The Impossible Glamour of Istanbul

the narrow streets on the hill
leading from the mooring of our ship
were stepped and cobbled, or bricked.
from overhead they must have looked like laces
knitting together masonry walls
which lined those ancient spaces

greenhorn that I was (and am,
in cosmic time at least) under the luck
of many graces I walked, naive
unafraid/unbrave, and innocently unstuck, 
full of ignorance and contradiction 
as any boy who’d not yet had to grieve

with young others like myself I went learning, 
laughing up our hill with no prescriptions 
caroming off the inner walls of skulls but
singed instead by bonfire embers 
scattered in fresh imagination’s thrilling burning

we turned and faced the Bosphorus
caught in an opening between close parapets
the air was clear and undefiled for us
the sun as bright as white phosphorus
for us the place was indecipherable and new 
impossible and glamorous

a muezzin called his faith from roofs
but no one really knew if god was there
a woman paused to stare at three 
unconscious boys in sailor suits

the muezzin’s song echoing in the canyons 
of those streets was not consonant 
but to our four-part fifties
doo-wop ears was clamorous
like half an argument too resolute,
too apt to drown out other ways of love, 
the opposite of amorous avalanching 
down the slope of years
to bury new counter-thoughts
that children of the present world
hiking up their hills will 
ever be advancing

by Jim Culleny 

Xu Bing’s Phoenixes at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine










standing under Phoenix and his lofted bride
both newly risen in the nave of a church
at a quarter of the height from floor to vault
—I am small and still beneath their static glide.

a cross in the distance where they might have perched,
is centered on choirs set on either side
as simple as the nexus of sinners’ faults
at the crux of the moment their songs might rise.

these ninety foot creatures made of sweat and steel
and of light and of industry and touch and feel
and of hoses and spades and of wire and sight
and of chain and of pipes and of silent nights
and of canisters pulleys ducts and vents
and of reason for rebirth to where innocence went
and of hope and contrition and of blood and bone
all Phoenixes together here un-alone

by Jim Culleny

Time Talk

poets talk time
to get a handle on it,
to hack a place to hold it
to turn it, to fold it
to climb it and mount it
to ride it, to flip it
to hide it, to turn it
to toy with and tip it
to wrench it, to rip it
apart to unlearn it
to kill it, to burn it
to track it in the innards of clocks
to tear it apart like a crow on a corpse
to drill it to dig it to bore it
and finally, ignore it

poets would do well to pour time
like water, or blood & wine
and savoring,
sip it

Science & Religion

my brain’s a pouch in which
I stash my loot
if I keep its purse strings loose
I might add to its load
when new coin comes to town

but if I tighten down
the purse strings of my mind
and garrote its capaciousness
all that I might be
will be hopelessly consigned
to dangle from its noose

Jim Culleny