One of the puzzles with having a somewhat lively religious blog is that there is more incentive for me to post poems there than there is here, where my reach is smaller. However, in the interest of not having them buried beneath prose blog posts in which I dissect passages of things I’m reading, I have decided to add many of the poems that I wrote over there to this blog (a) to have them here and (b) to show more of the range of poetry that I have written and judged appropriate for sharing online. What isn’t represented here are poems on my computer that I have judged to be marketable in literary magazines, unfinished pieces, and my current project that I am mentally referring to as “speculative theogonies” or “phūsis · tekhnē.” I’m really excited about it.
The poems below were written between 2019-2021. I wrestle with many thing in them — poking at what I learned while reading Plato and the commentators, theological concepts, aspects of my life, the prevailing circumstances — and enjoyed sharing them before. A few of them left traces in my mind long after I wrote them — “Passing Down” is a fictional piece about reincarnation that I thought was a frivolous thing, but I keep returning to the concepts and images I was working through while writing it. Enjoy.
The summer wind blows heavy,
our dialogue readings murmuring
competition, rough as sand
wearing down the pieces of us
unfit for light, unfit for death.
Hêlios above bears true signs.
You said this even as we walked,
day giving way to firelit night,
the sweetness of sleep opening
into solar orations, incense,
his rise, and light’s cascade
like a cataract of the Nile
churning the mud until it flows.
Even the less studious of us
know the danger in this now from
that plague that does not touch
bodies, but fevers the mind.
I was never the studious one;
my thoughts are sharp meanders —
the water-selling woman smiling,
the fragrance of fresh figs,
the shimmer of grilling sardines,
a thousand pleasures at hand —
yet now, I sweat at the events
that falter your own step; I wonder.
I was never the studious one.
We shared shade beneath a palm
one afternoon; direct, curt,
I asked if we would meet again.
In the dance of souls, passing
low only to return again — how
for those of us yet bound here,
without the flower of intellect
illumined by the words of Plato
and passed down to the present?
The summer wind, hot, merciless,
blew at your cloak, at my robe.
I was never the studious one.
in this well-worn metropolis
plagues have often passed
wars have ruined the walls
byways filled in cut off
and yet the way through
surprises our gaunt memory
the heart yet knows the path
we light incense and rest
quiet in Gods’ radiances
we are brought beyond towers
to hills that stand strong
grounded in luminous deep sky
The words he speaks have nothing within them,
I say in my heart, a thought I condemn.
Black-robed as deep night, yet holding nothing,
he stands within the church, hands beckoning.
If I could stand, sit, and swallow it down,
I would not fear the next faithful crackdown.
The millennium passed last year, you know,
and the end of the world never did show.
Something lies forgotten underneath this.
If complete, I would have nothing to miss.
a signal propagates in time
an approximation degraded by noise
the Goddess who holds the sphere
bears the echo of an egg once swallowed
in the beginning the Harmonizer
tuned oscillations into rivers to hold us
a text propagates in time
a jumble of what existed, the luckiest of copies
the Goddess who spins the sphere
opens the way down black as night, cold as sea
there in the deep everythingness
his eternal note unfurled, sound itself descending
a truth always remains
undamaged by noise, uncut by tired scribes
the Goddess who etches patterns
upon the sphere itself knows the record of all becoming
matter danced itself open fast;
the universe bears the sign of this sacred sound
Circles they are — around a common center.
We dance around the bright fire, awakened,
and Heaven’s perfection no longer holds us.
Even Jupiter has bodies around him, starry,
and what more can we discover? Liberation —
an opening of the mind that swallows down
each secret like vitality-giving quicksilver.
on an unknown world now
a flower blooms curious
her homestar light lovingly
peels back the fading night
someone pulls it — she breaks —
flower-dyes bleed rich red
this sacrificial adoration
mysteries alien to any other
trapped in opinon and strife
familiar to those who know
water that tastes of steel
truth the Gods forever give
When the Earth turned green,
in a meadow on the high hills,
she and I poured the libation out.
Giddy — hardly practical — a waste we’d
yearned for since reading Chapman,
Jove and Juno nectar on our lips.
Dreams drove us on, hot infernos,
each myth we read vivid fuel
ivying through our soft places
that ached sore as birth pains.
Something between curiosity and
compulsion took over in us two.
Now among the grasses, beside her,
the jug in my hands, her now silent,
the sky overhead — a healing balm,
a goodness. I will come back here
again, she says, and our hands
grow firm, intertwined, together.
Halfway through, hearken to the king,
lightning-rushing bright and sharp,
the beginning the end reborn through Zeus.
