The Man in the Poem: A Suite of 19 Poems

“In my temple of dreams / you carry candles”

Image: Photo by Linda Sue Grimes

The first poem here replaces the original entry to this suite, which appears here as a much-revised poem 19.  That original entry along with slightly different versions of poems 2 through 14 appear in my published collection, Turtle Woman & Other Poems, under the title “Man in the Poem: A Suite of 14 Poems”; thus, I have expanded my man-in-the-poem sequence to 19 poems.

The Man in the Poem 1

A fantasy on a motorcycle, Lorenzo Lamas as Reno Raines

I

Your six two, one eighty eases
these bleary eyes that brighten
for pretty things, and the screen
adores every inch and pound.
You throb this old girl’s heart
now that David Hasselhoff’s
Baywatch is rendering up reruns
of reruns; your Renegade
dismisses my school daze.  
A martial artist, kicking in heads,
then beautifully escaping
the corrupt cops that would
corrupt your loveliness
in a gray cell, and leave
your fresh flesh rotting on death row,
victim of their frame-up.

I tingle like a school girl watching your long legs
and bulbed muscles.  Your divine face proves God.  
Angels sigh when you speak.  From hair to boots
you remind me that there is so much more
to pleasure than is dreamed of by
nervous network executives.
I’ll write you into the script of my poems,
because your form is blazing
across the marquee of my mind.

II

In my temple of dreams
you carry candles
& light up Indiana
& the church swells with voices
of answered prayers.
Although I’ve never motorcycled,
I’ve a mind to hog now that I’ve caught
your long hair stroking your shoulders
& that shadow of Latin manhood
stressing your sleek jaw.
I fancy I’ll ride with you awhile.
My body tight against yours
as you whisk us off to—oh,
maybe San Diego or Mexico. 

III

Your divine face proves God,
and angels sigh when you speak.
The cleverest magician could not conjure up
the magic your image impresses on my soul.
I’ve known beauty in the human form before,
or at least I thought I had: the gods of Greece
flicker in the light of your Latin flame.      

But you were not born with the silver
spoon of beauty in your mouth:  
you’ve pumped iron and jogged,
and grown lean on dinner salads.  your
appearance in Grease affirms
your youthful form clothed itself in baby fat;
that mute, blond, Nordic jock
you portrayed did not hint
at the solid rock
of muscle you stock,
and long,
slim lines
you draw
now.

The Man in the Poem 2

The man in the poem
Wears his life like a belt.

He trusts poets to tell him truths
That only saints and prophets know.

He worships indecision
And martyrdom and God’s nicknames.

What he knows he has dived deep for
Though he sometimes confuses the two blues.

He guesses his brain is not
As wide as the sky.

But he suspects his mind has scuttled
Along the floor of many an ocean,

And after a few drinks, his syllables
Heft greater than any god he knows.

The Man in the Poem 3

When she first wrote him here
She knew he wasn’t just a figment
Of a warped imagination.
She knew he was the kind to stick with,
To hold a mirror up to life with,
To bat round words with,
To usher in a great movement with.

She knew that he meant every claim he made
And would defend his soft underbelly
With the steel-plate in his brain.
She knew he would always seek higher ground
Upon which to build his foundations;
To him the salt mines were not just a metaphor

She knew he would never guess, however, that
All she had to do is dream,
And write poems full of sweet, little lies.

The Man in the Poem 4

You might have caught a falling star
to light your cigarette
and Jude would have gloried,

but she felt a simple admiration
that translates love into a thousand languages
and in a thousand poems she could not begin
to draw the lines tight enough to hold you.

You might have raised Cain
and cried over Abel
and Moses would have parted the water for you alone,

but she has lost that school girl crush
that she seemed to lose with lost saints
for she has left to seek the wisdom that drives hearts
to see no wicked and hear no evil

and think no such thoughts.

The Man in the Poem 5

Will they ever guess how many poems he plays in?
She doesn’t even know, for sure.

Turtle Woman accosted him with her question,
but he had no answer, so she withdrew her
head and legs and dropped out of his race.

Maya Shedd avoids him; she seeks mystical lovers
and he grovels in primal mud up to his eyebrows.

A professor needs him more than she does, more than 
Turtle Woman does, but this particular professor
is not willing to be promoted, so don’t look for
workshop uniformity to organize his fate.

How many fingers must they have
to trace his footsteps in her lines?
How many ears to catch echoes of his voice?
How many noses to smell the faint scent of a man?

He  strides through her pages
and on the rare occasions
when he steps outside the poem,
he is in danger of being picked up by prose.

Don’t worry,
as long as she dedicates her pen to the poem
he will have a place to play.

