cloud of a whirlwind marked the sky
the silver rails resounded with a cry
a K4 whistle chimed a holy sigh
                             like a mystic revelation
the air became committed to the cause
the farmers stood in momentary pause
the earth rose up in thunderous applause
               as the Broadway Limited went flashing by
                                      in a golden symphony of speed and sound —

And when the fantasy had passed
I stood there smiling to myself
                       as I basked
in the wondrous pollution of that day
shaking the soot screen from my clothes
brushing the cinders from my hair
coming face to face again with reality
                       at last I drove away
looking for some other telltale smoke
knowing I would always find a poem
                        in every lost horizon. 


In the dawn between time and tomorrow
I lie awake and watch you as you sleep
curled on the pillowed breath
                     of love’s last pleasure
your eyelids flutter as you dream
and I am filled with a persistence of desire
                   to touch your moon-gold reverie
               but I do not awaken you
for you appear above my senses in another world
your beauty silhouettes the morning sky
            beyond this earthly reality —
all good things are at least twice lived
I accept you in the dream
            and fall in love with you again.

(Another very different poem title “Second Coming” appears in Between Wars.)


I have heard these aunts before
damn their fat Victorian souls
who gathered in our house
those poor depression days
for grand reunions
with gossip of the years
and I the slender one
too young too male to hear
that day hid behind the door
and combed their conversation
for tidbits dear
for boys too mean to bore,
and in that painful hour
they took my subject sex
and tore to bloody shreds
all acts of manly fire
of passion and desire
all aunts but one
who would become my favorite
                                      in the end
she said:  “The way I see it girls
                         the way you should
                         it don’t hurt me none,
and seems to do George a power of good.”

(This poem also appears in The Man in Motion.)


Today we live unnaturally
             in the eye of a peaceful calm
where here upon this high and lonely ground
             our isolated isle defies the storm
                                      by the will of the gods
a typhoon rages furiously out at sea
and for two hundred miles we are surrounded
a conspiracy of the clouds has stopped the war —

I should write those details to you now
                        about the great Osaka strike
but strangely my hand moves without me
as if it were drawing a power outside itself
fusing my long since calculated words
             with imagery that I could not relate
             when I was so careless with time
                                      and so I await
                watching a tireless soaring gull
while Keith is drawing a pencil sketch of me
he wants to make a record of this day
              to contemplate our meaning in the war
a mirror of every mission that we fly
and this picture is mine when he is finished —
“What color shall I make your eyes?” he asks,
“What mood do you prefer,” I say,
“you have the choice of blue or gray or green
to match the shades of my chameleon mind.”
He chooses green, the philosophical one
to please my faint resemblance to himself
he squares the jaw and set the cheekbones high
then squints one eye and makes my nose too long
but I am pleased that having come this far
the small resemblance ends
                                        for we are not alike —

Keith’s eye are azure blue
his build is slim and frail
he has a painter’s fine artistic hands
and he is not the fight pilot type
which is precisely why I love this man
he is the last innocent of the war —  

He is almost finished, he says
he wants to check the color of my eyes again
                         but when I turn toward the light
                                     he frowns perplexed:

“Your eye are now a penetrating blue.”
And I am not surprised — for the last hour
I have been thinking so clearly of you
that you could be lying with me in the sun —
I watch the rolling ocean swells
rising and falling like the breathing of the world
remembering that day beside the lake
                                    the towering moment
when we soared across the sky in perfect rhythm
                                        and our breathing became as one —

“What were you thinking of?”  he asks
but I do not tell him I was thinking of you
It is too intimate, too risqué
I say that I am thinking of a land faraway
                                         with a valley view
and a meadow slope with a sleek smooth runway —

He smile conditionally but not quite satisfied:
“I guess your eye are mostly blue,” he says,
“I think I’ll change the color of them now,”
But I say, “Wait awhile and look again —
they’ve always had a mind to change their own.”

He listens to my mood intently
and maybe I have given myself away
humming to a tune of Tokyo Rose
I have written you five poetic lines
when I become patiently aware
that he is not looking at me at all
             but staring at the satiated sun
and only then do I record the sound
of a fighter engine’s high pitched whine —

I watch it knifing through the sky
my instincts bristle with the cry
the hot blood races to my brain
and I am fortified once more for war —

“The mission’s rescheduled for tomorrow,” he says,
“we’ll be passing through the outer rim tonight.”
And I note a straining distance in his voice —
the wind has risen, the surf is crashing near
and in the falling light I watch he shadow disappear
                                        as he despairs:
“I see something about you now I wish I hadn’t seen
gray is the color of a killer’s eyes
your eye have turned a shade of steely gray”;

I look away
I focus on the waves
                        the great repository of the sea
I cannot bear to gaze upon his face
the premonition of his death engulfs me —
“Then what color shall they be?” he asks —
I see the blazing guns, a reddening sky
the lethal flak that traps the atmosphere
I slam the throttle wide and clear the air:
“Gray must necessarily be a part of me
                                      for I would survive,
but color them blue or color them green
                          color them anything but gray.”

The storm is come fast, we turn to go
but even in the closing night I know
                                   that he will die
no gentle boy can live long in this war —

Silently we walk into the wind
my arm around him in last affection:
“It is finished,” he says,
“Here is my gift to you
and this is my flesh and blood
the soul and spirit of my youth
and maybe I can find the way again
                                     someday, after it’s over” —

“”What are you thinking?” he asks.
“About the picture,” I say,
“I’ll treasure it always,”
                                      but I do not say:
I am thinking of tomorrow . . .
                                    how frail is tomorrow.


(For Keith Weyland)

toward the strange white night
we thought of deliverance from the terror of choice,
the difference
the splendor of our scheme
we could not sleep and refuse tomorrow’s voice;
we thrust the unknown
with outstretched wings, a naked bond between
and then a distant light when we had come alive —
a flame burst over the harsh beauty of the sea
and Keith was gone.

(A slightly different version appears in Between Wars.)


