I speak of the previous person
Whose hands these are, and whose eyes;
Whose cares and whose coffins core these phrases
Whose black-wheeler braked in sidetrack,
Stropped the line where spun a seer’s death
Off a rushing reel; grew still, shrouded
In wail’s whistle looming weft in warp drifts.
Who sailed freight trains
And camped on flatcar in cascade snow
Where terror gripped tighter than the cold iron
And the pitch of the sky’s pinions
Dropping heavy with ice behind
A white ridge where grew no tree
Was a harmonic of that black hulk’s bellow.
Flamed hands with fierce frost;
Chapped face with charred chafing.
His demand for answers acquired more violence
The more he was broken, weary
Through the body with weight
With hunger, stricture, with force
With going until he could go no more
And continuing, now invoking a scalpel
Stumbling through neon sky with disjunct speech
In C2H5OH with blistered membrane
In C9H13N with lysergic acid diethylamide
In THC in PCP with C21H27NO
When the knives cut too deep
And the arthritis of impact
Shot up a defeated blue fist.
Reflected in his convex mirror:
Endgame patterns, undefined Greek phrases
Misspoken, ideograms not Latinized
Cast on crooked streets
Where spoke his visions and mocked.
Reams of random lettering:
The Beaufort Cipher, Revolving Grills,
Rectangular Columnar Transposition,
And simple substitution;
And his own crypt, most present
Too subtle to read in that vacuum
In that formlessness
In that chink between lives.
(written c. 1976)