He ingested all, filling fecund,
only to disgorge in opaline wonder.
Fitting to plunge first and final,
here — the fulcrum upon the father
of the not-yet, the never-now
son of ivy, prince of the winepress.
Four Drops of Bay Oil
four drops of bay oil
three together, the fourth
circling as they twisted
smaller circle inspiralling
until they pressed
like prayer humming
within the mind
What is this unstirring nectar,
the gift we beg receiving
a double serpent moving swift,
laurel branches rustling,
the scent of bay awakening,
frankincense oil burning so delicate
as if we inhabit a fractal flower
opening up in vivid stillness
until it flows like that spring
struck by Pegasus for the Mousai
that welled up to make all song.
Is this nectar truth, yet ungraspable,
so mind-tangible and deep-rooted?
It is not malleable to us,
though we may try to harness
patterns to mimic deep-moving roots,
winnowing out excuses to avoid
heat, light, and stillness that cut
in order to heal and come together,
a gift of shedding skin and leaves,
still hours of the year to sleep,
until like that flower it opens,
the offering blazing unburned,
and the mirages we once believed
fade away in the light as shadows.
Untethered and new,
the star dances,
pushing back its husk,
dust, gas, and newborn worlds
hot, illuminated, one,
rough friction and light.
an image, an agalma of gravity,
elements combining and scattering,
intelligible even here,
too radiant to yet touch.
Apollon and Helios and their vivid attendants
and Sunna and Sulis and daughters of Sun
Goddesses and Gods in abundant dances
woven braids descending concordious
truth a light-beam vivid against shadow
playful as a swan coming down
to rest upon a swift-moving river
its feathers bright in fresh solar rays
witness, yes, witness — the lines so fine
mind tracing them as if moving a hand
along the steady curve of a lyre’s frame
electric brightness saturating through
and each braided brilliance is a chord
made by light entire, breath entire, song
because each is its own interdependency
the rounds, the chorales change only
as attention flies swift along the edge
like entering a concert hall bathed in music
its stonework its arch-ceiling raining down
how to describe something wondrous
without collapsing to a single composition
A Thousand Years Hence
what if I told you
that the stones you smashed
were your own gleaming bones
that the rocky marrow
was the quickening of life
the antidote to fever
that the muscles of rites
still lay quivering, recoverable
but would rot nearly traceless
that the flesh of myth
you decided to skin, to dry,
to schism into the ground
did not look that way
when vibrant upon the suppleness
of living rites for living Gods
that years from this day
your descendants will kneel
on rain-softened ground
the rituals’ details forfeited
to now-breaking ideological fevers
that sowed amnesia, unplacing
they will not remember you
as you want to be remembered —
just people — but just people
who destroyed precious things
your iconoclasm to some impiety
to the rest historical calamity
shame into the memory of you
you become villains, your victims
a litany of lost books, so precious
a register of lost Gods, mere syllables
they will come to mourn, not you
The scent of indigo
heated within the vat —
Isatis tinctoria, Persicaria tinctoria —
is patchouli and soil after rain,
this liquid yellow like noonday
while where it touches air
it is as blue as Ouranos above.
O sacred blossom, flower of life,
you are a token of starry sky
mingling with fertile earth,
reminding all of the blood
sinking down into the ground
when Titans slipped through tall grass
to cut the throat of the encosmic king,
preparing his body for the feast.
bind white cotton fast
it submerges like a soul
succumbing to Fate
yellow to sky-blue
each moment draws pigment deep
while shadows lengthen
release the tight bonds
to welcome their king
A January Morning
As the sky pales amber and pink,
winter cold against windows,
the horizon hungers. Soon, hovering —
the faintest brush of burning day.
I stretch up, unfurling in asana,
sun shimmering joyous above rooftops,
my eyes closed, heavy with light,
a gift for Sunna, Sulis, and Helios —
this rhythm, alive with blessings,
my breath a channel chasing luminescence,
a triad finishing in watchful stillness,
the names of Gods plain on my lips.
In London, a bookstore, slim upon the shelf —
Works and Days, Theogony, Homeric Hymns, Battle of Frogs and Mice
brought into one volume by Hine —
we glimpsed one another.
The pages containing you four
were smooth as silk beneath my fingers,
slippery in my mind.
That semester, I analyzed
the weave of divine relationships
tumbling through my head,
on weekends when I took the train
to the British Museum
to write in the galleries where
ceilings pooled with steady seas of human voices.
I sat unmoved and moving,
looking through the train’s window
while the suburbs fled past,
each verse running toward Pandora
when my knowledge grew
like flowers blooming in autumn
unaware of the coming frost.