The sky was down
the clouds had closed the chance
a vast and inlaid sleep
then magnified the trance,
so set in power
I saw the phantom dance
that sent the brain dials spinning . . . 

the sea cut my remembering
and I awoke in flames


(For Allen Ginsberg, et al)

Through this state and on to Kansas
more black than May’s tornadoes
showering a debris of art —
I saw you coming long before you came
in paths of twisted fear and hate
and dread, uprooted, despising all judgment
                                                which is not to say

that the bourgeois should not be judged
but by whom and by what,
junkies, queers, and rot
who sit on their haunches and howl
that the race should be free for pot
and horny honesty
                                                which I would buy
if a crisis were ever solved
in grossness and minor resolve
but for whom and for what?

I protest your protest
its hairy irrelevancy,
I, who am more anxious than you
                                more plaintive than you
                                more confused than you
                                having more at stake
an investment in humanity.

(This poem also appears in The Man in Motion.)


I have walked the hills for years
and have never seen a burning bush
though I have seen a few miracles
so call me a pantheist if you will
for I know it makes you feel better
to know that I believe in something —

You think that you hear the grass grow,
but Genesis and Spinoza told me nothing
I saw it!  The mosquito drinking may blood
the oriole weaving its basket nest
and I rose from the reflective trees
lemming-like swimming in the sky
until I filtered into the plan
of orderly defeat and exquisite show —

I breathed the thin pure air
and suffocated from the strange loneliness.

(A slightly different version of “Migration” appears in Between Wars.)


(For Lee Anne)

Call it the wish of the wind
                 from a dream of dawn
through the never-to-be forgotten
                 spring of our years
                 swiftly as a lifetime
                 like a vision borne
Slim Indian princess  wedded in motion
                 dark hair streaming
                                  sunlight and freedom
                 floating on the cadence song
                                   drifting shadow-down
                                             in the distance
my daughter riding bareback
               on a windy April afternoon.

(A slightly different version of “Nostalgia” appears in The Man in Motion.)


(For Mary, One of my Students)

When I proclaim the world is flat
and that I’m searching for an edge
I am only rounding a vision for you —
I stand, a son of man, not God
and I could be called Paul as well as Peter —
I speak for our sons and daughters
and had I known, it should be thus explained
that we have all failed in our historical sense
there was manipulation at the manger
Saul died on the way to Damascus
and Simon was wholly afraid —

Only from that shipwreck of faith
did l learn to walk upon the water
so what matter, then, you call me in this place
a heretic, to give the cup and cross
for I accept knowing
I can live through a long series of deaths
believing in your all-essential good
and would not change your world in any way
except to lead you gently into spring.

(A slightly different version of “Golgotha” appears in Between Wars.)


                (For Annette)

As of this moment
he is the center of life’s celebration
the incarnation of the holy seed
and all the concentrated joy
                               that love can share
in the two short months of his existence —
he mostly sleeps contented with his role
we say he smiles as if we know
but whether he does or why we do not care
                                  for all we need to know is
that he is dependent upon his mother

And he is greedy for her now
that much he feels and understands
finding his connection by the stars
                               the moon surrounds his eyes
flowing from the land of milk and honey
where she clasps him to her firm full breast
growing inside of her the fiercest hope
as from the moment when he burst from life
she offered him up to the world
as a sacrifice without blemish or blame
                               and she exists for him
holding the frailest heartbeat of his being
because he is helpless without her
is reason enough for she is his mother
                                bearing the burden of his claim — 

When he was forming in her shadow
she felt a oneness with his mind
the urgent purpose of man’s genius
thrusting through the galaxies of time —
as he awakened in her psyche
he heard the lullaby of her soul
the tranquil message of the cosmos
                                    answering life’s mysterious call —

But where did her instinct stop
                                and intelligence begin?
she cannot tell or explain
               swelling with the confidence of love
her breasts are rounder than the sun
               and more bountiful
her body warms the labor of his breath
               wrapped in primordial memories
she brings a spiritual certainly
                to the geological past —
he sighs across the vastness of creation
reaching for his senses in the skies
                        proclaiming everything that’s human
the Garden and the Fall
                  the halo round the Manger
                            the handprint on the cavern wall

And whether it was her will
or whether or not God planned it that way
she is more beautiful than the role she plays
she holds our rendezvous with immortality
                                and more
the knowledge-blood that links us with the stars
and through him she restores our faith
and for him we would praise her name
she is the Alpha of the Universe, the Soul
this woman-child, creator child
Earth Mother of us all.


From symbols of love
I grew
a tangle of eyes and feet
and could I have stayed there
I would have been secure
but I insisted on a room with a view —
one yank
And I came from darkness
one smack
and I felt tomorrow
and falling backwards
I cried an eternity.

(A slightly different version of “Objective Case” appears in Between Wars.)


Something in me and the abiding dust
Loosed an imprisoned force
And I became a man at the age of twelve
Proclaiming myself above women
I decided to be a trapper up North
But tried the near creek first
Caught a muskrat that turned me weak
Cried boys tears then came back strong
Finding maturity was thirteen
Growing soft on animals and girls.

(The poem, “Regeneration,” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


I have noticed that
we are both impeccably dressed,
but that you prefer
to make your appearance
in black and white,
while I prefer
a variety of colors.
this difference, I believe,
stems from the fabric
of our hair shirts;
yours seems to scratch you
while mine only tickles.

(“Clothes Make the Man” was first published in the Ball State Teachers College FORUM, Spring, 1963. A slightly different version appears in Between Wars.)


If I were a woman
I would become great with child
if only to test my creative power
to bring a fertilized egg into being
proof positive that my reproductive prowess exists
                                        but being a man
I can still stare at sperm unbelieving
that there is anything great with me
having no conception of conception
I’m disturbed when she asks me:
“Aren’t you proud to be a father?”
and I answer yes and no
no for the biological act, yes after the fact
I fulfilled my responsibilities
and earned my right to that
                                        to be called Father?
no, with no awareness of conception
I knew only, still felt only the pleasure,
so I would alter the master plan somewhat —

a woman should be wired for light and sound
and at the time conception
like an exciting pinball machine
her body would glow and the lights would come on
and bells would ring and out of her navel
would pop a card which would say:
Big  Man with your wondrous sperm
this time you the the jackpot!
keep this card and in nine months you can collect.