The Man in the Poem 6

You were a shot
& dangled off a long pier;
somewhere over IOWA you lost
a barrel of tobacco
& SOUTH CAROLINA grieved for you

You gobbled a frog
& spit out his tufts
but your mother never forgave you
for muddying up her 2 X 4s

Down by the creek close to that rock shack
you felt like King Tutank
with your mummy shroud down

But that worm won’t fly
& you backed out of hell
ran on a dime
& sucked grapes
out the end of a steeplejack

–if you wanted clear roses to grow off cowed lilies
–if you longed for cold biscuits and ice butter
–if you scorched the earth with your elbows
–if you left a trail of butts with lipstick

Some screedless owl will forgive you
& you will spread gravy over your pages yet.

The Man in the Poem 7

owed to Ron Smits’ “Wolf Creek”

He walked the creek bank
Musing at the ice-clogged shallows—
Confusing the stream
With a great she-wolf
In her birthing.
He saw her 
Clear as ice
Expelling wonder
Compelling him to think she must
Have performed these miracles
For him alone,
Like a wife who pushes
Against mighty muscles
Until she bleeds forth a child.

He would ask nothing more
Than to walk this creek in moonlight
Beside his beloved who
Combs her hair with thistle, offers
Crumbs to birds through the open window,
Humming a tune to the cold night air,
Drumming his heart with her willingness
To die night after night in his arms.

The Man in the Poem 8

He has left her with no words
To praise him
And no inclination to.

He used to seize her
By the scruff
And drag her into the words
Down by the creek
Where summer bit the moon.

She lost her glasses
And went without them for three years
And when she finally got some more
She didn’t see him anywhere.
Her neck had grown a blue scar.

She shook him out of her poems
And he fell in purple flakes
All over her bed—

You think she should hate him,
But how his eyes used to catch her
When she’d stumble up Blueberry Hill
And just knowing he wanted her tongue
Set gold afire in both eardrums.

She could not sing without him
Even if the telephone poles
Strung guitar strings
And the moon chased a dog around a fiddle.

The Man in the Poem 9

Once he unloads his gun
He will sit by the fire awhile
Offering shells to Agni.

He cracks them with his bare hands
Picks out the nut meats
As tenderly as a woman
He used to know in his hometown.

But she hated his bad language
And so he started writing poems
To kill her and he killed her
So many times that he earned
His seat in hell’s kitchen

Peeling potatoes and deep frying them.
He kills his poems now and eats them
As a side dish beside the fried potatoes.

The woman eats boiled rice
And still picks out the nut meats
Tenderly , O so tenderly.

And when she writes her poems
She thanks the man in the poem
For showing her where to hide
Her belly and where to let
Just a little bit of leg show.

The Man in the poem 10

She used to call him Snowbird
but he stings like the scorpion,
he does not sing like the bird.
His claim that he desired
to take part in the Sundance 
was a ruse to confuse her.

He  admired Achilles
and reckoned he knew the Greeks
better then they knew themselves,
but he does not know that poems begin
by bodies of waters.

If he could listen to the river,
He would hear the ancient water in poems—
ancient wisdom comes 
spilling down from mountains, comes 
pouring down into the plains, comes
with the sun and the legs to dance to it.

The Man in the Poem 11

He cut that heart  
as if it were a piece of cloth.
Red drops of dye dripped down
& ran down through the legs
& on down through the toes—
red running over the grass, oozing through the fence
rising like mud-river in floodstage
spreading goo over the cornfields.

The hovering birds
take each eye 
for a painted grape.
They’re not concerned
that she is only the portrait of a worm;
they want to take her home to babies
whose mouths open up to the sky,
whose sharp little beaks attack her
from the comfort of their nests.

Tie up that heart with string.
Stop the red dye from pulsating
out of that breast, out of that brain:
She’s lost gallons of sweet love
& all the pointed thoughts
that might have stitched up that slashed heart—
no etherized mask, let her faint
& hallucinate him & her entwined like emblematic snakes.

If he keeps squeezing those scissors,
the red dye will eventually soak his shoes.

The Man in the Poem 12

Barbed thoughts slash her brain:

his youth embraced her 
and tied her anxious arms 

his mouth took hers, wired her tongue 
and she became a babbling vagrant

his lust played her like a rock guitar
and she vibrated a deflowered lullaby

his sermon drew her soul to his god
and she worshiped with her fork

she licked the boots of his fascism
and struck a luciferin match.

Turning to stone in the rain
is cleaner than writhing in the dirt 

like a worm.

The Man in the Poem 13

That night he pulled off along the side of the road
And stared hard at the full face of the moon.
Turning back to her he grinned white fangs. 
Tearing the seat with his claws, he swore
He didn’t know what got into him, but soon
He knew his dog-days sweat would earn its fame.

