When I was in the seminary, I was taunted by one of my classmates: “Let’s discuss Golden’s philosophy of life.” Almost fifty years later, here it is. At some point, I shall contact this person and direct him to read my poem as his penance.
This was my first homework assignment from God. After I had written the three shards, He said to me (so to speak): “Put them together.” This I did, very imperfectly, in the third stanza.
Long have I wanted to write a tribute to Sylvia Plath. I studied her bee poems. Alas, I was only capable of taking a single word away with me, a kind of memento: “Maniacs.”
The composer alluded to in the second shard is Anton Bruckner. A definitive re-construction of the 9th symphony’s finale was given its world premiere in 2012.
In Memory of Sylvia Plath
For Karen Rasmussen
The hive god processes over the bridge
To where they are set in a circle.
She wears a bespoke vestment
Of protection, like an astronaut’s,
With a veil tacked on to the habit’s hat.
Alien, yet so ordinary in the context
Of the meadow, as to reassure the watchers,
Who rightfully fear a striking wave of sting.
The god is in the center surveying,
Listening to the hives humming
A secret hymn of ecstasy. A black halo
Of buzzing wings is hovering all around.
Enacting the ritual of keepers,
She dares the fury of maniacs
To marvel at what they have wrought,
And she through them, the ambient amber.
First the one hive, then another, then this:
An emptying temple, the bees deserting it
Like Mayans. When they are sick,
They no longer belong and are gone.
Now, the keeper of their memory, the god
Reaches into the box, wresting the combs
From the corpus, a memento mori
For the watchers who will grieve and ask her why.
At the end of a century, a century ago,
The composer was reposed a little longer,
For those who listened well to linger still
In wonder, where once he lived and wrought
His honeyed song. Dwindling grains
Drained from a glass that held the hour.
An amanuensis in his frock coat,
Like a butler, watched, but did not preside,
Though he too mourned. Pinching the wicks
Of the beeswax, he ushered them out,
Each with a leaf from a sheaf by the bed.
Locking up, he took the lion’s share.
Thus, a testament was lost in the world,
Revered, or judged severely as a raving,
Before the drawers in desiccated attics
Closed forever. A myth like mold took hold
Of the collective mind: The finale was inchoate.
Bombs shrieked and left a ringing in our ears.
The Dedicated, garbed in a lab’s cassock,
Climbs while reading from her breviary
Of cosmological formulae. Crowning crests,
The observatory is a temple without divinity,
Like a folly of the rich on an English estate.
Its white dome glows through the gloaming.
Entering, she swings into a cockpit of science,
Then summons electricity to surge and break
The seals. With cunning, she focuses her Eye
Upon the galaxy, ever searching for a meteor,
An incoming fire over which we are powerless.
Oblivious, we sleep beneath the genius of God.
Once the mind has welled with wonder,
The hand will pen the poem,
So tentative, so cloaked in cloud before.
The voice will throat a song full out,
That only birds in breezy trees
Could catch and wing to earth
Before this day. This night,
Enjoined by an epiphany of love,
A man and a woman will dance again
Beneath the moon at solstice.
They know full well, in joy,
All human life depends on them,
The consummation of these courtly steps
Their tribe has danced a hundred ways,
Ten thousand times before, down paths
That are almost past our remembering.
Once, down one of these,
A procession mazed its way
Around the palaces and plazas
Of a race both ancient and profane.
It is a serpent’s tale, a mythos
Which defied the snake-haters, the zealots
Who were crazed enough to raze
A lode of arcane lore.
As always it has been, as always it will be,
A singular script survived, this one a codex
Painted with their pictures.
Again, and yet again, in wonder,
We watch their regal priests,
Vested with the pelts of a jaguar,
Their crowns so high, waving
With the plundered plumage of heaven.
We watch them mount the temple steps,
Their visages jeweled with jade
The color of the pools of sacrifice,
Their obsidian knives poised at the ready.
But here, the stabbing hand is only a ruse;
The plunge from the top is only this codex,
Which ends with a curse, a vengeful jest
That time itself will end.
There is no end.
The Hand of God writes on,
Beyond the sun’s eclipse,
And having writ,
Bequeaths the script
To lesser gods, His priests.
He demands not a sacrificial rite
With incense burners swinging,
Nor insists they keep it safe,
As commandments starkly chiseled
And hidden away in an ark.
He bequeaths for re-creation
A script like the pollen on bees,
Or the pitch before performance.
On our own, through a vista
Bleaker than His majesty,
We maneuver a desert array
Into sweeping the sky-depths,
Ever searching for an alien friend,
But a creature with a bleeding heart
Like us, and a hundred broken bones.
The Creator seems arrestingly at rest.
A witness to every plummeting scourge,
Patiently, persistently, we bandage
With our knowledge. Painstakingly
Explored, it is stored within the libraries,
Then disseminated as an antidote
By the museums and universities,
Each one situated in an Eden
Past a valley, by a lake.
We crawl through a field of clover,
Searching, or climb the trees of a forest
To sight the floral panoplies beyond.
We are routing out the last, sick bees,
For those ordained to study them,
Hoping they can tell us why the colonies
Have suddenly, catastrophically collapsed.
They must formulate a cure,
And we must follow in procession
As they carry it home to the hives,
For the rescue of buzzing wings,
A music which keeps us all alive, inside.
Like the astronomers who gaze after God,
Music’s acolytes, those Dedicated,
Labor in the shade of many moons.
They listen to a master’s galaxy of sound.
Channeling his lyrical muse, they intuit
His final, ghostly notes, which only they,
So pure in heart from loving him,
Can rescue from the hush that is death.
Centuries have fled the day appointed.
With whispering ghosts at our back,
We climb a temple mount to view
The ecliptic, the center of the Milky Way
Eclipsed. Shooting stars are falling
All around us, for us to make a wish:
Purged of pain from failing to act
As we should, may we find the heart
To act as we must, fulfilling a writ
Foretold by the poet-prophets of old.
What are the constellations we point to
But pictures of old tales we have told forever.
Surely, there is another creature elsewhere
In this desert who is pointing too.
At the hour appointed, we will meet
In an alien oasis and gaze after God.
The star dust a pollen, we will re-imagine
The clusters as a story of the two of us.
Speaking in turn, we will listen for a pitch
Which transcends our guttural tongues,
A pitch which is the prelude to a song.
Our musical moral is one
We both will have known since conception.
Live a life of wonder. Forever after,
The heart will rest in peace.
December 2012 – April 2013.
Completed on April 17, 2013
Revision, April 30, 2013
The final verses added on July 14-15, 2013 (starting with “Centuries”)
Revision to the final verses, July 17-27, 2013
Revision to the 3rd stanza, August 30, 2015