To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Scott Ezell: ISHI, from “Songs from a Yahi Bow”

for the hundredth year anniversary of ishi’s death

                                                                       Die into what the earth requires of you.                                                                                 —Wendell Berry

square tongues   speak brick words
      that couple into nothing,
      surrounded by hair and flowers.

decay of fruit and love and sex,
      all subside
                              into chemical contemplation,
            alcohol and buzzing bees,
              sweet sticky scents.

                  police machines  chop the sky                                    
                  into thistles of noise and fear—

I pick up and carry a river on my back,
a cloak of home
              to drape across
                  the shoulders of the world,
                   enfolding streams and stones.

glaze of bone
across my eyes,
a hood of silence,

  my tongue of salt
  dissolving into words
  I speak to you.


secrets of myself
I discover and discard a thousand times
      flower from your skin,
        seeds of me grown
            from the soil of you.

I am a benevolent bear,
wasted with circus tricks.

I am iron claws,
      and seize you with
        die-cast hands.
      we are chains and cages,
              we are free.


I am an adze of bone,

and scrape at refinery

                  dross and efflux,
            the slag of engine heat.

wild birds fly sky trails
            beyond my vision.
      reams of light stack page by page
            across the slush and bray
                  of slaughterhouse corrals.

I am a scaffolding of planed horizons,
ghost mountains rise within my veins.


I drop a cigarette in the gutter
                and flow
    crustacean to the sea.

scull the sky with matchsticks,
                                                               scratch and flare
             but compend to nothing,
                        pass a flame
                              to a newspaper,
                              to a forest fire,
                                    to a cock or cunt
                                         to singe the earth
                                       with zygote need—

      grows gold and gnarled
            from ash and char,

chikakatee, chikakatee,
quail gather and alight
in the cut lawns of city parks.


I am a gravel truck of tar and meat,
petroglyphs of diesel brain.

flicker and glare
of tv memory,
      my tongue is obsidian 
                        arrow blades.

I am a butcher’s apron
      laid between two mountains,
   a blue river flows
            from my stains and folds.


white noise brainwaves
   bleed the sky,
robot sun
      stands from a crack of stone
            into a void of girder ribs,
                  conduits pulse
                                          and circle through.

                  I miss the mouth to the interior of you,
                  the cleft of hair and skin
                        where I recline with boneyard flowers,
                                                 and drink soil soup,
                                 broth of toenails and beards.
—condom wrappers
along the morning sidewalk,
torn silver lining, pale
lubricant sheen—

a million engines
crumple and rust
across my skin,
I am a
scrap metal wilderness,
a myth of one,   
a heart spindle
coiled in wires of


monolith skies
      sift discount coupons
      across a blur of freeway speed, concrete furrows 
            plowed by gasoline.

                        pubic middens
                        of pottery and teeth
                        aggregate into engines.

        insurrection thoughts
                  hang out on corners
                        in baggy jeans
                          and black bandanas,
                        bailbond ads smile from the backs of
                                    bus stop benches,

                                     bottles break into blades,
                                          power lines dissect the sky.


take a bucket of turpentine and
      a wire brush,
      the surface of the sky,
      reflections of yourself
like the scratched and dented tin
      of a subway station mirror,
like the aluminum glint
      between four fingers
holding two dozen nickels worth
      of brownbag beer.

I am the city,
radio static within
            a bottle heart,
            ruled components of
            breath and stone.

rainbow oil, primer gray
      suburban streets,
susurrus of
      broken leaves—
peel electric skin
      from clouds and rain,
      to bulbous core,
America, sink
      your longiphallic soul
into the sea,
      let the world


I am ursine hibernation,
      dark and matted      ,
      I reek and sleep
      through storms of steel decay.

you are the further shore
      across a sea of metal brine,
      petrol flowers bloom
      from the burrow of your womb.

distance shellacs the wholeness of me,
currents of plankton flow between us.


dust trails across a bath of sperm,
      I am abstraction     seized.

headlines slice the streets
open into purple flowers,
sirens unzip the sky and
            beneath the blue it wears a suit and tie.
  old bums with birdnest beards
                        suck wine and nicotine
                by the back doors
                                of strip tease matinees—

a man in rubber gloves
   whistles a tune,
sprays corrosion
   onto the green that grows
from sidewalk cracks.

outside a bar,
an american flag is
stuck to a wall
with chewing gum—
by a silvered window
a polyester girl
worries a diamond ring,
mouth painted red,
hair bleached white,
eyes of plastic blue.

grease and alcohol
  brayered into
          approximations of self,
      the asphalt hush that
day after day I drive—

      photographic visions
                 washed in a stop bath of departure,

            die at home wherever you may be.

[note.  The 100th anniversary of Ishi’s death brings to mind the publication several years ago of a small book, Songs from a Yahi Bow – really a mini-anthology of writings on Ishi – assembled by Scott Ezell & including poems by Ezell, Yusef Komunyakaa, & Mike O’Connor, along with Thomas Merton’s 1968 essay “Ishi: A Meditation.”  Ishi (the Yahi word means “man” or “human”) is well known through the writings of Theodora & Alfred L. Kroeber as the last known survivor of a small Indian community that suffered displacement & genocide during the final European conquest of America.  That memory of course is a warning of dangers & holocausts to come, and much of Ezell’s work is concerned with a range of non-state cultures & a chronicling thereby of globally diverse crises & survivals. 

        Scott Ezell is a Pacific Rim poet & multi-genre artist with a background of  independent study with the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, China, & Southeast Asia. He has published three volumes of poetry & over a dozen albums of original music, & has exhibited paintings in the US & internationally, as well as being involved in installation & performance art projects.   His recent memoir, A Far Corner: Life and Art with the Open Circle Tribe (University of Nebraska Press), explores indigenous Taiwan through immersion in a nonconformist community of aboriginal musicians & artists.  Since 2010 he has been working on a multi-volume poetry project, Zomia, about marginal landscapes & communities in the China-Burma-Laos border region. (J.R.)]

No comments: