A Message Found in a Bottle at Sea

Sudden and deathly and full
Of madness that oozes from crevasses
I cannot find we walk

On cliffs and throw rocks
Down to tunnels that flow
Off to seas we can no longer

Find on maps we store in
The dank and dirty attics that whisper
To us on cold nights when

Rain falling is the only
Sound we care to hear – how
Did we get here? The

Captain has fallen off the ship and
We see him waving in the waves while
The storms build and there is just a

Long, lone white bird cawing in the
Wind and I lean to listen but discover
Only a howl and a crash and

The fingers sinking beneath waves that
We can no longer penetrate with cries in
This pitiful night… where

Is the light
House we once knew?

A Poem Found in a Cave

Editor’s Note: Discovered
Behind a stone in deep,
Barren dirt.

Off on ancient ridges by
Falls that tumble down to
A hand that waves at
Me in the dark I

Seem to see walls in mist and
Gray men in suits tapping
Down alleys that I knew I could
Find once but lost
To a song sung on cold

Nights by fires that burn in
Deep canyon caves that we
Can only find by the bright
Lights of hands traced on

Ancient ridge walls. I…

Think so much of days in
Forests and feelings of running
Like a child lost…

In the dark.

Voyages on Sunny Days

He set out like a Modern Ulysses. Always
Leaving. Skipping plans and
Waves that, at times, push up against
His bare boat as
He moves along. He

Skips along the sea. He
Happy only at the far-off sight
Of rain clouds. Thunder that
Threatens.

Thoughts of the Ancients

Thoughts of the Ancients, Written
At Mesa Verde

The day the ancients left was
By all accounts a sad, still,
Quiet day, full of reckoning.

They left the dwellings,
They abandoned the canyons,
Leaving them to time,
And the wind.

Stone axes used lovingly for
Years were left in corners.
Old jugs and holders left
Propped up against stone walls
Slowly and meticulously put up
Through the years, and filled
With mud and stray bits of
Stone and dirt. All left
To time, and the wind.

The rooms where babies had
Cried, and were raised up the
Red canyon walls were walked
Out of by feet that will never
Enter them again.

The carefully cut foot-holds wear
Down. The ladders rot. The old
Signs and symbols on walls wear
Away, falling
Away into the dust.

And… the kivas where once the
Clans met in subterranean gloom, and
Where once an elder I think
Sat by the fire, crackling
And billowing up smoke, once
Told tales of winter winds on
The mesa-tops, and walks along
Cliffs cut from the pinyons. Or,
Waving his hands, when the
Birds cawed in his youth and
He remembers them still. The
Night-smells. The bonfires in the
Distance. The distant thunder and
Rain that once came glowing up the
Crystal canyons. All of this is
Left behind. All…

They walked out and never
Came again, these ancients.

Sad Palmyra, Ruined Again

Such wanton madness such
Bat-blind destruction and
Death of beautiful things. I think of

Rampages at night. Cries
From the ruined walls of
Ancient sites: heads lopped
Off, temples toppled, shot
At and blown
Away. Then,

Quiet men
Taken to broken amphitheaters…
An old-time
Entertainment, renewed. Such

Madness such death
In ancient sands. As
Men grin at tattered
Statues that once held up
Grand archways over grand,
Roman parades. Of cheers

To conquering men. Of
Wine spilled of madness
On burning hill-
Sides where we see tanks
Bursting forth and still…

That silence of centuries of
Men and of women who lived
Here once but blew away like
Sandstorms on dark nights that
Blot out those distant stars we
Just can’t quite see. Lovely,

Palmyra…

Caving in Altamira

Descending once in sub-
Terranean gloom you notice:
Cold and heat and tall points
Of stone that reach up to
A sky, never seen. Such

Darkness here. Rocks that creep
With moss. Tepid puddles of
Water in distant corners. Then

I imagine a torch in hand, fingers
That grope knowingly across
Rough walls. To a spot to a
Place where chatter is heard and
The stillness of tomb-like quiet.

Hearts beating you can hear
Hearts beating here.

Then you look up and see an
Old man I think with his
Frail hands against the wall. The
Torch lights it up as
Bright colors blow from hollow tubes –

Red. Deep reds that
Emblazon the rock, leaving a shadow
Of a hand that reaches out to us
From across time, from
The mist and madness
Of ceaseless centuries.

Note: At the caves in Altamira, Spain,
Prehistoric hands appear on the walls.
Signatures from the past.

The Cowboy’s Lament

Gone are the days of
Wild fires on moonless
Nights – by rocks that
Rise up to lone,
Starry skies.

Gone. Gone are the moments
On open ranges and times
By streams that whisper
To sad men that look out
To mountains and trees:

Ridges and aspens that
Quake in breezes on spring
Days when you awake to pure
Smells and embers that still
Burn from fires lit
Long ago.

