Sunday, January 30, 2005

Ambling black shapes out of the night

Some nights you lie there in the dark waiting for sleep to overtake you and it's busy overtaking someone else, somewhere else. Sometimes you read 'til your lids drop onto a chestfallen page, other times you allow a glass of warm milk, or some other nocturnal, to ease you into the soft wallow of sleep.

I prefer to write my way out of consciousness. There is an inherent danger in this, of course, in that whatever is written will have the same effect on whoever reads it. I'll take that chance. If nothing else, the poem below is too short to cause even a temporal loss of wakefulness.

I had been reading an essay about the Alaskan frontier called The Farthest Away River by Phil Caputo from his latest book, as mentioned and hotlinked previously here at Drachenthrax. His deft descriptions of being in a place so utterly devoid of the background din of industrial technology have taken me to that place that still exists within the hardwired wilderness of my own soul. Caputo refers to this place as the premiere seat of understanding.

Campfires beneath polished tundran stars, roasted caribou from a hunt commenced and completed by your own hands, the primeval twigsnap of living purely within nature's unforgivingly indifferent and favorless laws. I have stood in places like this, remote wildlands scattered between the scars of mesa-top canyons and the feral recesses that reside deep within me where all thought is reduced to instinct and the unerring will to survive. And I have encountered these places in other human beings as well, some of whom regarded me as fair prey.

I, too, have regarded myself as fair prey and, fortunately, outran the cunning trajectory of my own premature trigger. But these are stories for another time, another opportunity to reveal yet more to myself in this sharing of it with you.

As sleep would not come, so came this poem like an ambling black shape out of the quiet night, to where I lay safe in a warm room, in Pacific Northwest winter, where blood and ink run together unchallenged, blissfully unaware of the steady crosshairs of a poet who took the following shot:

Bearkill In Kongacut

Pawthud pawthud
eaglescreech skygrunt

grousescatter barrelbreath

nosesnort fisheddy

antlerclack pawthud

rockslip wolfcry

twoclaw towerstand

streamshatter scentsniff

alderstill gazelock

glasscross breathseize


The most useless thing
in this wilderness,
a dictionary.

The most profane,
this impotent

Joseph Gallo
January 2, 2005

Friday, January 21, 2005

A small pebble in the shoe of sleep

My good friend Kyle wrote to me tonight: I noticed you haven’t posted on your blog in a while. Are you ok?

I wrote back to assure him that I was, that I had been busy writing and having some teeth pulled, I mean arranging and attending job interviews. And I guess I've also been allowing the proper creative gestation to find its plump fruition in the form of the right thing to post here.

My interviews went quite well and I've met some truly outstanding and successful people. First of all, I interviewed with the engaging editor of Columbia Gorge Magazine and I am currently in the process of writing a series of articles for them about the bridges of the Gorge. Secondly, I met with the friendly coordinator of the adult education department at Columbia Gorge Community College and am slated to begin teaching a ten-week poetry/creative writing workshop this Spring. I was also kindly referred to teach a similar workshop for the Hood River Continuing Education program and have since made initial contact with them.

So, between resumé updating, contact procurement, article research, poetry submissions, the many friends I happily correspond with, tennis, eating, breathing and blinking, Drachenthrax has been ill-fed of late.

I wish to thank Kyle, whose savvy political commentary and most excellent poetry can be found at Metaphor, for keeping me up beyond my expected hour of retirement and allowing guilt to overwhelm me into reading but a few pages of the wonderful book of essays I've mentioned before (In The Shadows Of The Morning, by Phil Caputo) and turning my computer back on to post something of value, any value, that I might then extinguish my bedstand lamp and once again let the blackness of the wintry Pacific Northwest envelope me in torrid satyric dreams of deviled romp and circustance.

The poem below was one of those poems written two hours past midnight when there is a small pebble in the shoe of your sleep that needs to be extracted. I had to write something, I just didn't know what. I seldom ever do. So, stabbing my eyes with bedside light, I discharged the hovering mood in my half-awakened head so that I could return to the pastorale of my meadowed sleep. Here's what bothered me enough to do such a thing:

Nightfall With Snow

I can hear the press of the weight of night against the fallen skin
of fresh snow. It is as heavy as it is quiet. There are wanderless
passings imprinted in animal tracks leading off into untrapped
branches of darkness. What engine of instinct ran them thus?

I am lying naked on my midnight bed. Only the ink scuffs of pen on paper break the infolding silence. The world is on my mind. Where are my children? Where are my fathers? I imagine the sound of their breathing as I’ve listened to it many times. It is a sound I long for; the absent measures of a living clock that promises tomorrow
will arrive.
The future seems to circle this place, moving through trackless snow, impressing only my imagining of it. It is lost to me as I cannot summon one second of what might be. I am trailing the present by moments, unable to catch up to where I lie right now. Only this tracing in a liquid blue hand provides any evidence of my existence.
The night feels smothersome. Winter has eaten the sun and drained the moon; the stars repulsed back to the voids that saw the spontaneous ignition of their origins. The future cannot arrive here. It hangs limp in the mouth of an animal writing its history in spoor as it scumbles off into claw worn territories of shadow and ice to curl up with the meager scraps of all my tomorrows.

Only the river departs in grand recession as if it were
an endless farewell made of vanishing water. It is the past
and past only that pretends to be here. I will have to learn
to live with this lie if another dawn is ever to come.

