Selected Poems

The major long poem, “From the Turquoise Sky 21st Century You,” opens the selection. It is followed by a selection of shorter work, chosen from a manuscript of over 500 pages by Miriam Kirchner Gross. The contemporary epic, “A History of St. Charlie’s Chicago,” concludes this selection.—AH


are the smallest of the litter and you
know what that means (you're
kidding?) you

are the son of
the daughter of the Group of the Little Stem you
are the descendant of Gertrude Stein of
late Rembrandt and Titian painting the son of
the daughter of enchoric script of
the grooves dug out
for petroglyphs of the Americas you

are the child who fell out of the sky when a
meteor struck you
landed with a look that later pleased Galahad and
a number before him but not
those of the Group of the Little Stem these
were the silencers you
are the 12th cousin of Dylan Thomas and

the foster son of Alberto Giacometti figures at night you
could slip in and out of Botero's upsized
archetype the way a kid will slip in and out of
circus tents you
are the child of Agnes Martin you
told the truth when you
did your best with the stairs and hills and

the ironing of a shirt about
muscles that were not there they were
the silencers they
were compassionate to strangers at a distance who
needed food they were magnanimous to a
few from among many outside their islands'
walls of the Group of the Little Stem they

carefully kept their irregular children clean and
fed in back rooms as best they could so
the children would not be embarrassed when company
would come they
took them to the Group of the Little Stem all starched and
pressed with great conscientiousness and mouths
dutifully closed with pity and pity and pity you

told stories and the children leaned
close some older women and the eyes of older men
would whisper would you tell us again next
Christmas? you
were watched by the Bishops' men no matter if
rules were heavy on and beyond the body of one
who fell out of the sky with

a clear and daylight mind and
a heart as red and ready to spill over
the whole palpitating earth silences
long spans sending you finally evicted you
could not drive a car you
could walk briefly slowly and carefully but
they were practical better

to save the island with reduction of irregulars they
did not have to "see" you
are the son the daughter of Ben Shahn's lectures at
Harvard of
the musically disciplined throb of
Mahalia Jackson of
Marion Anderson of

Paul Robeson beauty and pain of
the children in U.S. internment camps in
the Second World War of
the temporal lobes of Andre Segovia's guitar you
are the adopted cousin from DaVinci's
lines evolving in your own hands made of
semi-transparent porcelain maple veins

bringing form to what was not allowed to be
spoken from the edicts of
the silencers you
spoke in code with the haunting
glimpses in sound of
pure African music of Handel and Bach of
Duke Ellington at the Cathedral of

St. John the Divine the
stepson of Einstein's son of
the single girl-woman voice on the top of
the mountain in West Virginia echoing
through the valleys you
painted the sirens from the streets of
Chicago New York Philadelphia San Francisco Seattle

Washington DC near the islands of
the Group of the Little Stem behind
their strong fences you
would lose your breathing ability for
days at a time to do it because you
woke up hearing the voice as your own you
nearly died alone you

are the son the daughter of the authentic mother
and father in the Group of the Little Stem who
caught you when you
fell out of the sky you
were wounded and whispers were loud that they
were great felonious sinners because they had a
child so born you

carried their guilt your own when they told you you
must have sinned before you were born or god
knew you would sin later on and so put
a chain on you or you would not have been
born different this time you
are not a son you are a daughter an
elder Wise One rose up like

a California redwood who heard the Divine who
stepped into the Group of the Little Stem to
speak truth to you even as you
were evicted by the others your
own Maestro had already breathed on you
in different times and places had
once appeared to you while you

were standing still in a center of
the Group of the Little Stem you
saw the Wise One as the Maestro's man you
remembered long before in the place of
the silencers another noble and his wife their
faces luminous as they spoke truth unbidden by
the silencers you

held to the rope a flood of faces and
hardworking hands came back to you in a vision of
one here one there from among the
Group of the Little Stem faces
which showed you that they knew all along that
all was not well on the islands you
were evicted and did not belong you

must speak what they could not you
must blow the whistle to
melt the chains and
dissolve the walls that
the silencers built you
are the smallest of the litter you
know what that means. . .


Kiss -
this little sad girl
lived in a funny house
with no roof and no floor.
walked around on the air.
didn't know there was no floor.