I remember you were there
that night when someone jumped
— a suicide —
in front of a South Western Train
and we waited for hours,
so many hours,
in Waterloo Station until the workers purified
the soiled tracks somewhere
towns and towns away.
What would have happened
if, like the others, I’d read you
confined to classroom walls
and uncomfortable chairs, bound?
Certainly not affinity and affection
tinged by the bone-cold winter damp
that made coats useless in Egham,
each Homeric hymn spoken
with offerings of cheap wine
bought with a study abroad stipend.
Certainly not Hesiod’s words
beckoning my mind beyond, deeper.
It is good we meet in that shop
when my fingers traced the shelves,
brushed your slippery cover,
and cracked open the pages to linger
like a swan floating on bright water.
candle’s wick an artery
anchoring these prayers
beyond the raging ocean,
its form embering hollow
like slow-cooked stew meat
whose veins once pumped a cow’s blood.
Feeding life through fleeting life:
each, devoured, transforms.
the color of mead
blooming with morning light
cotton wick yet white
its sooty blackness divined
long before my lighter
to offer oil to Hestia
to tip frankincense
drop by drop for Zeus
as the wick keeps
the beeswax tame
its fuel bridled
by tight weave
a wood wick
flat as a fingernail
the candle’s flesh white
studded with fragrance
when I lit you
as if the wax coaxed
impressions of the crackle
from nothing more than a sliver
held erect with fuel
its pattering a deafening potency
underlaying each prayer
as if the wax cannot hold the wild
Cutting Through Untruths
All Gods are the same God when you look deep enough
and when he spoke Enid remembered those late
college nights when sleepiness weighed her eyelids
drowsiness a perfume smoking up the air
when in the quiet she suddenly forgot
if she were speaking or if her roommate were speaking
one of them pulling takeout noodles into her mouth
each boundary collapsed into disoriented
consciousness taking in sensation without wakefulness
the feel of fabric against skin was not her own
nor was the curve of breast and collarbone
or the taste of the food as she did not chew
They are like light in a prism, facets of a diamond
but the light those nights could cut crystal
and it teared her eyes that strained to study
what if the sameness is illusion there, too
a sage awake suddenly to what is beyond being
still drowsy sweating through ler fever of becoming
not yet accustomed to eternal song and light
nor drawn tight to identity and identification
Being attached to a form of God prevents the ascent
well, yes — but identity persists through instances
she dreamt one night she caught Proteus
and there were other Gods watching as she
grasped his wrists tight, pushed him against the rocks
while the sea ebbed and flowed around them
her grip persisting through his changes of form
she cannot remember what she asked for
or why he was held or if he was in fact holding her
as if the fatigue of life had spilled into restoration
but the feel of other Gods’ eyes staring awoke her
where she slept with her head on a calculator
a paper beneath it repeating the same problem
six times, the night rendering math incantation
the empty takeout boxes littering the floor
and dawn tiptoeing beneath the roller shade
Reclaiming the Self Unadorned, or, Fleeing Pandora’s Division
Strip the body down to its essentials
as if flaying back its own outer skin,
revealing latticework of marrow-rich bone,
the structure of muscle and tendon.
Cut away each untested assumption and lie.
Abandon the makeup in its jars and boxes —
the glisten of glitter and iridescent powder-sheen —
the blistering heels, the chafing clothing,
ideologies we hold for attention, not conviction.
Last to be stripped away is taxonomy:
Body just is and it is what it is, complexly simple.
Find beauty in earthen hues that make space,
like a jewel-case well-designed for viewing:
Plain neutrals befitting its nature — unadornment,
accessories that free the soul it grasps tight
to shine forth acuity, light, and strength
without artifice or insecurity to hold it back.
Place the open jars where unneeded gifts belong;
sacrifice them to Earth, do not hold clinging to
your nostalgia of once-friends and ex-lovers,
each cultural lie taught to you unnobly.
You treat these adornments as you yourself.
Love the body for itself — its diaphragmed breath,
the pull of muscle as it extends, contracts;
its potential for building strength, for enduring
(even what you feared it could not endure);
how soft light feels upon the flesh at midday;
the sensation of wet ground and grace underfoot.
Adore its distresses, its pains, its racing thoughts,
its tidelike fluctuations, its days of bleeding,
its storms of disquiet that bluster in winter,
its instincts to do what others want done,
its desire to label before knowing the form.
It is a world in need of your custody, yes.
It is a world already seeded with adornment.
It is a world not in need of overthinking.
