Coming by Wrong to the Right Unknown

“That I might arrive like Columbus, who came by wrong
to the right unknown”
—Rodney Jones, poet

it doesn’t matter where you start
you always end where you’d not begun
being hamstrung by what you never knew
along the way to what’s to come

when you get there, I presume,
little-known worlds are left behind,
at least it’s what the mystics say,
they recommend you seek to find,
though their promises are so obscure
you never know to where they surge—
the way, the truth, the light
sometimes seem a demiurge,
a minor cloud of hints and signs,
a myth, a mist of pointless lines
—except (in unknown’s push and shove)
the brilliant flames of laugh and love

Jim Culleny
2/2/21

Flux you, Heraclitus


Life is flux.
………. —Heraclitus of Ephesus
Everything passes and everything changes
…………—Bob Dylan

….. —for B. M.

another lifelong friend has died. Sunday
part of me again vanished too—
young men together
we built things— homes,
carpenters in sync we drove spikes
through joists, hammered steel to steel
psyched by our strength and cleverness;
once you exclaimed, laughing when the wind came up
and snatched a sheet of ply from our grips,
“Flux you, Heraclitus!” ……… Now here
that philosopher’s ultimate truth is breath—
words slipping through our lips
and I want to run my car, windows wide,
down the narrow sloped canyon
of Main again, slow roll in low,
coasting as a hawk on thermals,
hearing its muffler echo, hearing its stutter
bounce off the stone façade of 1st National
and plate glass storefronts
shattering silence in the dark,
making noises louder than
mere mutter

Jim Culleny
11/16/20

Politics vs. Reality


“A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.” —attributed
to Ben Franklin (on the fragile lives of Democratic Republics)
“In erratic times one cannot be too attentive, too
ready to stand or duck.”
 —A. Skutočné
___________________________________________

what’s real depends upon where a thing lands
(how far along it is from ultraviolet to infrared—
from invisible to invisible), but on the
spectrum of real, it might be said

if it’s a matter of life-or-death I’m inclined to think
whatever’s coming at me now is most real,
so I move, I snap to, I jump or duck,

but if, instead, I get lost in the contours
of the coming bumper bound to ice me,
if I’m lost in its chiaroscuro,
lost in its seductive curves,
lost in the way fenders sleek and silver slice air,
lost in its hood’s patina,
in the way its lacquered finish
creates a bright steel ambiance,
if I’m gone in its pricey logo cast in chrome

— if at that moment
my real is mere beauty, then realities collide,
aesthetics gives way to physics (the most
existential real of that moment) and the
reality of beauty and biology abruptly dies

—then too (too late) the meaning of distraction
would’ve suddenly been real, suggesting a deeper take
on the meaning of truth and lies

joy and sorrow
are both real

some say money is real
and it is, the way it wrenches things—
anything with that much clout,
anything that so shapes the mind of the world,
anything that so pummels and rips the fabric of love
is surely real

but what’s real is ephemeral as mist
(thin       thick     mortal     divine)

depending upon when and where it lands
on the spectrum of real, real is different
at different times

Jim Culleny
11/6/18

Socratic Martini


sitting on the cut stump of day
sipping from conical clear glass,
sundown, elastic shadows of trees stretched
lovely long and taught across grass
maybe twenty minutes before sun
sinks behind spruce spikes
animating a mountain-wave’s sine
like those of an oscilloscope
capturing electric profiles
of unseen forms as Socratic
as this transparent something in my hand
filled with sloshing invisibility
as I raise it to sip wondering what it is,
how it is, and what it will be
when shadow falls

Jim Culleny
11/6/20

Thursday Poem

“Maybe the greatest miracle is memory” – Brian Doyle

Father Joe

The holiest moments
were those curse words
Father Joe muttered under
his breath when some asshole
walked down the aisle or when, shit,
the choir started in too early. I always
volunteered to sit on his right so I could
hold the Bible open leaned in against my
sternum, Jesus Christ, as he read the Liturgy of the Word.
He’d gently, damnit, slide the long tassels across the pages
like a blessing. I still follow his eyes as he reads, arms
bent up from his elbows tucked into his side, palms up
Glory Be to the Highest, sonofabitch, listening
for those curse words in that sacred syntax.

by Michael Garrigan
from
The Echotheo Review

Bad Dream

.

“(American) President Donald Trump accused schools of teaching students “hateful lies about this country” and said he would be taking steps to “restore patriotic education” as he continued his opposition to efforts to raise awareness about racial inequalities.” —NBC News
_____________________

thicker into fascist weeds,
entering brambles,
thorns, tangles
of choking vines,
thicker and darker
we go—

see cadres and lines
of Trumpen Youth
see ecstatic smiles,
programmed minds,
fresh, mad eyes,
sharpened
tooth

Jim Culleny
9/21/20

Thursday Poem

Bent to the Earth

They had hit Ruben
with the high beams, had blinded
him so that the van
he was driving, full of Mexicans
going to pick tomatoes,
would have to stop. Ruben spun

the van into an irrigation ditch,
spun the five-year-old me awake
to immigration officers,
their batons already out,
already looking for the soft spots on the body,
to my mother being handcuffed
and dragged to a van, to my father
trying to show them our green cards.

They let us go. But Alvaro
was going back.
So was his brother Fernando.
So was their sister Sonia. Their mother
did not escape,
and so was going back. Their father
was somewhere in the field,
and was free. There were no great truths

revealed to me then. No wisdom
given to me by anyone. I was a child
who had seen what a piece of polished wood
could do to a face, who had seen his father
about to lose the one he loved, who had lost
some friends who would never return,
who, later that morning, bent
to the earth and went to work.

by Blas Manuel De Luna.
from Bent to the Earth
Carnegie Mellon University Press

Gull on a Spar

Gull on spar 3
I’m a gull on a spar —so much sea

but much less far

my perch is so unsteady
I wonder what my bearings are

roll and sway and pitch,
the other gull-calls I am hearing,

the yaw as ship slides into ditch of trough—
this captain must be drunk the way he’s steering

or the helmsman is asleep, his compass eye is off,
the sluggish rudder’s answer is as drawn-out as a stutter

and I’m clinging to this spar like baby to its mother
as sun descends wind whistles, or is singing,

moon is coming up —but the image in that mirror,
is that me or is that other?

Jim Culleny, 6/24/20

Not Listening

—on a presidential innauguration 2017
.
I’m not buying
a speech sure to smother much with nothing
I’m not buying
a ritual oozing mendacity
I’m not buying
sure and certain doublespeak
I’m not buying
the immoral gymnastics of a chameleon
I’m not buying
the patchwork bullshit of a chimera
I’m not buying
the vacancy of a narcissist
I’m not watching
an actor’s forked tongue dance as if his past had not been taped
I’m not watching
the installation of a void who’s speech reeks “fake”
I’m not watching
when what should raise hope says. nope
I’m not watching
Law being throttled in the deals of a user
I’m not watching
a flag being soiled in arms of a loser
I’m not swallowing
the pitch of a prince of shades
I’m not slurping
inaugural spews of a soul-dead renegade
I’m not marching
in that parade
.
Jim Culleny
1/20/17