One day
told Kiss:"Hey
little sad girl.
can't walk around like that!"
ain't got no floor!"

said:"Two negatives make

said: "ZOW E E E! What faith!"
Shooting Star
Shooting Star: “Look, Ma, No Visible Means of Support,” 1980


This four-square earth,
the Lilliputian vault of its sky,
your manageable land of sand encased
in carpentry . . . .

Finger-drag the grains in
meditation, aware of scents,
a mild grayness of surrounding air
blurring precise sharpness of edges on
your flat earth,
tailored for child-travels, explorations
without boundaries.

The finger trails through pale landscape:
your town, its toy-like avenues - housing
built by English, Scot-Irish,
Italian . . . avenues - catching the slant
of light rain;
now drawing Venetian channels with
drifting bird-tail gondolas . . .

The four-square – suddenly dissolves
its remaining definition.
Consider the three empty seats;
you merge with a silence beyond
the vault of greater sky,
the larger terrain.
Then the bell-clear safe yet separate

          You did not just begin when you
were born.
You are much much older than
this you.
Do not tell.  It will only cause trouble.


at any moment we might be slandered,
Child, we call you sweet.
We've already begun to taste
bitter, wail
already warring against your death.
You did descend!

Even as your eyelids sank
while on that gibbet,
villagers left behind their tainted
Our mud red river breaks up its false-
bottomed shed
and cries:
The Birthday Boy pains us
in our hollyberry belly!
He tears the very wet from out our gut
in wintery seas!

Dark fair boy of the Dove,
you've shaved blistered edges off
barns of plunder
and made them tell the oldest tale
that the wisest babes now trust.
This newest lust for sleuth
isn't new.
It isn't lust. It's, ah - yeah,
the final fling of hunt skirts on men
of thunder, first and last.

Yet, for sake of grace, one Woman filled
mounds with manna, feeding you,
You ascended,
embracing constellations;
and you hold your healed ecclesia
in your turning basted gold
celestial trace.


Furniture in heaven can be heavy.
Don't be afraid when it moves.
Soon the sky flash will stop
so you can plunge the gutter torrent
and chase down greasy hatboats
in your streak-striped legs
to fill waterpistols so
to bounce off people's frowns.


Why would you throw her out
of the Kingdom?

We saw ashed mauve shadows
around her eyes
not put there by nature.

Sure it was put there by nature.
Hers. Maybe Crayola's.
Or. "Maybe it's Maybelline."

Remember Jezebel?

Remember the Pharisees?
Jezebel had a bad heart.
So did the Pharisees.
In God-love breezes
a child-heart can paint
its flower faces
with the color range
of rainbows
any which-way it pleases

even with brow tips slightly askew.


For Mary Eleanor Bender

After last night's shake out of flannel
white chill
over sleeping twists of Mayflower Place -
after the hand-warming cup of chocolate
without sugar -
I suddenly wanted to find us having been
childhood chums -

to run with you, cheeks puffed near
to bursting, words spilling:
"To the Great Attic!"
We'd tear up the spiral back stair
from butler's pantry to the top,
cavalier-sweeping aside cobwebs,
spiders, the smell of ancestors and mice.

We'd enter the whole inevitable cliche:
the creaking hidden doorway
to the Trunks of Independence -
lift the French-curved lids of cloth-lined
wood with belted copper -
carefully pull out tissue-wrapped
yards and yards of English velvet,

Florentine laces, Spanish satins,
German rhinestoned gowns,
sueded Queen Anne shoes, dried Georgian
roses still in nosegays, Ethiopian harps.
Chinese scrolls, Danish crystal
ensconced in carpets from emirs,
potentates of Siam, Old Persia,

packed between hand-bound volumes
of first edition classics, poems and tales
from all time.
We'd slip from our training to properness
in an instant,
raising invisible forbidden smokes -
still trailing from slender holders

of ivory -
to purring night-painted faces.
You would truly BE Mae West, in red,
receiving a diamond-buckled scarlet
slipper filled with champagne.
I'd be Hialeah again -
doeskinned, Indian-beaded, headbanded

with one White Feather.
We'd both go racing off to theatre
of sapphire and turquoise sea,
on rippling movement of black Arabian
horses with stars
between their eyes.

A fresh blanket of snow rests easy
on the roof of the Great Attic,
tucking in corners of old canopied
posts, under the eaves,
bedding the smiles of ancestors
still trailing ghost smokes
with half-closed eyes.