(“Conceptions” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


Whose knees these are I think I know
her husband’s in the kitchen though
he will not see me glancing here
to watch her eyes light up and glow;

My partner thinks it’s rather queer
to hear me bidding loud and clear
between the drinks before the take
the coldest bridge night of the year;

She give her head a little shake
to ask if there is some mistake
five no-trump bid, their diamonds deep
and one finesse I cannot make;

Those knees are lovely warm and sleek
but I have promises to keep
and cards to play before I sleep
and cards to play before I sleep.

(“Down Two and Vulnerable” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


He says he has a problem
and I say:  Tell me about it
because he’s going to tell me about it anyway
so it seems he was making love with his wife
                                 last night or thought he was
when right in the middle of it she stopped
and remembered he hadn’t put out the trash
                        for the trash man the next morning
so he asks:  What would you have done?
and I say:  Get up and put out the trash
                                             which of course he did
but he still doesn’t know why
                                                 and I reply:
You must slay the dragon
before there is peace in the land.

(“Saint George” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


Theirs is a house, a show place
of antiseptic rooms marked:
                     His and Hers
with climb marks on his walls
and halls that lead to nowhere
               (they wouldn’t dare)
and yet they have three daughters
which their friends assure me
came naturally.

(“Incongruity” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


As friends of the deceased
we stood outside the plot
and spoke of many things;
I said that I was a teacher
and it came out he was too,
somewhere up North, he said,
a good community — good school,
no foreigners, Negroes, or Jews
in fact, he said,
no prejudice of any kind.

(“The Quick and the Dead” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


A funny thing happened in the war
                   and you’ll never believe it
but there was this Jap Zero
                     at ten o’clock low
so I rolled up in a bank
and hauled back on the stick
                            too fast
                   and nearly lost control
and when I rolled out again
there was this other Jap
(He must have been the wingman)
flying formation with me.

We flew that way for hours
                    (at least four seconds)
having nothing else to do
but stare each other down,
and then as if by signal
we both turned hard away
and hauled ass out of there.

We flew that way for hours
                      (at least four seconds)
and when I looked again
                                he was gone—
but I can still see that oriental face
                                  right now
                somewhere In Tokyo
standing in a bar
there’s this guy who’s saying:
a funny thing happened in the war
                       and you’ll never believe it
but there was this American . . .

(“Faces” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


My mission, if I choose to accept it
             (and when did i have the chance to refuse)
was to go the the Garden as a secret agent
create dissension, subvert their intention
and start an intellectual underground development —

And so I went, it was a living
           (someone had to do the dirty work)
disguised myself as a diplomatic snake
        a suave and beguiling rake
        who with clever persuasion
        oozing charm for the occasion
        engaged the dame in conversation
        advanced her mind in education
        convinced her that the world’s salvation
        was in spreading women’s liberation
            but the plan was never sound —

It was not the apple on the tree that bothered Him
it was the pair on the ground
and when they donned those ridiculous fig leaves
I laughed and was found
             as the lecher of privacy
             a Devil with primacy —
And so it was, and so it shall always be
the Secretary has disavowed
            any knowledge or connection with me.


He came through the Indian summer of my youth
                  a drifter in those bleak depression days
                 dropped off a slowly moving drag freight
                                 at the crossing by our house
                         and changed the outer limits of my years —

No ordinary hobo, he
                was a minstrel with a magic overview
                wore a derby hat, a green serge suit
                complete with watch fob and velvet vest
and he had a twinkle in his eye for me
                as I followed him down the shiny tracks
                wandering through the exploits of his past
                toward the river and the water tank
                         to the hobo jungle of forbidden ground
where all the summer he would disappear
                then reappear the next week and the next
                dropping off the slowly moving drag freight,
                                 and back into my life again —

The boundaries of my years were marked by rails
                  the bend down by the depot of the West
                  the grade that crossed the trestle to the East
                            until he came and opened far and wide
                  those legendary lands where railroads ran
                  and all the distant places he had been
                                 a boomer engineer on the
Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago and St. Louis
               see, it’s right there on that car
                                               he would say
               CCC & St. L., the Nickel Plate behind the Santa Fe
with every train that passed he told a tale
                of the Frisco, Seaboard, Burlington, Southern
                the Lehigh Valley and the Rio Grande
he knew the scenic miles of every road
                and he had run on almost all of them —
And so each night I searched the atlas maps
                                                    until I found
               the route of every story of his life
                      rebuilt his history
               and built a greater legend of my own
               following him around, his worshipping shadow
               who told him that I liked him as he was
                        as he liked me, he said, because
                I was still a simple unspoiled boy
                who had a home and had a family too
                which seemed to me a burden at the time
                but it was roots, he called it, a continuity
                        a sense of place where someone cared
                        a somewhere that belonged to me
                as he would turn me back toward the town
                         and disappear into the jungle
                                                  on forbidden ground —  

But I was left with wondrous smells and sounds
                            of talk behind the leaky water tank
                of acrid smoke from cooking fat
                            and stronger coffee hot and black
                of Sterno fumes and bootleg booze
                            and stories of those boomer years
                from men who drifted down and out
                            and back into our town again
until the autumn came and traced a winter path
                                                     of games and school
                where I got lost in football and in books
                forgot the Green Man with the magic overview
                         assumed that he like all his comrades
                         had drifted South to warmer lands
                                  as they were prone to do —

And then one day I came home armed with girls
               and heard my father tell the awful tale
               about the big explosion that shook the sky
                                          that morning
                               about the Green Man
it seemed that he had money after all
                ten thousand in a secret money belt
                or maybe closer to a thousand, I recall
                          of maybe only several hundred
                                                 but no matter
                 a legend always outweighs any truth
                                 but the truth was
he dropped off at our crossing one last time
                  and walked on down the cold December tracks
                          into that jungle of forbidden ground
                  he wrapped himself around some dynamite
and blew up every memory of his past
                    burst the boundaries of my boyhood mind
                    and wrecked the world with his exploded view
                           of bones and flesh and greenbacks
                           raining down upon the fields and tracks
                    and people pouring in from miles around
                            to gather the blood-stained money from the ground —

Then I received a letter in the mail
               the only letter I received that year
               postmarked that day, a note with one word:
               attached, a railroad ticket to St. Louis,
                         and a crips new twenty-dollar bill. 


