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

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Diane Wakoski: Two from The Diamond Dog, with a note on personal mythologies

Poems & prose from D.W., The Diamond Dog (Poems), Anhinga Press, Tallahassee, 2010

The Diamond Dog

He hasn’t jumped yet; his square-cut
body like a calving glacier
hasn’t glitter-struck you, hasn’t
revealed its malachite striations,
its contradictions of
Once I walked
on the Mendenhall Glacier or maybe
I dreamt it? Fear clothed me –
rubber boots, yellow slicker, over
wool hooded sweatshirt, all
made of fear’s cloth, as I looked
down into the water, fathomless as
my anger about the past, water I had to
step over, from the boat
to glacier shelf.

Little Dog, you were not there, or I could have
stepped on your back naked,
shedding the clothes of trepidation
I could have ridden you, Diamond Dog –
over, past, and away –
leaving behind all the blame
and regret of betrayals, the house in the orange grove, the ash heap
from which we both came.

Blue Ice Wolf

I. The Visitation

Like a paper with a bent corner, haphazardly
stuffed in an accordion file, I was lying
at midnight in a hospital room. It was cold enough
to keep a yellow rose in a Styrofoam cup
fresh for 10 days
without new water.
There was only a film
between waking or sleeping, nothing
opaque. Eyes open or closed
absorbed the same images.

Thus whether it was
a waking sight, or one from sleep, is
only surmise. But with quick
solidity, it was there, standing
oblique to the corner of my bed.

Tall as a man’s shoulder,
and motionless, his eyes looking straight ahead,
rather than at me. I myself was shivering, as I often did there at night,
but seeing this presence, I forgot my
discomfort and murmured, as those who are ill
speak without sound,
“the blue ice wolf”.
His coat, as Stevens says of junipers,
was “shagged
with ice”.

Even though friends have told me that my apparition was
benevolent, that wolves are protectors, companions,
kindly escorts, some part of me
thought I saw one of death’s messengers. It
felt Egyptian to me, yet neither a jackal
nor Anubis of the desert.

No, the ice was there, like the chips of it that were my
only sustenance that week, shaping
or glinting his coat until it was
crusted and bejeweled. The Blue Ice Wolf
was there to accompany me as I trod
underground paths. Now, when I peek out
from that place I was a few weeks ago,
I see his shadow still alert,
watching, not
me, but everything that
comes near, listening
I think
to my papery breath
that moves and rustles, even in recovery.
He is watching over me,
as if he is a father.

II. Incomplete Dawn

I didn’t know until now that
he was my Diamond Dog,
once born of the ash heap near the orange grove.
In this morning’s incomplete dawn, the creature lopes next
to my invisible King of Spain.

Like feet, soft feet, bare,
sponging into the carpet, there is light,
outside the window, from all
the planets, the cosmos,
in the blue house
where students live. I see
open pages of the geometry text
and hear Sarah’s coated syllables
explain the dancer’s foot pointing out.
It’s the bird wing in the arch,
though even its extension is pliable
and the fractalled knee, all
movements shaded, rather than crisp.

Hilary saw
pillars in her mouth, and Adrien said “Architecture is power.” Fragments
cling to my palate, wisps or rags
left on hangers. Cavafy saw the boy’s
yielding face, but I look in a mirror
and see the bent foot/I want to hold it
in my hand, his foot, the padded muscles of Robert’s arms
around me/what longing/what is there
but touch?

Inside, I place one foot over
the other, know we always have our own
flesh to accept and reassure us
in the morning
when everything looks ready
to – what? –
wrap us up in a quilt,
keep us warm,
notice the toes wiggling out?
Teasing air,
taking for granted each breath,
remembering the softness,

even in the blast from the icy polish
and shine off my father’s military shoe,
transformed into the shimmer of the dog’s diamond paw,
then the Ice Wolf’s blue one,
finally the King of Spain’s luscious royal foot
gloved, glinting gold; and I know
that at last he/they’ve come back,
and are waiting till it’s time for me to follow them.
Any morning, if I glance up quickly,
when facing the wood of a Norwegian Maple’s branches,
across the street,
I can make out their shadows:

*The Father of My Country, George Washington,
His Diamond Dog,
The King of Spain,
my Blue Ice Wolf.

(*note: I’ve added this litany to the original text, which in the book ends with the phrase, “make out their shadows.”)

From “Creating a Personal Mythology” (an excerpt)

Over the years, I have invented [various] mythic figures to stud my poems: the King of Spain, that figure from fairy tale, of the desirable man, who in my case, is invisible and always follows me for protection and love. He’s imaginary, thus even though I create him as a man constantly following, watching me, he is also a man missing and without substance. I also have peopled my poems with The Pony Express Rider, The Blue Moon Cowboy, and most notably, I invented a figure who I called “the motorcycle betrayer.” There have been others. Perhaps there will be more.

Last year, I re-discovered an image in the George Washington poem, “The Father of My Country,” which has me working elaborately again with personal myth. It is the image of the “Diamond Dog”. The Diamond Dog is a figure from a dream I had when I was about 6 years old when my mother and sister and I lived in East Whittier, California, in a little shack that was next door to a big house where the owner of the surrounding orange groves lived.

In those days, there was no trash collection; trash and garbage were burned in back of the houses, where there were large metal drums for the burning. When the drums filled with accumulated ash, the ash was dumped nearby on the ground. In my dream, it was out of one of those ash heaps that this dog --- it was a little Scottie-shaped dog – made out of a huge diamond, leapt and ran away. In my dream, the Diamond Dog was following my father as he left us. I am sure I remembered the dream all those years because the dog somehow symbolized the masculinity in my life departing, running away from me -- such a personal subject and theme for me. In the dream, the dog was following my father away from me, perhaps forever.

In these Diamond Dog poems, I continue the quest for some kind of balance, not only of anima and animus, but also a duality they represent – spirit and body. Especially, as I age I need to find acceptable ways to think about death, that seemingly final destroyer of balance and pattern.


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