Cold-knocker hayride

under a laughless moon.
He talked a little near to me
to cut the wind.

I hit him over the head
with a hymnbook.
Ruth said - "the grapes said" -
he liked me -
but I couldn't skate.


On the fragile edge of the wild,
moons turning suddenly carmine
in the summer's roll,
will take note of even the smallest
among us.

Are the sightings of such moons

Mine came as woven wisps -
clean, crimson, hollow - swirling
into a single petal.

At 4 and 12 and 20
I was filled - intermittently, with that
same intensifying hue -
and, long-schooled, but with loose plots
still winging.
The Maid Not From Orleans, but
to be more than a pin-stuck scarlet cushion -
drinking in only what's whistled,
pot-spilled and warm soaked -

until wars are no longer the mode.

In the wild forest,
when comes the first awkward cub-paw
then deft, deep in the fork of the new
season's tree cache,
shadows brow-curve a natural
for a nymph slant on innocence, eyes

searching for the hard rain gem -
plunging the twilight's pool -
to raise even a fragment of some ancient
star shining.

Rather, in a downwind breeze,
one grebe feather at a time flutters
toward the surface of this cub-pawed drink.

From infant to girl:
No girl's an empty for long if she's
a girl at all,
she dances,
even if only in her mind,
pirouette-eyes alive, even
if blind,
she's whole girl to whole woman,
if at thought
her glazes liquefy for primroses
shouldering through,
filling her dry-barked woven wisps
and color-wheel hollows
till sun and dew marry
behind stick bushes.


What was beautiful
was that one could fall into forbidden
sanctuary that was not there . . . .

All around were the people of required
plainness – as with the walls
and ceilings – clean, spare and white;
floors – hard, a half-forgiving wood.
A carpet for the aisles and across the front
only to mute the footsteps
of those who would be late.
Windows - painting the pale north
Atlantic winter sky, the stark branches.

It would come,
after the respite in the children's basement;
there, a space of sudden sunlight shafted,
as in such intervals when prison guards
would leave cell corridors
for a breath of air.

It would come
after the Jesus-song's soft strong tastes
of color melting like snow on the tongue.
A snatch of hope
given like breadcrusts in a park by ageless
men to hungry pigeons -
against an onslaught of shooters.

Then, what was beautiful:
The sanctuary of a soaring, out - above
the hard god - in a suspension cupping
a tremble of embryos in prismatics:
crimsons, violets, blues and golds
formed around and in a Presence of
the One who loves us most,
with a pulse of innocence believed.


She sits riveted.
Her focus - on the Goodman Theatre balcony -
waiting to see Lincoln[1]walking in profile
when the lights go down.

   Not able to sleep,
so close to lightning suddenly flashing
twice as hot against the neon at CHE CHE'S.

In the distance, muffled voices. Voices
illogically magnifying:
"Take it!"
"This time over on Water St.
they stole the whole Eden orchard!"
"Poor cluck that lost his fruit!".
"Naw, Joe-zy.I didn't mean nuthin'
like that, you nit.The johnny-
apple-seed said to let 'em have
the whole kitnkaboodle.Then
maybe somebody'll catch on!"

In half sleepwalk she rises, leans out
her torn screen window, grabs
the plum hanging like some marvel of pendulous
She cannot bring herself to rip it, stem
from branch.
She touches its bulb, shining
guitar rosy-green thick drops cached in sweetgum.
It giddies. Close. Then far away
in rooms full of some twenty-four-hour land,
gingerly coy and muscled.


[1]“Lincoln” in Sylvia’s poems often represents her husband, Vladimir.



Above layers of its oral history
in garlic and onion air,
half the city lands
with a hatchet-footed grace.

Uptown's surface
orders its dance of steel and cologne
over inner ear echoes
of bronze man drums.

Lumps of mouths still to be washed,
growl out morning claims to godhood.
Lumbering lid-slugged eyes slip over
many-toned offspring waiting for bread.

In rains, gargling, hard-bathing -
before hydrants close above
cumulo-nimbus -
prismed bridges build,

arcing from the sun across cobwebs
over deep-rutted city lap.
The El holds us, moves us,
a million strangers in a herd,

window views flying past to keep us
anxious not to miss our stops on the map.
Our eyes dare not quit
the flicking left and right.