Loneliness and a faraway whistle
             loneliness stirring the wind
                          loneliness swelling the moonlight
                                        a storm swept song
COMMmmee . . . 

He’s hard out of Glenwood now
trailing his midnight smoke
a symphony on steel
coming from someplace, somewhere
from places of never before
from fabulous lands and scenes
              dreamed in my book of days
He’s rounding the curve downgrade
           on rambling thundering rods
                         pulse like my heartbeat
            he whistles our crossing now
            his hot steam severs the air
COMMmmee . . . COMMmmee . . . A WAY e-e-e

Straight through the town, throttle down
                                                 deafening sound
                                       the summer night made aware
                          screaming upgrade
                          exhaust in staccato rhyme
telling the world of his climb
rolling on Arlington now
high on his whirling wheels
gaining the crest of the hill
going to someplace, somewhere
to fabulous lands and scenes
             pulse like my heart beat
COMMmmee . . . COMMmmee . . . A WAY e-e-e

(A slightly different version of “Night Train” appears in The Man in Motion.)


As an incurable romantic
               and a lover of Indian lore
I took every story I read on faith
               as any good Christian would
never once questioning
               or never thought I should
               until I was almost twenty -one
believing that the fuel behind
                               those frontier prairie fires
was the gift of the Great Spirit
                               to his Indian children
like manna from heaven or something like that
until the realization came quite suddenly
                one day when I thought of it
and the truth that had to be that
buffalo chips couldn’t possibly be anything else
                                       but excrement
               or to put it scientifically
a turd is a turd is a turd
such thinking which prompted me to apply
                                to another sacred tale:
how Jonah got out of the whale . . . 


Then there was that night in Baton Rouge
Jack and I went out on the town
                             two looking for two
and we saw these two broads at the bar
                              and I said
there’s two Jack but yours doesn’t look so good
                              but he was game
so we grabbed them and wined them and dined them
                          with champagne and steak
                                   I remember
                          forty-four bucks to be exact
and when we walked out of that place
I slipped my arm around the pretty one
                           and whispered
                  let’s go up
and she said
                whadaya think you’re gonna do
and I said
                 not a goddam thing
                           and left her flat —
but Jack took the dog-face one home
and made a two-weeks stand of it
                 and come to think of it
I never chose a pretty girl after that.

(A slightly different version of “Experience” appears in The Man in Motion.)


(On Her Seventh Birthday)

this side of her
when trees are bare
and distance sharpens the cold
into a clear necessity
a turning goodbye
as time reveals her role —
what wisdom
lies behind the voice
when she asks,
“Why are we walking his road?”

(A slightly different version of “Lee Anne” appears in Between Wars.)


Truth is relative, they say,
                                        and incest too
                         which would be amusing
if it weren’t so close to being true
                          which leaves you laughing
when you think of your mixed-up
                                                    Male emotions
watching this lovely in her white bikini
rising from the waters of the pool
shuddering at the thought of all those
                                                    lecherous bastards
staring at her the same way
you stared until you suddenly realized
                                      she was you own daughter.

(A different poem by the title, “Relativity,” appears in The Man in Motion.)


My thoughts on the ring of morning
my insights beholding the sun —
I will say she is not beautiful
or shall I say
no more beautiful
than the average of her age
                       an average girl
in plain blue sleeveless dress
with soft brown sling-back shoes
and matching purse
but for the silver dragonfly . . .
ah yes! the silver dragonfly
as delicate as her slender hands
                        her red-gold hair
her high-born face
or the white lace of her brassiere,
which brings my focus to the nearer things
the rainbow from the window
the warm wet sound of the rain
                        the clean clear air.


And I will rise
            on wings of splendid fire
and trace a thousand love poems
                      for the earth’s desire —

And I will climb
            through towers of timeless space
and lift my ardent longing
                      to the sun’s embrace —

And I will soar
            across the endless skies
and seek the precious moment
                        where the deep heart lies —

And I will glide
            down halls of velvet white
and spread the golden morning
                          with a god’s delight —

Love will I bring to you
           life will I sing to you
                       beauty becoming you
                                 faith to ascend —

You look at me amazed?
                        I will being again . . . 


She trips on her attraction
testing the angle of my line
“You fishing for something?”
                              she asks alluringly
and I answer “No”
                      as matter-of-factly as I can
                                       and she says:
“Well then you’d better
                  take you pole out of the water.”


Our drives arched high and long
                     and out of sight
we cleared all obstacles
                     and visualized the green
                     but when we searched
we would have settled for the trap
                     because we both found
we had an unplayable lie.

34  ADAM

For over a week you have appeared in my sleep
and I find myself seeking you endlessly —
should I deny what I am, 

                                            alone and awake
                                            a shadowless man
tomorrow his glory gone like a season?
and when you close upon my flesh
then leave me naked and afraid
should I deny what you are
                                         the storm of your coming
and from its center the heart of emptiness
the blood that cannot touch or give
until it commands existence?
I feel at this moment of birth
                                        the death of all things
but let God speak honestly
the power was given me to weigh with immortality
and rather than let this moment pass away
I will awake and create a poem
                                         which is woman
                                         which is life.

(A slightly different version of “Adam” appears in The Man in Motion.)