Joseph Gallo
January 17, 2005

Monday, January 10, 2005

Time machines of fathomless ink

I'm up late this well-past-midnight. Outside, it is snow quiet. Inside, Tracy Chapman is singing The Promise, over and over. I can hear my heart doing things it was never meant to do: stretching and creaking, soughing in soft rips as if it were paper made of the luminous sheddings of a lacewing sommervogel.

Somehow, it feels good to ache like this. It reminds me of my own fragility, the tenuousness with which I move through each delicate moment. I am up editing some old and new work, rewriting a few half-inked poems, trimming hangnails, as we poets call them.

Somehow, I managed to compile three poems, one brand new, another written a month ago, and one from 2000, for submission for the Oregon Peace Poetry Award being offered by Oregon PeaceWorks in Salem. I will mail them tomorrow, one week before the deadline. If one of them is selected, I'll post the culprit. If none are, I'll post all three.

Drowning myself in the abysses of my own work, I'm again reminded of how poems are time machines constructed of fathomless ink. And again, I am surprised at how easily I am lead to tears and longing amid brief reprieves of genuine happiness that all move through me like a kind of comforting spirisphere.

There are few things I love more than sitting up late and alone, at my keyboard or making good old-fashioned pen-on-paper sounds, the perfect music (not too loud) sussing the room, Time unhooked from the zizzing springs and tiny gears that encumber clocks with their compulsive cadences, and all my senses surrendered to the possibility of expression before me. Very few things, indeed.

So tonight, as I moved through Time revisiting lovers and old friends, I came across the poem below, written just twenty-two days after Nicole left America for Switzerland. Some days I wonder how much longer I can withstand being this jumble of nerve endings, if long-distance love can somehow join this unbridgeable gap.

Love is another lesson to be relearned, over and over.
I guess there just isn't any other way .

This Kiss
For Nicole

I take the sun
by her million cheeks,
kiss fire into
her slow repose
as she slips beyond
the shadowing houses,
sets ghosted tracings
of empty trees
onto white adobe
as if making such art
were her sole purpose.

She responds like Paris
to my pressed imploring,
whispers intently
Ce baiser est pour vous
before slipping into
a failing sleep
half a dream
and a world away.

I will take sun for you.
I will surrender
the sphere of my skin.
I will close my eyes
and allow her helium
angels to swim
the quiet round light,
drown in black pools
of Heaven’s blind side
while I circle the skies
above a wet recollection
of the dragon that slept
your Swissoring bed,
drink the pressured immerse
of your nebulous lips,
praise stone that weeps water
in the curve of your cry.

This I will do
for this

Joseph Gallo
October 25, 2003

Sunday, January 02, 2005

In this infinite minute

In these days of charity and heartfire, of family and loneliness, in the widening aftermath of tragedies both natural and national, the new year has arrived. It is 2005. Inconceivable. It’s hard to watch Oregon snow sifting quietly from the sky while thinking of the magnitude of the recent loss of human life in Southeast Asia.

As I let the flakes settle and melt on my face, I am shrouded in images of ashfall at Bergen-Belsen, the crematoria ruthlessly elementalizing countless incinerated souls; caught in a time warp of silent fallout at Hiroshima & Nagasaki; imagining what horror fell from the sky 65 million-years ago when a dinosaur-killing asteroid slammed into the Earth at Chixalub ejecting a deathly fume of dust and flame that extinguished the sun and nearly all life on our azure blue globe.

But this is snow, only snow. And, aside from glaciers that dream in the deep meditations of their icebound sleep, it remembers nothing.

After a quiet, cuddlesome New Year’s Eve at home with Celestina, savoring her home-made tetrazzini and Italian pane d’olio oliva, watching the French film, Amelie, talking and laughing about a gazillion things, I spent the late afternoon of this first day alone with Bogart & Bergman, sobbing for their heart-rending love of sacrifice and circumstance in Casablanca. I wept like a partisan whose need to fight has been victoriously removed. There’s something about these themes that get to me more now than ever before. Ever since I fell in love with Nicole.

I thought about our farewell in Switzerland, at the Luzern Bahnhof the morning of March 10, 2003, recollecting every wrenching detail: the image of us hugging goodbye, crying and kissing each other that cold, rainy morning as I waited to board the train that would take me to Zurich for my flight home.
The structure of the memory goes like this: We are both in the doorway of the coach, holding and embracing one another, saying our thank-yous and looking into one another’s souls, which swim just below the teary surface of our reddened eyes, trying to be brave and unblubbering. Then, as our fingers slide slowly across the terrain of our last touch, I watch her walk out of the standing coach and onto the busy landing barely moments before the train is scheduled to pull out.

I bend slightly forward to follow her through the passenger windows as she moves sideways and backwards, our eyes locked on each other, both of us waving and blowing our final kisses through the air. And as I think to myself that these are the last moments my eyes will behold her until late summer, trying to savor the quickly vanishing point in time, an eternal minute passes.

In this infinite minute, as I resign myself to settle into the heart pain I must carry all the way home, Nicole suddenly reappears in the doorway to kiss and hug me just once more before the train at last departs. That image always gets me. It was the most romantic moment of my life. And there’ve been many with Nicole.

Thus, the following poem for her, as a testament to romantics everywhere forever sealed in the tender histories of their time together as lovers. Such a grand thing, Love. No pain is more beautiful.

This Awesome Burden Of Knowing

the dear
I have

of you
bring such worry
to my brow.
For that

is where
is barrowed
into the deep

I may never
hold you,


Joseph Gallo
July 13, 2004