Its rumbling jumps in deafening notes
between bass and trebled screech
to timetabled silences.
My tall trailblazer clears away

city tangle as I stand back
for a moment of uncertain walk,
in a flash recognition of some long known
thing never met before,

an essence that drinks me at the rim
of its timelessness.

For three voices.

Voice I. hey girl
your hair too high noon sunned
Voice II. HEY too bottled rust

Voice I. who killed your mink
Voice II. who smogged your head so fussed

Voice I. why'n don't you dig 'n
dredge that matty bed
in good prime nat u ral dust

Voice II. come clean
like a swiggilin pig
without no crust

Voice I. so eee zy just
spit when you get yourself mussed
Voice II. rub it in yeah

Voice III. THERE'S your Angelstuff


just now just now
not tomorrow or some anytime
I sat by the Penn Central Passenger
in Coal City
a town full of nothing but leafless
stumps hollow lumps
everything was so devoured
in dry fumes rusty pins
propped up bones.

forty hours went by before that
train moved out of the junction
forty hours to try me
with foolish thoughts
about a time when I wished
to build cities in the sand
the way some mayors will

I didn't think at first
of people needing to fill
the insides past just
placing them there cutouts
from paper near cardboard
houses schools churches a firehouse
and a theatre it cost nothing
to make a town out of news
from yesterday bought and

paid for just to know what
has already been known you cut

Raggedy Ann and Andy out from what
IT SAYS has been done then
wait for a breeze to blow them
down if they fall you
can set them up again or
let them lie there if it rains if
they get soaked and stomped
into the ground no one will blame

Mother calls you in to dinner
is all and wash your hands
why didn't you put your sweater on
and the town slips by those
shacks and rags on washlines
I didn't want to make a town at all
but it's been done and
the people have been flattened

if I try to pick them up I
have to split my dinner with them

that's nonsense child they're
only made of paper

After Rambo and the Exterminator

A plague against love
be on thee, my son, cursed the dancing preacher.
A plague on thee if thou singest of some
bled Dove.
We two are kindred. Cain, our lancing teacher.
It takes a man to strike for proper barter!
Not some trancing creature
that moths so quickly he isn't even able
to leave behind a proper charter
composing the makings of a human martyr!

Put away those old-mama lullabies.
Show the boy that killing axes are not lies.
It'll have to be with raging biceps that he's led.
Don't let the grieving sister become the tribal
That idiot keeps a virgin-vigil in every
ranger bed
believing, the loon, that some Twinkling Moment
will return to raise the Slain up from the dead.

[Matt.26:15 I Pet.3:19]


If your eye is single, your whole
body is filled with light.

Angry angry

kept cracking the center
of the earth.

Specters from some deep Dantean
inferno had caged them,

they said. Talons tore out
exposing streets inflamed

by pretense behind the mask in
Easter parades.

Someone had signed decrees
that pure rhythms, natural forms,

colors and sounds of simple

contaminated loam, waters
for lunches,

and the air over chalkboards
waiting for children with teachers.

But the Light of the Single Eye
is piercing through.
Circle of animals
Circle of Animals—“There is Sometimes A White Terror By Night”


Your up and coming man of the year is about
to be exposed for the variety of cliched
feelings he possesses not that he
should not possess them but that
he comes to jerked conclusions of all sense
objections and he is the head
conspirator of all silent plots.

This man is not to be trifled with he
should be declared dangerous and fully
two armed and now for the description:
when he meanders the booths of many
a country fair he wigs himself
as a blonde behind the juice bar and
when he comes into church pockets
with tent meetings he rolls on
wool stockings and acts as though
he had varicose vein surgery in order
to hide his bomb parts and
when he comes into the inheritance bracket
at election time he pulls the ring
through the noses of bull sharks to insure
their backing of his daughter's education
in high Latin and Anglo-Saxon sanctums and
a terrible thing happened on the way
through the Holland Tunnel.

If you discover this man in flight
tripping over the bailiff he'll lead you
to the trappers of victims and he'll be
vulnerable to arrest tactics that
young peace militants are making once more

come hither and yon boy come hither and yon.

The Great Spirit: Father/Mother*
After Psalm 23:6

Into the dens of the people goes the Spirit.
Upon the people’s nostrils blows the wind
And the people stand and sway
According to the bend of the Spirit,
According to the bend of the wind.

Into the mouth of the earth goes the Spirit.
She looks for a people with silver hearts
And comes to take them over the river of death.
She points on Her arrow, the way to peace
Like the fawn’s eye on green meadows.
She points to the coolness of water
Which never runs dry.

*In Hebrew and Greek, the word
for Holy Spirit is a feminine word.


You are calling me
and I am calling You

so You stop
and I stop
and there is only silence.

We laugh
and start all over again.

I am calling You
and You are calling me
but this time we hear

the echoes of each other's
messages and we say


Draw now to be utilized
Draw new sense into the sacredly profane

Make the richest piece on a theme of
in all the nameless burial places.

Build a code out of Morse kiss dots.

What is meek
is not the mice genre
it is the mention of and the corpuscle of
that which must be really looked at for
the first linger on the Eye.

We can become the Ponce de Leon
of the universe
where we are joint airs with loins and
girdles taken off terms of DIE-arithmetics.

Pass up top brass.
Pass up top brass and fill the bowls.

Cut the corners off all inept
Take the straight the plate back
to Mama Goose.
Let the toddlers of trust be
in the cradle they beg for.
We all need a manger
the smell of animal.
Straw to tickle our Elvises?

Give the mammal perfume of the cask.
It CAME from the sky
the gilt home of
mew and gruff of hoof and pumping valves
nerve and
Attar of issue


For President Nixon's Au Revoir

I have seen me die.
It was my first true majesty.
Old shoes like lies
blackened by coat on coat I wore
in heat, then cold; cold, then heat
until they cracked.
This force sways me back and down.

My mother was a saint!
She prayed, Help Richard.
Then I had the dream:
Yesterday already
resurrection baritoned beneath
our dirt.
Thursday, I think.

Even when eyes closed red, peace
faced me as a peer.
When I left my White House seat,
the sun shouldered me light.
This new man inherits a death's grace
where death just isn't.

Emmaus Alley.
At first I hadn't felt the sun.
It made as if to continue its trip
past me
but I pressed it:
Stay awhile? The day is almost shot.

It sat with me and broke bread.

Before he became Paul
- The Book of Acts

He was the one who bounced
his racket ball
of search and zeal so hard
against the wall
confining his privileged state,
that its return to his serve
struck him
like a lightning bolt.

He had not yet aligned
his search with the Inner Eye
and saw the wall
as two-dimensional, with mere
phantoms -
instead of smashed exposed
ganglia, flopping,
imbedding stains and breaks,
on the face of it -
seeing it
as some form
of dilettanti graffiti,
carved in by passing parties
of carousing chessmen after
some abusive victory or defeat.


If you rip a green maple leaf
along all the veins -
smell the fresh end of life;
see the caricature of my hand.

If you walk to the edge
of the earth -
pinprick a hole through
the eggshell sky;
see a color never-before seen.

If you fall from the earth - is
to fall forever.


A weeping willow grazed their kitchen
roof for years, skinning
each knuckled leaf
brushing long green tears against
sandpaper blocks of cinderwall.
Years of silent cries whipped softly
against the immovable armor of the house,
spirit bleeding against inorganic
letter of the law
until from punch drunk sky, in one
karate crack, lightning
laid the willow across the drive.

Worn and blunted, a basement mite
in this world's infantry
broke loose,
just missed the blast
while those who'd pecked it, stared, bones
pinned under, helplessly aghast.[2]


For Vladimir Bubalo

The bell in the town’ s tower hasn’ t
since they carved your name into stone -
mine beside it
without the date.
I had nearly died twice.
So it is - I don’ t paint the murk
of colors that so often become the North’s
high fashion.
I’ ll only use grays of pearl, of the dove,
washed and drenched with light.

Your jade on my left hand still circles
my third finger.
You’ re still the one King Arthur taught
for you to follow the One far greater than he.

Your visit with me on a university park bench
in a night’s broad daylight
has shifted me
I’ ve dared to wear the Spirit’ s
shining boots,
and more easily span the outlines
of Yesterday and Tomorrow.
Unexpectedly, you still scout ahead
to find right places for us to be
where air lifts us from the reach of stiflers.

Was that you, knocking gently with just one
on the bedroom wall in that strange house
the first years after you rose
from your earthbound form?

Was it from your travels with Dylan Thomas
that you sent me the souvenir of a Welsh
dingle in a sphere I can easily hold and turn
in my two palms?

