Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Frank Polite 1936-2005



to stagger ashore,
free, cured of use;

simply to be, itself, a green bottle,
a message delivered,
a sailor, like me


Today I looked up a poem by Frank Polite that I've been hauling around in my box of literary treasures for some 30 years. I met Frank at the Cafe Med in Berkeley back in 1975, and he gave me the poem in person, signed even. I've hauled out his little book, "Luna Pier" many times since......."Lantern", "The Last House on Luna Pier" are old friends, travelling companions he introduced me to that day. So I was sad to learn that he died in 2005, and I never knew.

What I remember, is vividly seeing his face over a cappuchino, while on the interstate from Michigan to Toledo in 2007. I saw the turnout for Luna Pier, mythical in my mind and heart now for decades, a misty place of silent blue herons, the wounded presence of Lake Goddess Erie. Did I turn off? No.......I knew that the Luna Pier Frank seeded my imagination with was something I would never want to change.

Frank's writings have been published in The New Yorker, Harper's, Poetry, The Nation, Yankee, Exquisite Corpse, The North American Review and Denver Quarterly. He lived in Ohio, and for more information or to purchase some of his books, visit: FALLEN CITY WRITERS.

THE BLACK BUTTERFLIES

The black butterflies of night
Clipped for sleep to nightshade and widowgrief,
Or in shaking luminous flight
On paired and silver wings, are rare,
And rarely seen by human sight.

Yet, they are there, surfacing
Out of range of neons and streetlights,
Preferring underleaf
And the dark offshores of air
To man and moth-maddening glare of things.
Tonight, As crisis after crisis
Cracks our skies like lightning,
I think of death,
Of different ways of dying,
And of Egypt and the myth
That once held black butterflies
Sacred to Isis.

They lived forever in flight
In her private groves, compelled like
Flickering minutes
Never to touch leaf nor stone,
Never to rest, except upon her nakedness
When she turned to love.
And here is death to be envied;
To be crushed to a personal breast
Between goddess
And whatever bird, beast, lover
Fell to her lips.
We are something else. . .

Myth and love will miss us
When the night is suddenly turned on,
Turned blank white,
And the black butterflies
Appear against that vellum sky
As far, flitting, burnt-out stars.
GOOD ADVICE

1

Do not rush to be disappointed with yourself.
Rather, make a world drag you to it
behind 24 mules of irrefutable proof, & you
still digging in your heels all the way
before you say, "I'm disappointed with myself."

2

Trust only inauspicious beginnings,
the modest seed. What comes
dancing toward you tossing flowers,
soon perishes.

3

It is the weed of life
that grips the garden to your need,
that roots you deep into its soil
which is immortal.


LUNA PIER

A sea change leans against the pier
in tumult. I know why I'm here.
Cold streams, contending with the warm
grip the rocks as never before
in my life, and hurl up salt at my door.
What drifts in now is mine, cut loose,
thrown overboard, or drowned:
a wooden spar, a beached bone, a yard
of torn sail like an indecipherable
parchment. Even a shoe drifts in, kicked
around out there God knows how long.

I listen now. I witness. I do not
touch or twist at the integrity of each
survival. It is enough to have arrived
at all, embodying sea changes;
to stagger ashore, free, cured of use;

simply to be, itself, a green bottle,
a message delivered,
a sailor, like me.


LANTERN

Next year I'm forty years old.
I don't know what hump I'm over.
To have made it this far, what
does that mean? Where am I?

Where have I been? Like you,
I've been places, New York, Asia,
Great fields uncut by wire
or river, mountains leaping up.

And O yes, oceans. I felt my way
deeply into each, into the mind
shafts permitted me, into
a flower (perfect on mescaline,

I laughed and wept for hours)
into the tenderness of people...
I've loved, worshipped stones,
written poems to moon and stars,

and depending on the deep and dark
of my downheartedness, I lit
a flame in my forehead like a toad,
imagining myself, at various

times, Lord of Earth, Light in
the forest, even...God.
Down the road with my lantern, I
lifted up the broken, the poor,

the ignorant, the hopeless, only
to come down to this: to be all of
them myself, at once. So what's
it all about? I don't ask anymore:

I am one with the insect and cloud.
I beg my life to lay me down at last
gently if possible, or fast, the way
a horse, plunging into darkness

kicks a stone out of its path.

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