Gone. It seems all
Gone and the lament of horses
That pick up clods in forests
That wind and twist up steep slopes
And I can’t help thinking that
Once we reach the top there

Is nowhere to go
But down. Below to valleys with
Streams that float across stones
Miners picked up once and tossed
Back to the past, to moments

When the wind was all you heard and the
Firm feeling of horse was all
You needed as you rode off
To lands where storms spoke of
Truth of whispers of…

Immortality. I seek

Ranges. I seek mountains still
Left untouched by the hands
Of shallow men.

The Complete J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

I. Claps of Thunder

I sat in a cell once, long ago,
In Athens it was, crying for that dead
Wasted body of pale Pericles… our hero.

Wine mixed
Not enough. I

Saw broken bits
Of corpses bouncing by –
Such sad women,
Such sad women – all
Pushed downstream to
The still, tepid waters of
Our port,
At Piraeus.

Wine mixed not
Enough. When

Young and bounding
Over rocks on
Star-cold sands by
The clay site at Siwa I
Stared at grimy papyrus
Scrolls, stared
At a king, a king left
Stabbed and silent by
A solemn pool,
A pool in
The dry, mythic mountains
Of perfumed Persia.

Wine mixed…

In Utica in a sparse room,
In a dead
Desert city, I
Found Cato mumbling
And mumbling about

The claps of thunder that come
Before the damp rains chill the
Silent statues the
Crowded squares of
Speckled Rome.

Wine…

II. Up and Up

Once wrapped in sweat and dust,
I, at the Holy Wisdom, in
That Great City
Of Constantine threw

Picks and metal at blocks
Of marble hewn
And hewn…
Time breaking up
Time, pounding
Entire days
Of pounding, pounding
Gaps in domes where light
Bleeds through. Hands
Bloodied hands that reach
Up and up.

Fingertips lost
In pale, setting suns.

In sands, too, I
Once went marching through
Sands with burning hands
Held up before faces tattered,
Cracked with lips unable
To bleed, to kiss. Trans-
Fixed by dunes always
So shapeless, so
Changing and windswept
Like soldiers lost like
Gusts and great swords and promises
By firelight, in shadow on tent
Walls with hands held up
And crying… burning
Like thunderbolts in the sands.

Mansions made up
Of dust and sky.

Even, I, on a hill in Hastings,
Caught an arrow falling
From the sky.

The form of one Harold, bloody,
Faceless almost
By blood. A King,
Once…

With a broken church lurching
Up from the gloom
Of hills tired and tattered. Swords
Left alone, stuck
In Earth with no one near.
Whimpers and horse smells –
Mud covering teeth –
Unable to call out –
Chaos,
And mist. Mountains,
Of Mist… Unreal.

Then I once walked
Off course. Confused.
Down roads hidden
By the stubble of undergrowth, trees
Not casting a shade, upright
And unmoved. Darkness,
And light. A door appearing,

Turning in at an unlatched
Gate – who I do not know who –
Legs only. Silence
Tomb-like silence. Yes,

Signs of an obvious an
Excruciating sickness.
Buboes black and batched
Along hollow armpits,
Crawling up weak,
Wasted legs. Skin
Ruptured. Peeling
Back laughter
Of hollow mouths –
Voids in the void –
Devilish,
And macabre.

III. The Tap, Tap, Tap

In that city of passion
And poets, I mixed broken
Pigments for a shadow that
Clung to the walls, clung…
Painting and painting. Him

Dangling and hovering, him
In one hand a chisel while I
In the dark of Sixtus stare
At the impure light
Of candles at
Bare bodies born by quick,
Imperfect strokes.

An eye, quivering. The
Tap, tap, tap
Of paint dribbling
Onto
The floor. Also,

With Atahualpa once,
I and dirty and played
A game of chess one
Stormy, silent night.

Thunder
Breaking over quiet,
Distant peaks. The
Pound, pound of rain
Working on patchwork pavements
Nearby. While I

Stole his queen while the fire
Snapped nearby. I
Slipping pieces to my
Ripped pocket. The

Tap, tap of rain
Outside. Tap like

When walking
Down back alleys in
That tattered town of London.
Seeing a man –
Up against a wall,
Leaning with a broken sign swinging –

A stranger first I thought,
A man out on the sun,
And rain. Yet,

When the light hit right I saw
A beloved, immortal face
Whistling such a sweet tune,
Whistling such a sweet tune through
Puddles oozing up
Cracked, uncovered feet.
“Dah-ta,” “Dah-ta,”
“Dah-ta”
Floating like magic
Through the air.
Symphonies we cannot hear.
“Dah-ta.”
Tapping and tapping feet in tune.
“Dah-ta.”

Until, on a cold day at Whitehall I
Eyed an executioner
Masked, thinking of
A dull blade, a
Late night fire in forgotten
Forests. Then,
That Stuart of Two Shirts strutting
Out from chipped, sanctified crowns and
Sighing, sighing…

As the crowd gasps,
As the crowd gasps.