I draw in a century through summer’s fireflied
listening to the faint echo of a Pacific bell.

vladimir and sylvia
Vladimir and Sylvia


An anonymous mystical document known as the Theologica Germanica says, “Nothing burns in hell except self-will.” - Note copied 13.September 1997 Only say it mouth closed. It’ s not a robot camera moving into outer space; it’ s yourself: I’ d left the edge of mountain cottages our father told us not to go beyond, when I was seven. So free of walls – the Poconos. We’ d already marked our footprints on these earthen upthrusts exuding subtle airs, growing miles of spotty fur between the forest greens. As I turn, and find familiar cabins gone, I’ m struck by visceral lightning, taste it’s bitter salts, a closing in – the loss of gravity – my feet no longer feeling solid ground. I float the fear of kites cut loose, helpless in a frigid sky, tumbling in the fall from earth’s magnet toward and past the mass of the Milky Way. Without knowing, I beg to waken to the simple blue sky of my drawings, a mother sun smiling and a harmless moon if I survive an endless night of slipping through the cracks of sundry science tails.

         And Jacob’s Ladder       

Not until the second 
dish was washed did you know
you could let the sponge press down
into the narrow jar's interior,
to rinse away the last essence 
  of preserve.

You left the label on -
with illustrated fruits, warm and blushed
to ease their insistence 
on boggling the crackles 
  of a January freeze.

On your first reach along the curve
inside the clear glass, fingers
could not touch the base,
the way in your small gray brain
you could not will a celestial ladder
  to appear.

Then you shifted, 
released your helpless clutch
and both the sponge extension
and the radiant stair 
  are here.


Oh Kingdom of Heaven -                    

how may I enter your
entrance halls
over such shining floors?

I will walk on tiptoe
and carry my wet shoes
it has been raining a week
of centuries!


             Still cradled above 
the early hidden crater of its womb,
dance shadows of superchiefs catch the lightning.
        In freighter tombs, the stormlids lay still.
       No one knows the difference between aftershock 
and the shove by pinstripes to the city's engines, turn-tabling,
      north. . . .east. . . .south. . . .west. 

             Against the hard slam to shores,
by the later man-dammed saltless sea, the decades 
do a collage: film clips splicing music and bloody bangs 
from the twenties to the millennium, 
and back: 
               Muted whispers
eye-bulge vanished footfalls through the hinge cracks
of cleat-heeled halls.
They still echo rhymes about
a tomcat town on its Front with outrageous bait fees.
              Born on a binge?
And whine-nasaled, it still nests rats in the shades 
of Molls, built below the basements of badboys
with their hotshot hip-slung beltlines. 

                                 There is this spreading fever. 

               Night is always night here.
They speak of this Alley's scoop when children sleep.
And now, when they’ re awake.
We try walking the nights, numbed, bunched up
like kittens carried in some mothercat mouth,
rolling in on a newer gnawing hunger, leaning
without knowing, like hunters on lumps of silent spine. 
Storefronts still reveal their human and animal 
rawhides.  Chicken - goosebumped, meathooked in dust- 
green glow, squawking signs with neon 
        Hot beef and soft white flannel-bread.
Limp-kittened, we leave a reluctant mother cat.

                       Scarabs swell in on beating chain gates. 

             We fall asleep
in a gypsied corner of old gaslamp gardens,
waiting to waken to more mythic Godless night.
But pitchers break.
Milked morning finds us, sloshes our faces 
with a mother-gray cat tongue at its closed-eye 
              When we turn our backs, 
we hear pigeons picking off pavements, pinkfooted, 
scolding moldy wiener roll crumbs, wading
in waddles of their coo.

                   Slick plays with mirrors on 
                   wind-shinnied rocks.
                   Fog pillows shut on Desdemona.

             A tinderbox town
the size of span-out-the-hands, straddles the city
with its seaport circus boots, sleek 
in dancer panther feigned repose. 
Tally-footing.  Front pawed claws curled in.
Glass-eyed bridges glide, stare, at backslide 
strip ledges under lamp posts, so surly to strangers 
pushing up gangplanks of unpeopled streets.
               One grand bridge yawns
and splits, so shipstacks can drift under without
docking dirty opera hats.