Sea and Mountain, Body and Mind
I. sharp love / ἔρως ὀξύτατος
as circles move through the grit of sensation
what is within dissolved
mimicking blood, mirroring life
the image of the mixing-bowl
Hekate’s retinue of meandering spirits
the root of all quenchless desire
a growth that blooms, that sheds
a red rose within the walled garden
we hide from ourselves unspeaking
shame nailing us, shackling us
II. urgent love / ἔρως ὀξύτατος
each page beneath these fingertips,
their sharp edges teasing dry skin.
raw erōs active within, its pulses
starlit landscapes: alight, vast, hungry.
intangibly keen, this feeling at its core
a mountain-peak altar embering traces of
fragrant sacrifices at the meeting-point:
a body of stone bereft of even trees,
appetition quenched to cold illumination,
yet even here remains breath and bone.
we build how we see the Gods
like amino acids build life
selecting some Gods, leaving others only potentiality
another life-path that could have been
only what we choose is grammared by us
pantheoned and token-bearing
nourishing our lives with symbols
who point the way to the unknowable Ones
beyond what we know is possibility
its gifts treated like mud and excess
but brought together by other beings
in variants too numerous to name
our oases mere instances
of Gods’ divinity in full bloom
worlds dancing around a common sun
encountering one another
first in gravitational resonances and interactions and
life-bearing meteors sent like messengers
at last as intellects seeing one another
placing ourselves newly stable
within the woven light
mirrored and mirroring
these structures lain out like a meadow
we travel together and apart
Opinion and Conflict
Opinion, like sand, shifts with each touch —
malleable, a struggle to move through.
Its shape has no evenness, no center.
It drives together into collision —
first a kindly orbit, then an inspiral,
and finally the violence of dissolution
from which there is no escaping its hunger.
We carry stories’ afterimages within us.
Who knows how these echoes propagate through
the essence of each ψυχή until they become
violent to see, a cascade of dissonant fire.
Like an oracle, I divine them from words
spoken so freely — angrily — in the agora.
Like a recording, I play back what I see
when fortune lets me have body language.
These are the dim reflections of decisions
made long before our birth — parents, lovers,
some agents so long ago that we do not know
their faces, and yet they torment us still.
Who knows who these ghosts are who yet
grasp fast like something sucking spirit out,
leaving emptiness — that makes you lash out
at those you see to steady yourself in illusion.
What does opinion become, this sand shifting,
responding to each touch by sinking in —
we are so high up on the shore that waves
will never reach to render the sand smooth.
Turn back towards the sea who purifies.
Beyond the waves, your feet will not touch
the murky bottom that casts up mud and sand.
(Yet how frequently, even there, do we slip
into the undertow towards the deep abyss.)
To which Goddess do we offer incense
when we want blessings against war —
the power of reconciliation and kindness
must be hers, the courage of new peace.
There has been no sleep — men beat shields
at the gates so loud their rhythm pounds
in my skull, a headache splitting me
apart even lacking the stroke of a sword.
This Goddess must come in with charisma
like a woman in her prime walking into
a board room for hard negotiation —
no one will dare to interrupt her,
firm-voiced and powerful in her element,
whose attention holds all with δύναμις
as if the world will rip apart if she
does not bless you with her divine gaze.
She must know the mercuriality of opinion,
this one who dispenses illuminating truth.
To which Goddess do we dedicate this
when her name would shake Earth when
breaking through one’s lips from its power,
each vowel a yawning supernova bursting,
each syllable a singularity coming into being.
Time and Eternity
Here lies a temple —
no stairs, entryway, or door —
a place we have all gathered,
where we do gather
from the beginning. It is
a meadow of asphodel:
and the place of woven cliffs.
If only you could
perceive the bright agalma
time resolves itself to be,
forged from unity,
pulsing eternity bound,
the God who speaks with a voice
intense as pulsars,
you would tip your libation
jar made of space-time webbing
forged by Hêphaistos
in supernovae for all,
dip it deep in neutron star
matter whose mass not even
Atlas could lift up
or Heraklês break open.
You would pour it out
to this God who makes ler home
in each of your cells.
You would come to taste
decanted space-vast ichor
as the images
unfold out and up and down
as if all you hold
within vibrates, yet comes still —
each press of char and bone
against divine skin
the pool of ash yet warm
your hands seeking unity
until they are caked in it
gathering the remnants of body
like single notes into harmonic one
the light still shining down
burning with the fire of spent worlds
of planets singed by Titanic suns
life destroyed, all destroyed
save the heart unremitting
you heal the melodies
your lips buzzing fire and stinging bees
prophecy and katharmos
your fingers numerous as rivers
burying what Ananke ordains
filled with abiding compassion