There was a time when I came here
and sang these hymns with a friendly face
that was before I was engraved with the beauty
of the heavenly clutter and the peaceful rust —

As for my request today
I don’t quite remember the name of the song
but it goes something like,
“Don’t it beat Hell how Jesus loves us.”


Watching the imperial call
draining away his will
the thing I remember most:
the incredible blue of his eyes,
more than the blood-soaked shirt
more than the shell-torn isle
more than the greater war
                   of our last words:
“You’ll see a better day, ” I started —
He smiled and was gone.

(A slightly different version of “Death of a Marine” appears in Between Wars.)


(To the Fifth Marines)

Dim are the February dead
whose memory blooms like monumental flowers
fade from the color of red
                                       on graves forgotten —

Praise God we are made to forget
that yearly rains obliterate the dread
and yet each spring by God’s own hand
I feel the memory grave cut deeply
                                           crocus blooms —
blues eyes staring straight ahead.


Now in the evening tide
the warring clouds have moved on to the west
and closing in the purple light
the gaping wounds that once were manifest —
the moon walks slowly through the mist
reflecting sands in prismed dew
and wind and wave have reconciled the spring
the surf rolls low on Kango Ku —
and March lies hopefully subdued
a scent of greentime permeates the air
Mt. Suribachi spreads her healing shadows
and scarred and burned out landmarks disappear —

The island is secure they say
our battle lines extend to every beach
all pockets of resistance have been neutralized
the last revetments have been breached
               as night descends
the tempo of our lives has calmed
that violence of the blood is buried deep
we settle back content in carefree talk
and turn relaxed to almost peaceful sleep —

What was it that awakened us?
                      the moon is down
the night breathes heavily without a sound
the sulfurous smoke seeps from the sands
a cloud of creeping fear expands
it reaches out with evil hands
what was that tremor underground?
or was it the echo of a dream
an overflowed subconscious stream
that surfaced through the nightmare maze
to flood our nights with haunted days
our reason drifts upon the waves
but instinct warned us of the scheme
a shot rings out then ricochets
               and we come instantly alert!

Something is amiss
we search the darkness of the cliffs
beyond the anchorage of the reef
a solitary ship blinks shadowless
                        then suddenly
a blazing trip-flare arches high
its eerie light hangs in the sky
a terror grips the atmosphere
death’s bulging eye stare far and near
grey shadows crawl then disappear
                        but we are certain
they are lurking in the cave
                        somewhere —
                In the deceptive silence
we seek the solace of our own
               a wish impossible
we are together but alone to face a desperate enemy —
like the Apaches of old
whose bravery mounted with the light
we fear dying in the night
a soul released will never find it way
and wonder throughout eternity . . .
                   but we embrace the menace
                           by necessity . . .
a closer sound, the groan is real
a guard lies dying in the sand nearby
another trip-flare soars aloft
the ghostly shadows multiply
a spectre looms against the light
our over-anxious guns reply
a piercing scream invades the night
Banzai!  Banzai!

The earth spews out the demon hordes of hell
they rise before us everywhere to slash and kill
the horror of old tales becoming true —
the flash of swords and knives
black phantoms leaping from the night’s disguise
some are beheaded in the mad surprise
                          of their momentum
but we are afraid to move
they can disprove our ground of safety
we can only wait patiently in darkness
Over the chaos
a company leader takes command
and orders us to hold a line
his remarkable poise and presence of mind
                           breaks the confusion
but they are committed to the end
the smoking sand erupts again
Banzai!  May you live a thousand years!
their fanatical belief has led them on
to a sacrificial death more practical than life
to die believing in Bushido heaven
of sacred war and certain honor
                        they can never surrender —
they come on charging, screaming, shouting
the incantations of the Samurai
they throw themselves upon our guns hysterically
for they are determined to die —
the battle scatters in sporadic fire
they fall like martyrs in their fateful hour
that religious discipline Marines inspire
                        has seen us through —
Banzaiii . . .
was it a whisper or a sigh
the distant echo of a lonely cry
the endless searching of a soul
                        for immortality?

As dawn prevails
our lost alliance with the sun renewed
the carnage that the light reveals
                        for us is cold reality
but they lie peacefully, their souls secured
we toss their lifeless bodies in the trucks
                        like wood
this final contest of the gods we have endured
                        the island is ours.


When I think of the whims of capricious gods
                                                 or should I give myself credit
for being in the right place at the right time —

As time went on we gained a confident superiority
taking the initiative in search and destroy missions
designed by Brass to keep the pressure on
                                            targets of opportunity —
that day we found one hiding in the trees
an armored train, innocent camouflage
until we saw the tell-tale blinking lights —
we fell upon it in crescendos of sound
                       submerging in the waves of flak
                       joyously surfacing again and again
                       reminiscent of our boyhood games
                       the danger seemed contrived, unreal
three passes and nothing happened . . .
                                nothing —
we circled out, reformed again and headed for the sea
                                     when someone called:
                         “Green Four’s missing, where is he?
                         “Phil – who saw him go down?’

No one – we searched the near perimeter
the land lay soft and sullen, contradictory to war
no wreckage or conspicuous fires, a clear horizon . . .
                                 nothing —
we left him there, somewhere,
tomorrow’s fate confirmed
that there was nothing we could do to save him
to acclaim him, to mark his name
                                to say that he was ever there
nothing to sustain his mother
                     who later would cry in her anguish
                     that he was made a sacrificial lamb
no one to explain how souls disappear in death’s shadows
Phil Steinberg, last casualty
                                  last man in the strafing run.


Some things were never explained
even to me, and of course
they would tell it his way
but I believed in her
because I chose to believe
and you may be sure of this:
A man’s biological role is small
but a god’s can be no more
that it was I who was always there
to feed him, to clothe him
to teach him, and nurture his growth —
discount those foolish rumors
that bred on holy seed
for truly I say unto you:
I was the father of Christ.

(A slightly different version of “Joseph” appears in The Man in Motion.)

For my commentary on this poem, please visit “Malcolm M. Sedam’s ‘Joseph’


On His Seventy-fifth Birthday

And now

       after the gift of our friendship
        when I am alone to see myself for what I am,
        how slow was my awakening, and it seemed
        too many years had passed us by
        but then as I became mature and unafraid
        we made the bond enduring when we discovered
        we walked the same valley of age and wisdom
        respectfully different, feeling the same imprints
                        hearing the same footfalls
        following the same river to the ultimate sea—
        foreseeing that day of silence
        I need no tears to purify the past
        this was the gift of the gods
For as a man stands for love
        there will remain his legacy, an everlasting moment
        the memory of the nobility of man.

(A slightly different version of “Poem to My Father” appears in The Man in Motion.)


Night and the unfathomable waters
night and the killdeer’s cry
and for all these years
and for all the invisible shadows
                     of one so loved —

Thirty years is barely enough time
to forgive that god for the scars
                         that witness the memory
clearly this year
I came down to the shore again
to seek the heat of that oppressive sun
            to feel the cold awareness
still on my voice is the prayer
speak to me, teach me, tell me
why the soul of that great mystery
                      defies the dead —
           close upon me now
           life’s longing
           the loss of touch
           the disappearing meaning
           still the fear of separation
           find in me the reciprocal force
           love is my need
           love is the price I will pay —
The sun was almost down
we were sitting in the room
when the phone rang — they old us:
“Albert has drowned.” 

              (The Lake)

Waiting . . . waiting . . . .
a broken circle gathered by the shore –
                         someone said:
You will remember the date, 8-8-38.
all eights – easy to remember —

he’s down in the north bay
                        about four hours ago
the boys were swimming from the boat
                        when the storm came —
And for the first time I saw my mother
             the look upon her face
             a falling stillness of the waves
             a mirror deepened by the night
             like a great heart stopped . . .
                        except in the shadows
the splash of oars rowing . . . rowing . . .
                        back and forth
                        back and forth
dragging with hooks . . . dragging . . .
                        a tension in the rope
                        a tearing of the flesh
                        the hooks take hold
a confusion of darkness – then shouting –
they have found him in twenty feet of water –
           Gently, lift him gently
           do not disturb the dead
           who from their sanctuary
           would open the question of love —
they wrap him in a blanket
not before she sees the tightened throat
                        the suffocated eyes
Death as it is written!  Death by water!
God will make an end to all flesh.

            (The Funeral)

She sat beside the grave
                        as from the beginning
he lay in his blue gabardine suit
against a mountain of flowers,
none absorbed her beauty
or sweating bodies confused her sight
with sounds of weeping, and of prayer
                         and of silence
and for the first time I saw my mother
the cold wet demon shining in her eyes
where once her soft smiling covered him
a hatred escaped, but controlled, she stayed
and held his hand until the last —
             Before my vision
             they lowered him away
            Albert my almost brother  
          the first disintegration
            an end to all flesh
            as it was written —
They buried him on a treeless hill
brutal in the devastating sun
where withered flowers fell down
and joined the darkness of the earth —
              Dim in my memory
              his auburn hair and morning strength
              his august height, red color of life
              fading . . . fading . . .
Albert, what should I feel after thirty years?

            (The Room)

we gathered together for that final prayer
the circle broken and broken again,
we asked His blessing
knowing it would never be the same,
the heavens rent, the sun came down —
no sign — no promised rainbow —
God will make an end to all flesh!
I knew and I would believe no more
but she rose as from an ancient strength
                       and said:
“Thy will be done” That was all.
             Gently, treat her gently
             do not disturb the dead,
             God was her need
             God was the price that I paid
And through all these years
and through all the invisible shadows
I remember the face of my mother
and the child that died in that room.


And love shall be death’s alternative —

and when that time has come
                 when there is no tomorrow
when the moon has lost its shadows
                 in the sheer disclosure of the stars
come then and walk with me
                 above the earth’s illumination
you will find my true reflection
                 in the hazel blue of sanguine skies

and I will live again in our beginning
                 of love and beauty unfolding
                      the first opening of my eyes.


I have looked down that far valley
with my country boy’s awe of the city
and marveled at their heights
spires over stained glass lights
bells sending God-like sounds
their one great tower
inaccessible, echoes redemption
but when I think of creation
I turn away
lifting my eyes unto the hills
searching for that one tall tree
                       that I can climb.


On that October afternoon
under the maple bordered streets
the canopy of memory closed every Godly sound
                                                   when Billy Lambert died —
the rainfall felled and crushed red leaves
bled through bitter wine
and I drank paralyzed like any man
too stunned to reason why
too brave to cry, they said,
they took my silent grief
what sixty pounds could give
as proof like theirs, standing for strength —
they did not know that I was eleven
                                              without faith.

(A slightly different version of “Loneliness” appears in The Man in Motion.)


[for Hart Crane]

You were never a distance swimmer
                      and neither am I
and I like you have roamed the world
                      in search of a tribal morn —

but with a bourgeois instinct for survival
and an artist’s propensity for the sea
I am learning to walk up the water
            and given any luck and enough time
perhaps I can even tell you where the stones are.


who had never learned patience
rose from the cloistered walls
became the searchers
creation born
became the sufferers
torn from the fact of the sun —
would they believe
what you and I have known
we dare and fell from grace
but we have flown.

(A slightly different version of “Blood Brothers” appears in Between Wars.)


on a snow-night
with the autumn of things
a linden grove
in the purple lea of time
the heart leaves
with her beauty, knowing
that snow inevitably covers
the nature of things
and I never knew her —
then why do I grieve?

(A slightly different version of “Intrigue” appears in Between Wars.)


At first
when the seed opened
I found nothing
but time and the subtle essence
produced a flower
from the dream silence
a distant drum throbbed
and in a summer mood
I was born –
was it real?
I yielded the pillow
and in the red moon
I saw the gods depart —
it is quiet once more.