              Ribbons of Lake Shore
drive hollow hopes and the taped edges of hobos
midpoint from never reached destinations,
with highway hedges backing flashers of 
white waxed belle-shaped daisies,
        carnivorous cornflowers,
        Venus flytraps, luring beyond
        their breast-plunged lines
        to backstreet blows of pelvic sins
        brass-knuckling victims
        with cinderspeck pollen smarting
        their vagrant sighs
till they're swept like roaches on their backs
into extermination sacks, thrown down ravines by
spent tornadoes.

             Steep nationed,
the city on a village necklace vine prays square,
loot-topped, penthouse-stretching, clenching tenement
fists in menacing rumors of dawn.
            Contortions of religion
knock at slammed screendoors, sweating marbles
or rosebeads.
            Still gangstered, green bustered, sobbing
laughter layers against back fence fable reverses.
Cathedral hats still disguise the sabbathclothes of
conscience under brittle brimsilk snores.         
Browsers, flippant in nightshirt 
saxophone crawls, crouch, brandied-red 
and scotch-squinted, watching smoke rope ties of sky
sketch the tender tops of trees of heaven,
searing bottle cries of babies - 

                             wings of whirr, four-winding
                             crazed window shatters on the world.

              This place is an island, swarmed
with creeping cemetery spades, a flatboat fixtured 
in a basin.
              A welt-weathered truck town, nimble keyed, 
              heavy-mugged, breakfast-fed on leather
              and the farm orange rise of multi-quarted 
              cock crows.
Villagers in knife pleats and shaved notions, scuttle, 
battled and boxed with petticoat threads dangling,
fishing in vain for Rembrandt remnants
in dabs and babbles of their Slaglake waters, immune 
to New Blue brilliance.
Dogs howl at the baguette moon - bark each rumbled 
retch loss of the town's Few Knew.

                          But did you see the color of this place? 

       Yeah.  Color of my face-trampled earth, tasting 
       meringue taint on top of too-yoked rivers.

               Daylight dangs, goat-throated, taunting sleep
sandied sullen, grin-cracking,
giggling frantic runs in relays.
It comes cane-tapping, cream-licking,
toward the total freshly pedaled heartpump, 
to lace up its pomp, 
to loosen before evening, its exhausted circumstance.

               City skins call sheepboys: Wolf!
But we laugh
and say, a legend is only a legend.
               It bumpers 
               and fangs; 
               tries for fear in our eyes.
               It asks for our names. 
We hold out our fists!                

                Electric fans static, 
strumming strings of grogged eyes, puking strained 
worms, tugging at earlobes of gone deaf rock.

                 Eastway the water: 
Samson-haired and deep-potioned gray as the dove-soft 
mafia glove in a cultured pearl spawn.
White sparkling - cocktail-capped - 
rides blue and green peacock fans at meat time: 
      Scythe-scalloped, bungler black, when lights 
drop drunk over a glazed horizon gutterline.
               Smells in shells of cold carp life
wiggle onto manhooks, netting decay
spilling defiled riverfoam, slapping the crocodilian 
jaw of this retarded prisoner lake-sea. 
               Yeah.  Germs of man's punk
and waste.  Terms of his body and goal.  Blood 
on his Cain hand, rot 
of defrauded vegetation - coating it all - nausea,
wettings of babes, brainsapped by exposure to washed 
Nero bands of dainty clad toughs, schooled 
to Gog-eat-Magog,
soaking it all with strangulation froth -
       detergent dry gray and yellow -
is the flush into the drooling palsy-mouthed sea.

            Despair sniffs odors
at the fishermen's feet at the place where the sea 
            They are the feet of jelly-angry men, panting
long thirst, waiting
like rabid hares for a drowning.
            Then it lifts -
Israel's Red - making a tidal wall.
It poises, Cyclopsed, blotting the sun, swooping,
swirling, encircling mad twist,
             matchbox boats, mouse-sized men,
             gulping lake roofs, dungeons of Dragon,
              witch-burning puritans, forking 
              Lucifer - I'm swearin' with my own eye -
              was four in the afternoon, four,
              but as inked as The Pit!

             Carboys carry the nouveau 
north over heights of honey hives, hills of ants 
milking aphids.
Crusted iron and steel-flashing boweries, sun-dried 
plaster, asbestos over termites, 
brushing toothed brick and peeling from walls,
renewal bursting hearts where old patriarchs once 
stood, now gauzed,
bagged in mausoleums of Cook's county vegetable bins.