IV. Snow-Quiet Vienna

Once with Samuel too
In a town ringing
I went…
Towards sounds of fire raging,
Soft ash falling
And falling, churches
I thought too holy to burn,
Burn. Dreams
In that nether world
Of stuff of mists of mirrors. London
Burns, while you
Sleep. Yes,

In a savage land
I walked through days
Of rains and fogs.
Ceaseless wet.
Mud so thick
You sink and sank.

Guards more wild than rivers
We thought to subdue, so
Extreme our dreams
In lands without borders.

I also remember
Last speaking with Mozart.
Time and Death
In noxious rooms.
Silent sounds of
Marching music. While
White and limp
Fingers strum notes to
A death never to
Die. Unable

A body bloated cannot fit
A pale shirt on. Yes,

Dying candles that
Flicker in the winter chill
Let in from a window we forgot
To close. Such
Troubled days such
Rising and sitting, rising
And sitting. Moving
Like shadows on walls in
Snow-quiet Vienna. Songs

Written in the night.
A flourish of pens
By fires of ember
And coal.

V. Hands Held

Then on hot days
Of summer, nailing
I nailed bent pieces of broken
Plywood. The shaggy beard
Of Whitman hovering
Nearby. I

Would talk of atoms of
Assumptions of sweet sweat
Billowing on frail
Foreheads. Old hands of a poet,
Gnarled. Brutish. Yes,
Knew and knowing,
Seen and held.

Boot-soles I follow. A
Great pulse of life.

As with Hughes, on
Days of delivered dishes.
Sitting and eating. A
Round table of riches –
Herbs, spices,
My plate holding
Wrinkled bits of paper so
Carefully kept from view.

I have known rivers I
Have…

Been everywhere and nowhere. In
Solemn and sad services
In pale November.
Tears against deadened walls.
Silent sepulchers.
Churches caught and coughing as
I speak up and say a
Song of an older man who
Vanished like a word never
Quite spoken, but heard half
Heard behind a wall I still
Can’t find. I who

Tap my feet to
Drums distant and
Voices that lift deep
Thoughts so heavy
Heavy for times both new,
And old…

Frontiers gone through,
Washed away like time
Through a sieve of half
Forgotten years as we all
Sit with silent, hard hands
Held.

VI. For You

In Worcester too
On nights once in
Cell-like rooms, thinking
Of paved roads long
After rains in the mid-day
Of mountains of
Bright sun-light on
Wet leaves that glisten, glisten like

Silence. Silence.
Silence tapping a wooden
Walking stick so gently
Against tar-black pavement that is
A tap
Tap…

Of creeping boot-soles creeping
Against the firm flesh
Of hands rubbing against
Life and a
Tap tap
Of places down roads taken
Past towns I once drank in
By surging streams and hikes
I waited by tall trees with
A walking stick in hand for
You. Waiting

And watching out…
For you.

The Final Part of J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

VI. For You

In Worcester too
On nights once in
Cell-like rooms, thinking
Of paved roads long
After rains in the mid-day
Of mountains of
Bright sun-light on
Wet leaves that glisten, glisten like

Silence. Silence.
Silence tapping a wooden
Walking stick so gently
Against tar-black pavement that is
A tap
Tap…

Of creeping boot-soles creeping
Against the firm flesh
Of hands rubbing against
Life and a
Tap tap
Of places down roads taken
Past towns I once drank in
By surging streams and hikes
I waited by tall trees with
A walking stick in hand for
You. Waiting

And watching out…
For you.

Posted as part of Poets United Sunday Poetry Pantry

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode, Part IV

J. Humbert Riddle’s Birthday Ode,
Delivered on Vacation
In the Isles, 2010

Editor’s Preface:
A new, extended version of
Perhaps Riddle’s most famous
Poem, written during a time
Of supposed sanity, and ease.

IV. Snow-Quiet Vienna

Once with Samuel too
In a town ringing
I went…
Towards sounds of fire raging,
Soft ash falling
And falling, churches
I thought too holy to burn,
Burn. Dreams
In that nether world
Of stuff of mists of mirrors. London
Burns, while you
Sleep. Yes,

In a savage land
I walked through days
Of rains and fogs.
Ceaseless wet.
Mud so thick
You sink and sank.

Guards more wild than rivers
We thought to subdue, so
Extreme our dreams
In lands without borders.

I also remember
Last speaking with Mozart.
Time and Death
In noxious rooms.
Silent sounds of
Marching music. While
White and limp
Fingers strum notes to
A death never to
Die. Unable

A body bloated cannot fit
A pale shirt on. Yes,

Dying candles that
Flicker in the winter chill
Let in from a window we forgot
To close. Such
Troubled days such
Rising and sitting, rising
And sitting. Moving
Like shadows on walls in
Snow-quiet Vienna. Songs

Written in the night.
A flourish of pens
By fires of ember
And coal.

Posted as part of Poets United Sunday Pantry.