(A slightly different version of “Winter Dawn” appears in Between Wars.)


Then I will tell you about beauty
it is the miracle revealed on a winter day
that in a careful moment flowers a barren land
and leaves tomorrow
wherein we walk from snowy graves reborn seven times over,
touch me then for that is beauty
the only kind I understand
what matters now is that I remember
for the longest possible time the longest day
when beauty is covered with sorrow . . .
this too shall pass away.

(The poem, “Edelweiss,” also appears in The Man in Motion.)


Time and proximity
created the image
with an unlikeness
to any realness
and it stood motionless
while the flowers
formed from the shadows
of a spring song —

Time and propriety
weighted its wings
with the incense
of summer mysteries
but it grew restless
in the growing storm
wondering and searching
autumn prophecies —

Time and anxiety
tangled and taut
tested it magic
to tangible touch
and it broke with a kiss —
and she ran away
scattering the pieces
in the dying wind.

(A slightly different version of “Iconoclast” appears in Between Wars.)


I remember his confident voice
his high-flying banter
the sound of his chattering guns
that echoed his laughter
then the Samurai came
and shouted his name
and Gordon disappeared
in a black whisper.

(The poem, “Gordon Christoe,” appears in Between Wars.)


When that burst of flak
tore off your wing
and sent you spinning through the sky,
you looked just like a maple seed
floating into the water
on a bright May-day,

I’m sorry you were chosen
to remind me of spring.

(A slightly different version of “Al Baragher” was first published in the Ball State Teachers College FORUM, Spring, 1963.)


Admission of reality
                that time can bend a memory
                am I a victim of my own credulity
                                or did I see the dark blood flow
                                                from such savagery . . .
                that I was even there
                that I remember and forget
                                                 so easily
                   the brain is lensed like that
                                   protects the image
                                   sometimes dims forever
                    unless a matching pattern focuses the scene
                                                    joins two worlds
                                                             the then and now . . .
                                    And then
it was no ordinary war
a time some unseen power
                     had set the stage for me
an unemployed pilot, I happened along
a spectator of the invasion
                                                     until the airplanes came —

Admission . . .
            They brought the casualties in
             and laid them on the tables
                                    of the ship’s wardroom
             where only hours before
                                we ate our peaceful fare
            no white-clad nurses here, no softer graces
                                no operating room decor
                                             I would identify
but my only experience is a football knee
and nothing in the past could conjure this:

A casual wound brings no travail
a shattered arm or leg they amputate
of mangled flesh in disarray they sew
a captain missing half his face
                     the jawbone almost gone
what primal instinct saved his life?
              they can’t decide
he crawled back on his own —
with both hands taped down to his arms
                   his wrists nearly severed
he says his pistol jammed as he was struck
                               a sword—
                a more immediate concern,
he also has a bullet in his chest,
they probe the fevered flesh that forms the hole
                               almost lose him
                      a call for plasma!
 the way that nature saves her own
 or takes in death if the blood is pooled too long,
                  the surgeon quietly explains —

Admission . . .
                              the other details I forget
             or something doesn’t want me to recall
             it is only the surgeon who comes through clear to me
             whose raw exposure captures me
                                 record the butchery
                             whose eyes knew me
             as I stood fascinated by his sight—

             At three A.M. they bring the last one in
             his back a confusion of shrapnel and blood
             but almost perfect pattern of designs
                                  a gaping hole with radiating lines
                                          a mortar shell—
             his face like the grey dawn precipitates the storm
             he is barely conscious now moving through another world
                             perhaps the only peace he’ll ever know —
             the stoic surgeon stares and then starts in
                           deadens down with morphine
                                         with speed to equal skill
             and then in rare expression, he’s feeling with his hands
             searching for something
                                    like fish under a log
                                               he has a memory now
               pulls out a bloody jagged hunk
               smiles and drops it in the pan I’m holding
               and for the first time notices me
               and for the time I’ll do
                                    a pilot orderly?
                                              why not
              but then how callous I’ve become
              beside, I can perform and I am remarkably calm
              he knows, sustains my balance
                           talks of fishing all the while
                                    until the fragments are found —

                                         much later
               our two worlds, match again
               he sews with a feminine stitch
                                      hands leading heart
                             compassionate in his touch
               Surprisingly the human skin is very tough
                                                 he says
                                cuts easily but punches and tears hard
                                         the consistency of leather
               remembering how my mother sewed my shoe
                                                 way back there
               he tugs and pulls, but carefully
                                    the sergeant groans
                                                from pain I ask?
                no, reflex action he explains
                                     the pain comes later
                                                  much later
                                More thread!
                Will he ever get their wounds sewed up?
                how neat the stitches come
                a patchwork quilt, a Frankenstein design
                                                 and finally done
                his genius shows, he’s made another man
                                    but what about his kind
                and if he lives how does he survive?
                what cursed the learned doctor after time
                                                and after twenty-five years
                what  monster  roams to haunt the  tortured  mind?

Admission . . .
                          It is unbelievable the punishment
                                  the   human   body   can   absorb
                          or what the mind can hold
                                at least for awhile
                                             until the patterns match —
           The greatest pain comes later . . .
                                  much later.

(A slightly different version of “Casualties” appears in The Man in Motion.)


Before all colors fade
before you are gone
I’ll hold to this memory of you,
I see you in that gown like wine
two shades of purple pink and purple red
of passion drawn, deep down
I wandered weak from want of you
then knew your warmth and drank my fill
and filled the caverns of my mind
and sewed the hills with vineyards fine
that I each year might touch the spring again . . . 

When you are gone, and surely you are
I know it now
for the words are beginning to come.

(A slightly different version of “Last Letter” appears in The Man in Motion under the title “Letter.”)