              White garrets and geraniums
encase Stephen the Saint, and cellars of Saul-be- 
Saint Paul.
              Saul, clutching the phylactery
at the nub of stoning Stephen.
Babel-towered Saul, dreaming, beating Stephen down
after midnight, leaving a carbine cologne.
             Black coffee breaks him in the morning 
wiping his table with blood.

                                 It's hard, Saul says,
                                 kicking pricks.  That dart to 
                                 David's heart always misses!

             Black lions rumble from south scarlet marks.
Castles jade in the air.
Squeezed in skins - trapped, squashed under barter.
       How blue-eyed can be the countenance of appled swine,
jinned gods in search of pure mystique.
       They've pillaged the voice of One Lincoln,
       willing a boomerang toward his first death plot,
       making the march of his mourners, a pipe-stemmed
       long mean mockery 
       that shrieks its golem tricks into ratbackyards,
       down tuberculosis tubes, cocained calvary
       of crucified cores.

                                          When Moses comes back to 
                                          you'll let that people go!
                                          How long, O Lord,
                                          will all slack souls
                                          chase the maggots off 
                                          the bluetail fly!

                Truly did the Christos
have an Anyman's death.
Rains came.
Floods in the sewers.
Fire trucks flew.
A world of men and babes tumbled the tyrant night,
down one gagged bath with a tag price flagged
to kites beyond our size.  God.
What is this place!
It keeps its memoired museums of bad schemes, 
yankeed in jails
for somebody's spangled tomorrow.

              Weather veins west, 
varicosed where evening ought to be; blows 
cottage curtains of gunmetal men with small gray stoops
and gray fire escapes; hears 
the gossips and the selling in outlet stores. 
The whites of warehoused eyes are soot on all 
the youth - narrow-nostriled from choke
stench of dead hoofs on stockyard concrete.

             We feel the itchy heat 
of the writhing church.
Sourness shows on downmouthed women.
We hear screams at and smacks from mothers, beeryells 
in undershirts from blaspheming buttmouthed fathers,
And when the suet smutty sun drops over again,
gas stations on corners, and churches,
cannot be told apart.

                        Fill 'er up they say.
                        Tithes and tax baskets,
                        tanks and stomachs
                        of machines. . .and souls.

               Then in the dark, the Dark. 
It brimstoned straw in watermelon carts.
Horses neighed hysteria,
running manure wild over the whole stolid spread
of the zigzag town, till it burned
and crackered and burned to the ground, burning 
greens and money and makings of men, burning 

                         the Fruit of Her Womb.

              Shimmering swamp
grassed ruffnecked grouse.
Centuries swilled passes over plains.  Muffed
foxtails after high aloof deer.  Drank 
clear fluid in the river when mud was unstirred.
Secrets of clean furred silence whisked floors,
forests of wigwams making council together, painting 
faces with hatchets,
or peace.

              Beads fringed eyes.
              Musk feathered flint.
              Old men were Chiefs of chiefs, yet . . . .
We read the pictographs  
that said it's not enough.
Back there, by streams of weeping snow,
still killed by hunter, the hunted.
Little tipi towns - white-conjured into 
One Drink Up Dollar Town.
Bullsharks nose in on spoke-laced wheels, hurtling fins
at motleyed prey to the ditch.

                          But it asked for our names. 
                          And we held out our fists!

                          It asked for a name.  Any name.

       We saw the oils on its forehead,
grime ground under its tough nails from a two-forty horsepower day.
Time in the tower tolled a holy St. Charlie tune.
We opened our fists to touch the Helios
of its goldpiece, to grip the handshake of this place.

           We saw you beg
           in your fishbowl hole,
           you city of the unseen sacred heart - 
for just one more Harry, Mary, marry; go 'round.

About the Author

Sylvia Bubalo

Sylvia Gross Bubalo (Goshen College 1951) was a visual artist and poet. Raised in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, Sylvia Gross studied at Goshen College and the Art Institute of Chicago, where she met Vladimir Bubalo, an artist, whom she married. The Bubalos devoted their lives to art, and saw their work as an expression of a spiritual vocation. They lived in Chicago, Scottdale (Pennsylvania), Seattle, and Goshen, Indiana. After Vladimir died in 1988, Sylvia turned from painting to poetry. She died in 2007 in Goshen, Indiana. Her work is the subject of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing, Vol. 2, No. 5. The issue includes an extensive biography, an autobiography, and reflections on her life and work.