He knew how to use his brain, he said.
The poet in his breast would sing louder than her cries.
And he bit off a part of her lip, a syllable, he called it.
In the close night air she begged to know why
The man left him, why he became part
Beast: too many questions stain her mind, he claimed.

Then he sank those fangs into her breast
And the victim in her heart stained his teeth.

The Man in the Poem 14

His squeal was not at all 
As pathetic as the barnyard pig
Whose blood jets propelled
That old expression, “bled like a stuck hog”—
He bled beautifully, just the right color 
And sticky-sweet texture she expected from him
And his flesh shucked off those bones easy
And clean as pulling his t-shirt right off his back.
His plump rump slid off as easy as his white cotton undies.
His joints unhooked quick as any brassiere she ever shucked.

Standing ankle-deep in guts
She marveled at the cooperation
Of the sum of his parts,
They seemed to want to be put asunder.

Still, she’s truly sorry it had to end that way—
She’d rather his tongue be sliding over hers
Than down the gullet of those buzzards—but oh well,
His cherubic face glowing like the moon 
Is a bright charm dangling from her bracelet of old lovers.

The Man in the Poem 15

The man in the wall

He never comes out for air,
Never leaves his shoes in the middle of the floor—
Yet I hear him breathing in there
And I swear his heavy feet do walk
All over my heart.
He never relaxes beside me evenings
But mornings I smell his burning tobacco—
He never leaves ashes in a tray
But I swear he does dump butts
All over my heart.
He never comes to bed but as I doze off
I swear he hovers over me—
Once (just once) I reached to draw him to my heart
But he escaped back into the wall.

The Man in the Poem 16

The man on the ceiling

The deadbolt fell out and she was afraid;
She did not know he was already hiding on the ceiling.

The sound of the damn deadbolt dropping
Warned her that losing something is always
Hovering above this city—

And the man was ready to strike out—

While she stood open-mouthed
Turning the deadbolt over in her hands,
He grabbed his chance:

Before she could telephone the landlady
He had escaped through the deadbolt hole.

The Man in the Poem 17

The man in the tree

“. . . and when I die, O Mother, do put me high on a branch of the tamal tree . . . ” 
                   —from “My Krishna Is Blue,” Cosmic Chants by Paramahansa Yogananda

This morning he is singing with the birds—
His notes rise several octaves
Above the feathered warblers’—you wish
You would make the bed and do the dishes
But instead you sit sipping coffee
Listening to him sing, just listening to him sing.

You remember how last summer
While mowing the lawn
You saw him for the first time—
He perched so lightly upon a high branch.
You knew he would never go away
And he never has.

At times you wish you could climb the tree
But you are never sure about your motives:
If you could climb, and you climbed to where he stands
Would you pluck a feather and offer a crumb?
Would you take his body gently in your hands?
Would you gaze into his eyes and sing with him forever?

This morning you are especially magnetized—
A long yellow cat has been trying to reach that branch
And you don’t know how the natural enemy could live
If she swallowed that kind of bird
And you don’t know if you could face morning coffee
Without the singing, without the singing.

The Man in the Poem 18

The man in the fireplace

He challenges me to start a fire—
He claims the logs won’t burn,
‘You silly woman cannot set
Those logs on fire.’

‘Die in hell, you liar,’ I reply—
Stuffing old newspapers ankle-deep
Around the fine-aged wood
And striking the match stick

I watch the papers burst flames in his eyes.
He cries and laughs, tries to snuff out my heat.
But stirring the flames, rearranging the logs,
I command, ‘you red devil, you will burn’:

And after the blaze wraps around the logs
And jumps and looms and licks the bricks
He reaches through the flames and catches in my heart
And I just sit staring, silly and hot-faced.

The Man in the Poem 19

In Memoriam:
Thomas Thornburg
September 23, 1937 – July 8, 2020

The man in the poem is a poet.
He practices his art
Balancing at the edge of hell.

He muses with angels flaming
From bottles of spirits
That rouse and persuade him

To sow his words in the soil
Of eternity as his mind moves
His imagination along

Jagged mountains of love
And despair, of greed and hate,
Of pity and piety.

His heart is a woman
Carrying an infant
And a prayer the infant

Not be burdened in life
And not be
Too soon with death.

His voice plays magic
With his words:
He moves me to sigh

And smile and suffer
To escape
Into the poem with him.

He incites me
To fear him, to spurn him,
To adore him, to love him.

He spins planets,
Splits waters,
Catches meteors.

He burns and pulsates,
Stands still and freezes
On the rim of torment.

The man in the poem
Is chained and checked
Yet freer than freedom.

I saw him walking
With a letter
In his hand.

I wrote that letter
To the man
In this poem—

If he answers,
I will know I have
Touched a god.

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