And you my friend
tell me what you will
there are some things you will never hold
not even their innocent birth
                or trembling growth
                    or color of life
                                 or last breathing;

In the bright façade of June
you have said:  Time has no end
the sun to command has stood still
and day and night are one
                             immortal light
                                like this summer
I think I know why
I hesitate as though I had never known
the beauty of which you speak
almost as if your voice could alter distance
                              conjure love
                 or call creation’s fire
                 which I cannot believe

When years have hollow eyes
I marvel I even remember the flight
the scene of desire removed
you think I dream what I write
but think what you will —
I have seen what winter can do.

(A slightly different version of “November” appears in The Man in Motion.)


And as life must always contemplate death.”

Now and again in a crowd
I’ll see that look in someone’s eye
that searching stare of endless pain
a desperate longing for the sky . . . 

a tremor in the sun, a hurried cry —
“This is Blue Four bailing out!”

the convoluting sight, a silver streak
the searing flash, a rolling red-orange flame
but someone calls:  “He’s clear!  He’s clear!”

We see him floating free, momentarily safe
billowing white against the perfect blue
like an angel removed from evil—

God’s merciful arrangement?
the decision was never his
he is falling into the enemy’s hands
and the guilt of war goes with him —

He gathers in his chute, hopelessly alone
we circle one more time
but none of us can save him,
standing on the crest of his years
                  he waves his last goodbye —
Paul Williams . . . the loneliest man I ever saw.

(A slightly different version of “Original Sin” appears in The Man in Motion.)


Vectored into eternity
the legend fell
as the Japanese morning
disappeared into the hills
we with the look of eagles
discovered ourselves skyward
taught beyond our will —
there in the advent of blood
we formed the incongruous ring
of our childhood days,
we were the smallest things
bare understandings
circling a stranger god —
again the old apprehension
turned on the honor point,
climbing, throttles forward
our endurance shuddered under the weight —
heading toward that unknown fastness
the sun lined our cry
with the last whisper of spring,
we were old at twenty-three —
it was a good day to die.

(A slightly different version of “Rendezvous at Mt. Fuji” appears in Between Wars.)


Since time has made me generous
I would give one more medal for that war
to the woman who brought me back alive
or so she believed, and still believes
and it doesn’t really matter what I believe
that I was always more aware than she
of all those sons and mothers not so lucky —
but she was always more prepared than I
secure in her narrow theology
                       that God was on her side
which leaves me doubtful and surprised
as I was that day when she said benignly:
“I knew you were going to come back —
                          I prayed for you”


Today there is a brooding softness in the air
the snow’s first fall surrounds the hills
                                                with heightened sound
a silhouette of memory fills the sky
               lonely floating through the trees like tears
                       lovely when the heart is warm —

I sought the solace of the woods
to reminisce the summer’s lost awareness
wandering afar upon familiar ground
I searched the penetrating cold for meaning
breaking a simple path into the white unknown —

Another year and I have gown
                                             according to my nature
the inner voice I hear is like
                                             a bursting heated stone
the death I see is real
                                             but I have chosen
there is a greater poem within me
                                             waiting to be born —

As love is more beautiful than death
                                              deeper and more compelling
I know that where I walk the crusted snow
                  will melt again into the mystery of life
transformed once more the earth will call
                                              the genius of spring —

This year I feel will be unlike any other
                          today I heard a snowbird sing.


The time was then as now, in April
memory washed, the midnight theme
running down still perceptive sands
the rain in water verse of dark wind hot and wet
called to human cry, a faraway loneliness
moon strands covering the clouds like imploring hands
searching belief, then fatal emptiness
halving my age without consent
broke on the frozen silence
the isle of the beginning
where I was born again at twenty-three
fully aware of a too vast promise
                        a disbelief

Out of the chaos, inhuman cries
moans from a field hospital
scent of battle night and sand
and violent land volcanic, hot
a crater pulsing red, through dark depression
of Shrapnel in a man, his age halved
unaware of his small boy’s cry
that found its voice in pain:
“Father I’m scare —stay with me.”

And when I touched him
the storm struck fire
rolled on waves like thunder guns in crisis
and still I touched him wholly afraid
to feel his hand believing in my power
and still I touched him
and because I was the stronger
spoke as his father
moved his head up from the water
and closed the wound,
and he slept peacefully, too peacefully
I breathed cautiously willing the next heartbeat
then felt the failure
heard the hurried blood
saw the red pool on the sand
moon strands covering a face of disbelief
then waxy stillness fell upon the sky
like blinding grief, condemning life and dream
dropped the white-bled hand
reached down and touched my own
and felt nothing . . . emptiness . . . 

Then I awakened
fully alert to strangeness
past forced to present
remembering the storm beside the lake
the scent of April night and sand
the sleep-out on the shore
and from faraway and close, and closer then

again a small boy’s cry:
“Father I’m scared — stay with me.”

And when I touched him
the storm struck fire
burst through terror dream and shadow
moon strands lighting the sky with understanding:
that love had saved him
and still I touched him
to feel his hand believing in my power
and because I was the stronger
withheld the brutal blow
and spoke as God and Father
resurrection the April dead.


Then in the evening when the sun comes down
slowly and silently
to relax quietly in the earth’s enchantment
                          and watch the moon-mist sound
and the night protects you
and the flower-wind blesses you
and the stars grow big around you
and the song of the whippoorwill
calls to the dawn —

Only such beauty
stills my insecurity from too much happiness
your arms around me strong and warm
to assure me that life is real and eternal
                         that love has survived
                 that truly we are children of God
and to sleep now on the meadowed lespedesia*
                 in peace that passeth all understanding. 

*Alternate spelling for lespedeza capitata.

Publication Status of The Eye of the Beholder 

As with Between Wars and The Man in Motion, finding copies of Mr. Sedam’s The Eye of the Beholder may prove challenging.  Currently on Amazon, there are two copies available:  1 used, priced $19.75 and  1 collectible, priced $18.75, and again by checking back from time to time, you may find others become available.


You are welcome to join Linda Sue Grimes on
TruthSocial, Locals, MeWe, Gettr, Parler, Twitter, Facebook.

%d bloggers like this: