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Gathering Night Noises


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GATHERING NIGHT NOISES By ARTHUR W. McMASTER A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2004

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Copyright 2004 by Arthur W. McMaster

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For Sue, with Love

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I wish to thank the University of Florida and the Creative Writing Department for the opportunity to study and for their financial support. I would like to specifically thank certain faculty members, particularly Richard Brantley and Marsha Bryant, who also served as my thesis committee members along with Sidney Wade, my inspirational thesis director. Sidney consistently found an opening into some of my pale and partial poems that allowed me to make them whole to make them work. Showing, not telling, the lessons of compression and imagery in poetry, she is an amazing teacher. Both Richard and Marsha, preeminent scholars, taught me a great deal about professional writing, which will be invaluable to me in my alleged calling. I admire their vast energy and their love of literature. I salute my colleagues: Mark Two Page McKain; Michael Shake and Bake Loughran; and the quintessentially quirky Jon Stern, who is a true scholar as well as a gifted poet. The friendship and support from Jolia Einstein, Julie Green, Cortney Grubbs, and Amanda Reynolds foremost Jack the Ripper expert were splendid. I will never forget my year-group mates. I must credit my long-time close friend and fellow jazz and classical music lover Dr. Tom Schott, himself a fine poet, who encouraged me to go for it and pursue the M.F.A. But above all, my wife Suzanne supported me in this zany decision to leave the comforts of middle-age, and do another tarantella with the academy. It was worth it! My love and best wishes go to our two adult children, Scott and Kellie, now themselves back in graduate school in pursuit of their own higher dreams and destinies. iv

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TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iv ABSTRACT......................................................................................................................vii TRUTH ABOUT HARD LIQUOR.....................................................................................1 BLUE AND YELLOW TABLECLOTHS, WATERCOLORS, AND BRIE.....................2 THE BURNING OF BIG PINE KEY.................................................................................3 RANDOM REMORSE........................................................................................................4 ETHEREAL.........................................................................................................................5 FROM ANOTHER PROVINCE.........................................................................................6 BECAUSE SHE HAD GONE THROUGH ALL THE PLUM WINE..............................7 NORTH CAFETERIA, 12 NOON......................................................................................8 MARKET AT MACHU PICCHU.......................................................................................9 AFTER WE PUT UP THE PHEASANTS AT OREN KEENEYS FARM....................10 ASPIRATION....................................................................................................................11 GATHERING NIGHT NOISES........................................................................................12 RESTLESS IN LIBRARY WEST.....................................................................................13 BEATITUDES...................................................................................................................14 INTERIOR RHYMES.......................................................................................................15 STARRY NIGHT..............................................................................................................16 IN NABLUS......................................................................................................................17 CONCUSSED AS DESERTS...........................................................................................18 TWO BOATERS...............................................................................................................19 v

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WATCHROOM, 1500 ZULU...........................................................................................20 SKIN OF THE MANGO...................................................................................................21 4: A.M................................................................................................................................22 BLACK ABAYA...............................................................................................................23 DISCOMPOSURE.............................................................................................................24 FAIR APRIL......................................................................................................................25 AGNOSTICS.....................................................................................................................26 KEEPING DARK STOCK................................................................................................27 FILIGREE, JUNE ........................................................................................................28 MALA STRANA .............................................................................................................29 PLANS DIRECTORATE, 3:45 P.M.................................................................................30 MOTHERS DAY.............................................................................................................31 UNPLANNED TRAVEL, 5: P.M.....................................................................................32 PROTEUS..........................................................................................................................33 RED MONKEYS...............................................................................................................34 LAST SHOES....................................................................................................................35 CLEARING THE TABLES, 8:45 P.M..............................................................................36 CONNEMARA..................................................................................................................37 GETTING INTO BED WITH THE OLDIES...................................................................38 LOST AMONG THE TOOLS AND BLUNT INSTRUMENTS OF THE NATIONS KITCHEN...................................................................................................................39 DEPRESSED BY AN OBSCENE BOOK OF POEMS, I SEARCH FOR MEANING IN ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA.............................................................................40 LOST ON NORTH BEACH.............................................................................................41 ON THE TRAIN TO SOCIALIST REALITY..................................................................42 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................43 vi

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Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts GATHERING NIGHT NOISES By Arthur W. McMaster May 2004 Chair: Sidney Wade Major Department: English This thesis presents 42 original poems. Although I came to admire the discipline required to write formal verse, and some excellent poets showed me how it is done, I demurred of presenting any of my own. I am much more attracted to free-form poems, vers libre, where I can deal with the subtleties of issues without concern for the vagaries of end rhyme and meter. Upon completion of the manuscript I discovered that I had focused on four principal areas: my family; my days with this nations intelligence community; my continuing fascination for the people of the Czech lands; and the endless, pointless wars mankind seems to find so seductive. I share with William Carlos Williams, perhaps more than any other my own poet-hero, the sentiment that it is hard to get to news from poetry, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there. vii

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TRUTH ABOUT HARD LIQUOR A man drinks for five days, forgets why he came to worry, knows no matter how many shots, high balls, shooters, and bottles he finishes, hell not kill them all. He heals himself with the only spirits he is still speaking with, knows the musky courage of scotch, the finality of no returns. He orders another round, shares it with the man he suspects he once was, asks the barkeep for the time. The long mirror has it all wrong. 1

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BLUE AND YELLOW TABLECLOTHS, WATERCOLORS, AND BRIE At a neighboring table the six-year old with her parents demurs from the strange purple and green salad, finds something on the sole of her shoe. No one corrects her. Confidently, we inquire of the pork medallions. Would the merlot be too dry? You accuse me of eyeing the sweet tray. Secretly, I will pirate the chefs recipe for flan. The young French hostess in wild hair and thin black dress talks with two bored waiters about the straight guys who tempt them all in their stoic indifference. Now the night manager brings down the lights, adjusts the music flutes and harps. Conversations darken. The Metro station shudders some three doors down. 2

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THE BURNING OF BIG PINE KEY At dawn the Sandhills come back. Crimson-crested, the nesting pair synchronize their movements, think someone is watching. Their steps are erratic. The burned grasses make them nervous. The male stands so still so stern. The female combs the detritus, pecks at something charred. She turns over a few small bits, brushed white by the wind, moves to her mates side, gauging his vigilance. Her precise cries supplant touch. He looks away, listening for the coming rain. 3

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RANDOM REMORSE (after Hannah Arendt) All violence harbors within itself an element of arbitrariness. Curious what pierces the shades we set for silence. Beyond the blue-white window, pained in steeping frost, the hush of winter lazes on me deep in the dream of childhood. Querulous, determined grey squirrels rummage for feed left for starlings unfit to find a more hospitable land. They do not yet understand life is serious business. Once I shot one dead in the chest. That house is gone now, gone with the other benign neighbors, surrounded by meadows even the field mice fled. I cannot recover the elegance of that long ago frost, pull back the shock of that BB. Lessons learned are stored, we know not where, in curious children. 4

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ETHEREAL Faint in the Chesapeake, the remote bay island lies white as bleached paper, untold salt in its clapboard frames. Countless opaque sand crabs carry on unawares. At night, when the watermen have gone to bed with clean hands and burning breath, stars nail you to the porch if you stare into the night too long. 5

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FROM ANOTHER PROVINCE From Myanmar, the splendid Peregrine Tern screams agreement with the curious passers-by, a precipitous welcome, a blue on hard-blue above the heart, a stuttering, a broken talon, a tentative crazy eye. Cloudless. 6

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BECAUSE SHE HAD GONE THROUGH ALL THE PLUM WINE Hannah is making goat cheese in her flat above the city census office. She kneads it with fingers trim as bullets, keeps the windows closed so as not to alarm the elderly warden responsible to the state for reporting suspicious behavior. Still, such aromas find a way to report on themselves. Hannah works her knuckles into the warm, liquid center, driving her digits clean through to the wax paper at the base of the bowl, massaging the heart of an unknown donor. A nail breaks and she recovers it, puts it in a glass by the window. 7

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NORTH CAFETERIA, 12 NOON Having proven worthy, the freshly-minted junior officer class eases like graphite into the north building. Orientation briefings follow polished as Iranian agate. Welcome to the collusion of the elect. Their preparation is not wanting. Earnest, fit, and fallow, many will go to Mid-East Plans, the best to consular positions posing as competent visa men. They will find their aging mentors, grinding for purpose, steeped in social graces, each absolving his father. Overhead, a fine luminescence records their coded badges, passage to inner-sanctum, twenty-some years of ennui, months of anxiety, moments of satisfaction, a tiff with schistosomiasis. Prideful, they enter the North Cafeteria, confident in pace, incurious, in quest of falafel & cous-cous. Overhead, the seventh-floor watchers ruminate in their glass carapace. Each is losing heart. 8

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MARKET AT MACHU PICCHU Ignorant of altitude, the rain is catholic and blind, the mountain silver and nervous. After the rain, the air is gauze. Village boys hunker, tight as beads, as Luis cleans rust from the canvas that makes a hat for a barrel of sweet potatoes. Wheel rims and metal rings pattern a nearby field. Storekeepers stretch, fully expecting a cool spell, watching the water build on the road. 9

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AFTER WE PUT UP THE PHEASANTS AT OREN KEENEYS FARM I come to the supper table, bits of goldenrod on the heavy soles of my waterproof boots, smelling of autumn field grasses and perhaps a nip or two of the Southern Comfort we shared where the fence was down and we sat for a moment, then pushed over to the older, denser fields. The cabin windows steam up. Our woolen jackets hang by the door pockets full of eager 20-gauge shells. At my feet, a whispered breath demands an affectionate ruffling. I reach down and take one paw. The pad, once partially torn, has healed leaving a softer, paler welt. His breath is warm in my palm. He expects nothing will ever change, unaware of the days inconstancies, and I smile at you for the last time. 10

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ASPIRATION I had hoped the next poem Id write would be one I had rather wanted to write, demanded to write, heck, two years ago promised the wife I would write, one that surged up the middle of the page and swelled like Lake Superior in late November when the wind sneaks in from the west and the yellow-tailed skiffs are not supposed to be out, almost three-quarters of a mile off shore, but the afternoon sky was tempting and someone was silly and didnt heed the warnings, and almost got scuttled for her trouble but somehow didnt, because she had amazing things to read, like a Joseph Brodsky poem, and therefore, to be frank, was cajoled, beguiled and, in the best sense of the word, bullied a bit to preserve her life for the generations of poets, priests, and protesters, and dare I say it the inexplicable molester, all of whom might lie (and likely do) like minute, bio-chemically vibrant flakes of unwatered oatmeal in her curious and most womanly parts. So I wrote it. 11

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GATHERING NIGHT NOISES I pull up in front of the house and feel, even from this distance, the imperfect porch rail my granddad built, smell the loose dirt below, the rising yeast in my mothers chrome kitchen. I know how the afternoon sun shines through the rose glass window onto the runner on the landing, know it will shine again exactly so tomorrow. May I enter again? Later, as I lie in my knotty-pine bed, daring to watch the door knob turn ever-so-slowly, turn and stop again of its own free will, I search the cotton curtains that hold back the night noises. When I should be asleep, I pick at the coarse tufts of my grandmothers wafer-thin bedspread, parallel rows of weedy, cotton clumps, familiar as prayer beads on my thumb, knowing I will never wear them down, thinking how a boy might walk, safe and unseen, on the ceiling later that night. 12

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RESTLESS IN LIBRARY WEST I ramble in the Smathers 6 th floor stacks finding volumes PS to PZ poetry anxious to strut, aching to bitch, needing somehow to woo. They languish unexposed authors skulking in dark and casual dust. How they taunt each other Moderns reject the Romantics, Victorians preen in rhetorical huff. Metaphysicians languish for purpose, pacing the chilly night-floor, unable to make allies, even among the grads. They anticipate my curiosity, human touch, would settle, I suspect, for a gentle jostling. I lean in, listening for the quiet, unexpected voice. 13

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BEATITUDES I visit my brother in his greeny enclave, hard into Upstate New York. We give each other small oblations clever foreign coins, postcards of Munster and Mull. He has become, in his turbulent maturity, an artist of immense imagination. He titles his pieces, detailed as scrimshaw, for his Celtic muses eclectic spirits meandering through his home. Outside, they haunt the green irises contemplative monks in a garden of preposterous weeds and winter-resistant ferns. It is difficult to pull away. Down his gray gravel drive a young buck pauses, watches, expects us to stop and take him in. 14

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INTERIOR RHYMES I wrote two randy poems last night, while eating artichoke hearts from the fridge, chased with a glass or two of ruby Shiraz. The first was a tempting little sonnet with feminine endings. Her lines were tight and finely tapered, her thesis was cooking au naturel. The more aggressive was a seven-stanzaic free verse number. I had foolishly laid him on top of the other, radically enjambed. I should never have left them alone on their own. I take the blame. This morning: colorful bits of ink stain my desk; parentheses lie nearby, unused. Alas, in my basket tout nu heres a healthy little Haiku. My wife holds him up to the artificial light, his metered breath pluperfect. 15

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STARRY NIGHT In Arles your final work charts the eddy of manic stars. What town could sleep below such brilliance? Dusk is the collusion of sun and night. The moon is less forthcoming. One pale house pouts in the background, unhappy, an afterthought. Perhaps it wants more color? 16

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IN NABLUS the land does not accept the calm that settles every fortnight a fine oily film from the sky. Bus stations, banks, and open air markets sweep away what shock they find. In Nablus, graves are near the surface. At dawn the young mens bodies rise up charred, split and bleeding, their hands open and empty. Above them fragments form a pattern we recognize from the gilt-oiled paintings of Titian, and Botticelli. In Nablus, they show their guiltless wounds. We are in heaven, the younger one says. Colorful flags murmur anxiously. 17

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CONCUSSED AS DESERTS In palest Palestine, where the dead are stored for eternity and carefully sorted by religion, the living store up hours of silent, angry prayer, united only by their hideous objection to one anothers lives. 18

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TWO BOATERS In the Pennsylvania autumn of 1914 my fathers parents turn a self-aware twenty-one. They take their Sunday leisure on the Susquehanna River, glad and glinting graced by tall oak and silver maple, encouraging a noon-day meal on the rivers soft pallet of worn, warm fields. Their slight boat is haltered fast to the slip, oars locked down against a tide pulling them away. Their journey from Carbondale takes only thirty minutes. They do not know that in thirty years they will have a grandchild, and then a dozen more. They cannot foresee I will contrive their visit, long after their passing, for my own selfish needs. Two boaters in love, one picnic, one beginning. A reason to make a poem. 19

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WATCHROOM, 1500 ZULU In Saratov, fine emissions shudder into the clear. The heat favors the security fencing at the compounds north face. Blithe registry clerks in London make love to their long coffees, as four large clocks on the watchroom floor mark casual disagreement. The remote, presumptive death of a dozen scientists, industrialists, and lab workers, vicariously picks up the bored heart. My colleagues ponder the destruction, make a few calls, consult their costly flat screens. The older men do not hurry their assessments, let downlinks confirm the location. The spoils are clear, digital readouts, the beginning of empathy. Up river in Votkinsk, women carefully assemble electronic switches, mark their tiny circuitry boards with ambivalent runes and glyphs. 20

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SKIN OF THE MANGO Its just a good thing, I said, that our favorite fruit is not ripe mangoes, their light red wine suffused with a breeze that disturbs the gauzy yellow curtains and the musk from our bodies, entangled in this ancient, angry sun that scalds the children trying to survive in this paradise, or we might never leave here alive. 21

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4: A.M. Light pushes, now melds, becomes the black-blue waters of Tupper Lake. I see our cabin, the red canoe on squat blocks, though the canoe is long gone. A light bamboo pole reposes unclaimed. I do not awaken when I come here, where colors are vivid but seldom true. Here is the dock where, to the muddy side, I lost a wading boot. Nothing grows. Minnows change their minds. Here is a quiet more like earth than water. The night landlord has cleared out the undergrowth, understanding what I am not to see. I turn and acknowledge the others whom I do not know. I have no questions for them. The moons heat warms me shamelessly; and I kick at some thing. Near dawn, small hands tug against the line. 22

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BLACK ABAYA Near Najaf, a Muslim girl hobbles toward us. Her shrapneled foot oozes something less and more than blood. The sergeant holds her for the medic, a stern boy from Syracuse. The interpreter supposes she is happy to see us. He cleans the wound, salves the puncture he can see. Diverted, the lieutenant shoots the donkey grazing by the road. Falling behind, we move up Thunder Road throwing dust on the people in the ditch. Dogs, pitched in rage, smoke, and starvation find a leg, thin, waxy as a mannequin, the body not adequately buried in the slit trench the troops made. Curious about the delay, the men behind will notice, stop their feral vehicles, make the necessary repairs. 23

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DISCOMPOSURE No tongue believes in small, dark, and erudite creatures living only at night fast in the damp, anxious bowers of fear steady in a patient mist and mauve silence where scorpions laze about like tiny lions under cool brown stones. They feed in wan fields on lesser creatures. They forage carefully. No word conjugates the majesty that comes from dominion over nameless species; variegated and stippled things selected without prejudice, split, eaten, and passed by first dawn. 24

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FAIR APRIL Our bed holds an easy, charted warmth, as if something wants to remain behind and you lean across me to discern the fuzzy time. The pale blinds pare the onset of day. Your petulant yawn insists on five more minutes and then ten more. Later, as I set the breakfast table, we ignore the nocturne in C sharp finding romance in a minor key, the slow permitted measures, the suspension of knowing, the gentleness, soft as a freckled breast. 25

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AGNOSTICS Past the seven canonical hours we cross the narrow bridge that defines our 16 th -century city, heavy in a rain persistent as Calvinists after sin. The acid-wash treatment burns clean some fourteen petulant saints, slouching their way back to Bla Hora. Neither of us knows why the Vltava rushes so decisively to inject itself into the sea. We stare now, quietly, into the downpour, suspecting this is where the end begins. St. Vitus dreams of moving his church to a drier place, maybe up river, beyond the shards of holy accusations. In 1620 the Battle of Bla Hora (White Mountain) began the Thirty Years war and ended Bohemian independence. 26

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KEEPING DARK STOCK Pushing hard through their Osso Buco, two women smile at the palaver enlarging their own wit and humor. The younger one surveys the room, thinks she has never had such bread. See how she has done her hair? She deliberates about using her faux cloth napkin. Does she expect someone interesting will speak to her? At the next table the comely East European waitress attempts to joke with a pensioner, his carafe of wine achingly dry, which brings a certain sadness to his hands. The regulars are cozy with the waiter. In the backroom the laughter is playful. The bartender checks his stock, finds plenty of bonhomie ahead. First-timers pause to admire the allure. 27

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FILIGREE, JUNE Silver-framed photos on the spinet and rosewood end tables reflect mid-morning. Over Germany, hurrying to justice, my uncles flew combat missions in shaky bombers and smoked Lucky Strikes. Such pastimes pretty much killed them all. Their decent wives wore lined hose and bright red lips, listened to Kay Starr, purposefully hatted, leaning into the night. Upstairs, an armoire: pretentious ribbons, a jet-black handled .25 automatic. Tiny bullets elegant as pheasants. 28

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MALA STRANA Some women of the city, ravens for love, dye their lustrous hair black, do up their lashes and fine white breasts to attract distracted males. The youngest of them smoke ravenously, joke about their darker curiosities, shimmer to each other on Wenceslas Square like hummingbirds in Winter. They want to make love to the brothers of martyrs, innocence aching in them like broken teeth. The older ones wear opulent pearls, bolder smiles, learn to annul the prayers of their mothers. The Mala Strana, or Lesser Quarter, is one of the oldest parts of Prague. 29

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PLANS DIRECTORATE, 3:45 P.M. The acting deputy calls me to ask what gender are the days of the week in Czech. I say, They dont have genders. I suspect he does not believe me. We are bringing out Patek on Friday. Patek means Friday: there is no gender, nor any family. I do not know the man, an improvident chemist from Kladno, big in solid rocket-motor physics. We will make him a hero and a handsome offer. His real name is in the file. Or else, perhaps, somehow now it isnt. The electric hum of a vacuum cleaner cancels the other noises in the hall. In his office, I smell the deputys shoe polish. Neither of us speaks for a moment. No one knows how long well cool him, then put him back, turn him around. I look at the clock on his desk, a dull platinum inscribed in Cyrillic, which surprises me. Beside it, a washed oak frame embraces his eager daughter, her dark violin. 30

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MOTHERS DAY The child they often talked of having sent no card again this year. They cover his absence with the perfect pitch of stillness. Fancy wraps and calico dresses hang theatrically in the spare room. The couple find time to volunteer. There is no mess to pick up. The child with his fathers fingers, deft as partial truth, does not learn his Liszt, takes no first communion. The careful inventions the couple make are stored in boxes of second guesses, absorbing the weight of undeveloped film. 31

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UNPLANNED TRAVEL, 5: P.M. The call comes in on the grey phone, which rings softly in his office. The acting deputy jokes about one time, not saying when, hed laid over in Salonika (the Cypriot mission, I suppose) and got boosted by the local goons. His thin hair and fine Yale tailoring belie the rough stuff implied, the panicked cursing. Grinning, leaning on the water cooler; he is an aging truant taking the call. I hear about it all the way to Dulles, as he fumes in his patrician fashion over the local security. The toes of his maroon British Army shoes twitch slightly. The car finds traction, pulls us smartly past the perimeter guards. Green passports, he says, green like any other Joe. We keep the bags, quiet under our feet, through the 6 hour flight. No date for the funeral. 32

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PROTEUS The matte-black ocean seems quiet with the fogs ambivalent return a kind of shopkeeper, a blind barterer, dealing in fragments of doubt. 33

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RED MONKEYS (after V.S Naipaul) The steamer eases through blistered water from Kisangani to Kinshasa, pausing long enough to take on strong beer, which the men require to act civilly. The intrusion disturbs the monkeys to the leeward side. They appear briefly above the scraped banks, curious about two jaundiced barges no longer up to carrying damp tea, black powder, veined silver. The monkeys dream of sharp green pineapples in the necessary heat of noon while soldier ants pray over moths left like lilies on the residue of thin commerce. 34

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LAST SHOES These are the last shoes I will ever own. They are grainy and light, supple as Billie Holidays voice, and tan, but not in a skin tone way. More like the color you think of when someone says Tunisia, and you recall the aroma of Mediterranean sea air, white orange blossoms, and Roman ruins. These are the last shoes I will ever wear. They fit me too well to be replaced by something more provocative. More like the comfortable way your wife kisses, or a song fits the bluejay, who sings to herself, sometimes moody, and never for show. These are the last shoes Ill ever care for, a gift from my father when they grew too narrow for him in the arch, his hands, dry and hard as clam shells, unable to pry the reluctant openings enough to let him in, unable to walk to the park to worry the jays, or to come downstairs and listen to Billie Holiday. 35

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CLEARING THE TABLES, 8:45 P.M. This is where old spies come on weekends to dine. They recognize each other by tone of voice and a confidence learned from petty political crime. The China-watchers preen at their long tables, their game still intact. The senior man watches us carefully, more suspicious than a Pekinese. Everyone knows which truths to avoid. Everyone has shopped in Berlin, been drunk in Brussels, ignored the poverty of Bogot. The older mens wives dream of pensions and blue pearls. Tonight we are out of Prime Rib, says Thomas, disappointing the acting deputy. A few of the younger men turn voluble after the Madeira. The bus boys begin to stare at the floor. My wife says we are making them nervous. 36

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CONNEMARA We drive the broken mountain pass, leaving lakes of shimmering nickel; we inch past random sheep, torn lorries coming at us fast. Suddenly we are upon the old stone of Kylemore, dozing at the waters edge. The hopeful town of Letterfrack guards the castle to the West. The inconstantly colored Twelve Bens soar above, while their fishingmen help us find our way again after we are turned around good. Winds forge across our windscreen, smearing the way, and we slow to find a single white primrose hanging on against the rain. 37

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GETTING INTO BED WITH THE OLDIES What a bother it is to get up to pee late at night and get back into bed with Gene Pitney. And suddenly there are 3 of us scrambling on 2 pillows. With Freshman papers yet to grade and serious poems to write, I cant seem to settle my head. Still, If we stop to gaze upon a star People talk about how bad we are I suppose Gene Pitney is better than the Beach Boys, climbing in and dragging along all their sand and hormones; and without question its better than ZZ Top, who stumble over their Fender Stratocasters, awakening the dog. Our matching terrycloth bedroom slippers remain surprisingly taciturn, sleepy, I suppose, from the weight of day. This is not to say my wife hasnt had Little Eva in there, sometimes nearly til dawn, larger than her name would suggest, stirring things up with her Locomotion. She does not particularly care for Gene Pitney. Its nothing personal, she says. Still, I can only keep him quiet so long 38

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LOST AMONG THE TOOLS AND BLUNT INSTRUMENTS OF THE NATIONS KITCHEN What am I to do now without weepy Edmund Muskie? Ive lost track of how long hes been gone. In the plains of Minnesota, (and clearly among the most dead) Hubert continues to welcome the disenfranchised and all democratic members of their staffs. Had I been working at the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel using my steely-thin fillet knife, suitable for preparation of orange roughy Shitake flamb, and hearts of artichoke, I might have saved RFK and we wouldnt have the sorry idiots we have now. Order up, Cookie! Gimme a constituency with the consciousness of steamed clams. Hold the vinegar. 39

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DEPRESSED BY AN OBSCENE BOOK OF POEMS, I SEARCH FOR MEANING IN ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA What more must we know of her lavendermost tender parts, her eternal soul nude as a shrimp? She clobbers us all with the ball-peen hammer of her libido. Above, chicken hawks elevate their diction, sermonizing vicars in feathers. I try not to show my indifference, awaiting my turn in Jims hammock. 40

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LOST ON NORTH BEACH You ask for the map I have folded, circled, worried over, as an acolyte studies worn texts. With no proper bearings, we alight less than confident from the 32 Northbound bus, lusting for moonlight. We think wed like not to be lost here. The trail of something very cool and alto sax is near, but I cannot pick up the strain. We walk toward the sudden smell of peppered red sauce. The citys appetite is seldom sated. A young man hurries back to a busy alley kitchen, his apron flying from his pocket. He keeps his voice low, weary as a three-legged dog. 41

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ON THE TRAIN TO SOCIALIST REALITY Zdenk is looking jaundiced. He has been eating his clotted poems again. He eats the smaller ones like so many grapes as quickly as they drop through the slot in his 2 nd class cabin door. They come back daily, some come simultaneously. Their spiny truths stick in his throat but he ignores them. He keeps a bottle of something clement to help them go down. Zdenk observes the stronger ones as they begin to organize on the dusky floor like disciplined factory workers. There are always one or two who choose to stand apart, strive to make things clear for all. Zdenk tells his traveling companion, a pensioner from Karlovy Vary, he is grateful to the government for sending back all of his poems. Zdenk celebrates the largess of the state, adjusts his frame into the cracks of the ruptured bench that serves as his personal office. More poems arrive, but Zdenk is preoccupied writing new poems. The pensioner stirs, makes three unseemly noises which the poet silently pardons. He listens to the calls rising from the floor; Zdenks poems are demanding change. 42

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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Arthur McMaster retired from federal civil service in July, 2002, having worked for 30 years as an intelligence officer with most national agencies. He holds a B.A. in political science from Indiana University and an M.A. in international relations from the University of Maryland. He returned to graduate school, after a 30 years hiatus, to learn more about the craft of writing poetry and to earn an M.F.A. in preparation for teaching creative writing. He is the author of three stage plays, numerous travel stories, and a bit of fiction. His poetry and poetry reviews have appeared in literary magazines in the U.S. and Ireland. He also translates poetry from the Czech. 43


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004404/00001

Material Information

Title: Gathering Night Noises
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0004404:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0004404/00001

Material Information

Title: Gathering Night Noises
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0004404:00001


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GATHERING NIGHT NOISES


By

ARTHIUR W. McMASTER


















A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA


2004

































Copyright 2004

by

Arthur W. McMaster





























For Sue, with Love
















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I wish to thank the University of Florida and the Creative Writing Department for

the opportunity to study and for their financial support. I would like to specifically thank

certain faculty members, particularly Richard Brantley and Marsha Bryant, who also

served as my thesis committee members along with Sidney Wade, my inspirational thesis

director. Sidney consistently found an opening into some of my pale and partial poems

that allowed me to make them whole to "make them work." Showing, "not telling," the

lessons of compression and imagery in poetry, she is an amazing teacher. Both Richard

and Marsha, preeminent scholars, taught me a great deal about professional writing,

which will be invaluable to me in my alleged calling. I admire their vast energy and their

love of literature. I salute my colleagues: Mark "Two Page" McKain; Michael "Shake

and Bake" Loughran; and the quintessentially quirky Jon Stern, who is a true scholar as

well as a gifted poet. The friendship and support from Jolia Einstein, Julie Green,

Cortney Grubbs, and Amanda Reynolds foremost Jack the Ripper expert were

splendid. I will never forget my year-group mates. I must credit my long-time close

friend and fellow j azz and classical music lover Dr. Tom Schott, himself a fine poet, who

encouraged me to "go for it" and pursue the M.F.A. But above all, my wife Suzanne

supported me in this zany decision to leave the comforts of middle-age, and do another

tarantella with the academy. It was worth it! My love and best wishes go to our two adult

children, Scott and Kellie, now themselves back in graduate school in pursuit of their

own higher dreams and destinies.




















TABLE OF CONTENTS




ACKNOWLEDGMENT S .............. .................... iv


AB STRAC T ................ .............. vii


TRUTH ABOUT HARD LIQUOR ................. ...............1................


BLUE AND YELLOW TABLECLOTHS, WATERCOLORS, AND BRIE .....................2


THE BURNING OF BIG PINE KEY .............. ...............3.....


RANDOM REMORSE ............. ...... .__ ...............4...


ETHEREAL ............. ...... ._ ...............5...


FROM ANOTHER PROVINCE ............. ...... ...............6...


BECAUSE SHE HAD GONE THROUGH ALL THE PLUM WINE .............. ................7


NORTH CAFETERIA, 12 NOON ............. ...... ...............8...


MARKET AT MACHU PICCHU............... ...............9.


AFTER WE PUT UP THE PHEASANTS AT OREN KEENEY' S FARM...................10


ASPIRATION ............. ...... ._ ...............11....


GATHERING NIGHT NOISES ............. ...... .__ ...............12....


RESTLESS IN LIBRARY WEST ............. .....___ ...............13..


BEATITUDES ............. ...... ._ ...............14....


INTERIOR RHYMES .............. ...............15....


STARRY NIGHT .............. ...............16....


IN NABLUS .............. .....................17


CONCUSSED AS DESERTS .............. ...............18....


TW O BOATERS .............. ...............19....












WATCH ROOM, 1500 ZULU .............. ...............20....


SKIN OF THE MANGO .............. ...............21....


4: A .M .............. ...............22....


BLACK ABAY A............... ...............23.


DI S COMPO SURE ............. ...... .__ ...............24.


F AIR APRIL............. ...... .__ ...............25...


AGNO STIC S ................. ...............26.......... ....


KEEPING DARK STOCK ................. ...............27................


FILIGREE, JUNE '44............... ...............28..


MALA STRANA ............. ...............29.....


PLANS DIRECTORATE, 3:45 P.M. ............. ...............30.....


MOTHERS' DAY .............. ...............3 1....


UNPLANNED TRAVEL, 5: P.M. ............. ...............32.....


PROTEUS ............. ...... ._ ...............33....


RED MONKEY S ............. ...... ._ ...............34....


LAST SHOE S ............. ...... ._ ............... 5.....


CLEARING THE TABLES, 8:45 P.M ................. ...............36..............


CONNEMARA ................. ...............37........ ......


GETTING INTO BED WITH THE OLDIES .............. ...............38....


LOST AMONG THE TOOLS AND BLUNT INSTRUMENTS OF THE NATION' S
KITCHEN ................. ...............39.................


DEPRESSED BY AN OBSCENE BOOK OF POEMS, I SEARCH FOR MEANING
IN ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA .....__.....___ ..........__ ............4


LOST ON NORTH BEACH .............. ...............41....


ON THE TRAIN TO SOCIALIST REALITY .....__.....___ ........... ............4


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .............. ...............43....
















Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts

GATHERING NIGHT NOISES


By

Arthur W. McMaster

May 2004

Chair: Sidney Wade
Major Department: English

This thesis presents 42 original poems. Although I came to admire the discipline

required to write formal verse, and some excellent poets showed me how it is done, I

demurred of presenting any of my own. I am much more attracted to free-form poems,

vers libre, where I can deal with the subtleties of issues without concern for the vagaries

of end rhyme and meter. Upon completion of the manuscript I discovered that I had

focused on four principal areas: my family; my days with this nation's intelligence

community; my continuing fascination for the people of the Czech lands; and the endless,

pointless wars mankind seems to find so seductive. I share with William Carlos Williams,

perhaps more than any other my own poet-hero, the sentiment that it is hard to get to

news fr~om poetry, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
















TRUTH ABOUT HARD LIQUOR


A man drinks for five days,
forgets why he came to worry,
knows no matter how many shots,
high balls, shooters, and bottles he finishes,
he'll not kill them all.

He heals himself with the only spirits
he is still speaking with,
knows the musky courage of scotch,
the finality of no returns.

He orders another round, shares it
with the man he suspects he once was,
asks the barkeep for the time.
The long mirror has it all wrong.
















BLUE AND YELLOW TABLECLOTHS,
WATERCOLORS, AND BRIE

At a neighboring table
the six-year old with her parents
demurs from the strange
purple and green salad,
finds something on the sole of her shoe.
No one corrects her.

Confidently, we inquire
of the pork medallions.
Would the merlot be too dry?
You accuse me of eyeing the sweet tray.
Secretly, I will pirate
the chef s recipe for flan.

The young French hostess
in wild hair and thin black dress
talks with two bored waiters
about the straight guys
who tempt them all
in their stoic indifference.

Now the night manager
brings down the lights,
adjusts the music flutes and harps.
Conversations darken.
The Metro station shudders
some three doors down.
















THE BURNING OF BIG PINE KEY


At dawn the Sandhills come back.
Crimson-crested, the nesting pair
synchronize their movements,
think someone is watching.
Their steps are erratic.
The burned grasses make them nervous.

The male stands so still so stern.
The female combs the detritus,
pecks at something charred.

She turns over a few small bits,
brushed white by the wind,
moves to her mate's side, gauging
his vigilance. Her precise cries
supplant touch. He looks away,
listening for the coming rain.
















RANDOM REMORSE

(after Hannah Arendt)

All violence harbors n ithrin itself
an element ofarbitrariness.

Curious what pierces the shades we set for silence.

Beyond the blue-white window,
pained in steeping frost,
the hush of winter lazes on me deep
in the dream of childhood.

Querulous, determined grey squirrels
rummage for feed left
for starlings unfit
to Eind a more hospitable land.

They do not yet understand
life is serious business.

Once I shot one dead in the chest.

That house is gone now, gone with the other
benign neighbors, surrounded
by meadows even the Hield mice fled.

I cannot recover the elegance of that long ago frost,
pull back the shock of that BB. Lessons learned

are stored, we know not where,
in curious children.
















ETHEREAL


Faint in the Chesapeake,
the remote bay island lies
white as bleached paper,
untold salt in its clapboard frames.
Countless opaque sand crabs
carry on unawares.

At night, when the watermen
have gone to bed with clean hands
and burning breath,
stars nail you to the porch
if you stare
into the night too long.

















FROM ANOTHER PROVINCE


From Myanmar,
the splendid
Peregrine Tern

screams agreement
with the curious
passers-by,

a precipitous

welcome, a blue
on hard-blue
above the heart,

a stuttering,

a broken
talon, a tentative
crazy eye.

Cloudless.
















BECAUSE SHE HAD GONE THROUGH
ALL THE PLUM WINE


Hannah is making goat cheese
in her flat above the city census office.
She kneads it with Eingers trim as bullets,
keeps the windows closed
so as not to alarm the elderly warden
responsible to the state
for reporting suspicious behavior.
Still, such aromas find a way
to report on themselves.

Hannah works her knuckles
into the warm, liquid center,
driving her digits clean through
to the wax paper
at the base of the bowl,
massaging the heart
of an unknown donor. A nail
breaks and she recovers it,
puts it in a glass by the window.
















NORTH CAFETERIA, 12 NOON


Having proven worthy,
the freshly-minted junior officer class
eases like graphite into the north building.

Orientation briefings follow -
polished as Iranian agate.
Welcome to the collusion of the elect.

Their preparation is not wanting.
Earnest, fit, and fallow,
many will go to Mid-East Plans,

the best to consular positions posing
as competent visa men.
They will find their aging mentors,

grinding for purpose,
steeped in social graces,
each absolving his father.

Overhead, a Eine luminescence records
their coded badges,
passage to inner-sanctum,

twenty-some years of ennui, months of anxiety,
moments of satisfaction,
a tiff with schistosomiasis.

Prideful, they enter the North Cafeteria,
confident in pace, incurious,
in quest of falafel & cous-cous.

Overhead, the seventh-floor watchers
ruminate in their glass carapace.
Each is losing heart.
















MARKET AT MACHU PICCHU


Ignorant of altitude,
the rain is catholic and blind,
the mountain silver and nervous.

After the rain, the air is gauze.

Village boys hunker, tight as beads,
as Luis cleans rust from the canvas
that makes a hat
for a barrel of sweet potatoes.

Wheel rims and metal rings pattern
a nearby field.
Storekeepers stretch,
fully expecting a cool spell,
watching the water build on the road.
















AFTER WE PUT UP THE PHEASANTS
AT OREN KEENEY' S FARM

I come to the supper table,
bits of goldenrod on the heavy soles
of my waterproof boots,

smelling of autumn field grasses
and perhaps a nip or two
of the Southern Comfort we shared

where the fence was down and we sat
for a moment, then pushed over
to the older, denser fields.

The cabin windows steam up.
Our woolen jackets hang by the door -
pockets full of eager 20-gauge shells.

At my feet, a whispered breath demands
an affectionate ruffling.
I reach down and take one paw.

The pad, once partially torn,
has healed leaving a softer, paler welt.
His breath is warm in my palm.

He expects nothing will ever change,
unaware of the day's inconstancies,
and I smile at you for the last time.
















ASPIRATION


I had hoped the next poem I'd write
would be one I had rather wanted to write,
demanded to write, heck, two years ago
promised the wife I would write,
one that surged up the middle of the page
and swelled like Lake Superior
in late November when the wind

sneaks in from the west
and the yellow-tailed skiffs
are not supposed to be out,
almost three-quarters of a mile off shore,
but the afternoon sky was tempting
and someone was silly and didn't heed
the warnings, and almost got scuttled

for her trouble but somehow didn't,
because she had amazing things to read,
like a Joseph Brodsky poem, and therefore,
to be frank, was caj oled, beguiled
and, in the best sense of the word,
bullied a bit to preserve

her life for the generations of poets,
priests, and protesters, and dare I say it -
the inexplicable molester,
all of whom might lie (and likely do)
like minute, bio-chemically vibrant flakes
of unwatered oatmeal in her curious
and most womanly parts. So I wrote it.
















GATHERING NIGHT NOISES


I pull up in front of the house
and feel, even from this distance,
the imperfect porch rail
my granddad built,
smell the loose dirt below,
the rising yeast
in my mother's chrome kitchen.

I know how the afternoon sun
shines through the rose glass window
onto the runner on the landing,
know it will shine again exactly so
tomorrow. May I enter again?

Later, as I lie in my knotty-pine bed,
daring to watch the door knob
turn ever-so-slowly, turn
and stop again of its own free will,
I search the cotton curtains
that hold back the night noises.

When I should be asleep,
I pick at the coarse tufts
of my grandmother' s wafer-thin bedspread,
parallel rows of weedy, cotton clumps,
familiar as prayer beads on my thumb,
knowing I will never wear them down,
thinking how a boy might walk, safe
and unseen, on the ceiling later that night.
















RESTLESS INT LIBRARY WEST


I ramble
in the Smathers 6th flOOr stacks
finding volumes PS to PZ poetry
anxious to strut, aching to bitch,
needing somehow to woo.

They languish unexposed -
authors skulking in dark
and casual dust.

How they taunt each other -
Moderns rej ect the Romantics,
Victorians preen in rhetorical huff.
Metaphysicians languish for purpose,
pacing the chilly night-floor,
unable to make allies,
even among the grads.

They anticipate my curiosity,
human touch, would settle, I suspect,
for a gentle j ostling.
I lean in, listening
for the quiet, unexpected voice.
















BEATITUDES


I visit my brother in his green enclave,
hard into Upstate New York.
We give each other
small oblations clever foreign coins,
postcards
of Munster and Mull.

He has become, in his turbulent maturity,
an artist of immense imagination.
He titles his pieces,
detailed as scrimshaw, for his Celtic muses -
eclectic spirits meandering through his home.

Outside, they haunt the green irises -
contemplative monks
in a garden of preposterous weeds
and winter-resistant ferns.

It is difficult to pull away.

Down his gray gravel drive
a young buck pauses, watches,
expects us to stop and take him in.
















INTERIOR RHYMES


I wrote two randy poems last night,
while eating artichoke hearts from the fridge,
chased with a glass or two of ruby Shiraz.

The first was a tempting little sonnet
with feminine endings.
Her lines were tight and finely tapered,
her thesis was cooking are natterel.

The more aggressive was a seven-stanzaic
free verse number.
I had foolishly laid him on top of the other,
radically enjambed.

I should never have left them alone
on their own. I take the blame.

This morning: colorful bits of ink
stain my desk;
parentheses lie nearby, unused.

Alas, in my basket tout nu -
here's a healthy little Haiku.
My wife holds him up to the artificial light,
his metered breath pluperfect.
















STARRY NIGHT


In Arles
your final work
charts the eddy of manic stars.

What town could sleep
below such brilliance?

Dusk is the collusion
of sun and night. The moon
is less forthcoming.

One pale house
pouts in the background,
unhappy, an afterthought.
Perhaps it wants more color?
















IN NABLUS


the land does not accept the calm
that settles every fortnight -
a fine oily film from the sky.
Bus stations, banks, and open air markets
sweep away what shock they find.

In Nablus, graves are near the surface.
At dawn the young men's bodies
rise up charred, split and bleeding,
their hands open and empty.

Above them fragments form a pattern
we recognize from the gilt-oiled
paintings of Titian, and Botticelli.

In Nablus, they show their guiltless wounds.
"We are in heaven," the younger one says.
Colorful flags murmur anxiously.
















CONCUSSED AS DESERTS


In palest Palestine,
where the dead
are stored
for eternity
and carefully sorted by religion,

the living store up hours
of silent, angry prayer,
united only

by their hideous obj section
to one another's lives.
















TWO BOATERS


In the Pennsylvania autumn of 1914
my father's parents
turn a self-aware twenty-one.
They take their Sunday leisure
on the Susquehanna River, glad
and glinting graced
by tall oak and silver maple,
encouraging a noon-day meal
on the river' s soft pallet
of worn, warm fields.

Their slight boat is altered
fast to the slip, oars locked down
against a tide pulling them away.

Their journey from Carbondale
takes only thirty minutes.
They do not know that in thirty years
they will have a grandchild,
and then a dozen more. They cannot
foresee I will contrive their visit,
long after their passing, for my own
selfish needs. Two boaters in love,

one picnic, one beginning. A reason
to make a poem.
















WATCHROOM, 1500 ZULU


In Saratov, fine emissions shudder
into the clear. The heat favors
the security fencing
at the compound's north face.

Blithe registry clerks in London
make love to their long coffees,
as four large clocks on the watchroom floor
mark casual disagreement.

The remote, presumptive death
of a dozen scientists, industrialists,
and lab workers,
vicariously picks up the bored heart.

My colleagues ponder the destruction,
make a few calls,
consult their costly flat screens.
The older men

do not hurry their assessments,
let downlinks confirm the location.
The spoils are clear, digital readouts,
the beginning of empathy.

Up river in Votkinsk, women
carefully assemble electronic switches,
mark their tiny circuitry boards
with ambivalent runes and glyphs.
















SKIN OF THE MANGO


"It' just a good thing,"
I said,
"that our favorite fruit
is not ripe mangoes,
their light red wine
suffused with a breeze
that disturbs
the gauzy yellow curtains
and the musk
from our bodies, entangled
in this ancient, angry sun
that scalds the children
trying to survive
in this paradise,
or we might never leave here
alive."
















4: A.M.


Light pushes, now melds,
becomes the black-blue waters
of Tupper Lake.

I see our cabin,
the red canoe on squat blocks,
though the canoe is long gone.
A light bamboo pole reposes
unclaimed.

I do not awaken when I come here,
where colors are vivid but seldom true.

Here is the dock
where, to the muddy side,
I lost a wading boot. Nothing grows.
Minnows change their minds.

Here is a quiet
more like earth than water.
The night landlord
has cleared out the undergrowth,
understanding what I am not to see.

I turn and acknowledge the others
whom I do not know.
I have no questions for them.

The moon's heat warms me shamelessly;
and I kick at some thing.

Near dawn, small hands tug against the line.
















BLACK ABAYA


Near Naj af, a Muslim girl hobbles
toward us. Her shrapneled foot
oozes something less and more than blood.

The sergeant holds her for the medic,
a stern boy from Syracuse. The interpreter
supposes she is happy to see us. He cleans

the wound, salves the puncture he can see.
Diverted, the lieutenant shoots the donkey
grazing by the road. Falling behind,

we move up Thunder Road throwing dust
on the people in the ditch. Dogs,
pitched in rage, smoke, and starvation

find a leg, thin, waxy as a mannequin,
the body not adequately buried
in the slit trench the troops made.

Curious about the delay, the men behind
will notice, stop their feral vehicles,
make the necessary repairs.
















DISCOMPOSURE


No tongue believes in small,
dark, and erudite creatures
living only at night fast

in the damp, anxious bowers
of fear steady in a patient mist
and mauve silence

where scorpions
laze about like tiny lions
under cool brown stones.

They feed in wan fields
on lesser creatures.
They forage carefully.

No word conjugates the maj esty
that comes from dominion
over nameless species;

variegated and stippled things
selected without prejudice,
split, eaten, and passed by first dawn.
















FAIR APRIL


Our bed holds an easy,
charted warmth,
as if something
wants to remain behind

and you lean across me
to discern the fuzzy time.
The pale blinds pare
the onset of day.

Your petulant yawn insists
on five more minutes -
and then ten more.
Later,

as I set the breakfast table,
we ignore the nocturne
in C sharp finding
romance in a minor key,

the slow permitted measures,
the suspension of knowing,
the gentleness, soft
as a freckled breast.
















AGNOSTICS


Past the seven canonical hours
we cross the narrow bridge
that defines our 16th-century city,
heavy in a rain
persistent as Calvinists after sin.

The acid-wash treatment burns clean
some fourteen petulant saints,
slouching their way back to Bila Hora.

Neither of us knows why the Vltava
rushes so decisively to inj ect itself
into the sea. We stare now, quietly,
into the downpour, suspecting
this is where the end begins.
St. Vitus dreams of moving his church
to a drier place, maybe up river,
beyond the shards of holy accusations.





* In 1620 the Battle of Bila Hora (White Mountain) began
the Thirty Years war and ended Bohemian independence.
















KEEPING DARK STOCK


Pushing hard through their Osso Buco,
two women smile at the palaver
enlarging their own wit and humor.
The younger one surveys the room,
thinks she has never had such bread.
See how she has done her hair?
She deliberates about using
her faux cloth napkin.

Does she expect someone interesting
will speak to her? At the next table
the comely East European waitress
attempts to j oke with a pensioner,
his carafe of wine achingly dry,
which brings a certain sadness to his hands.

The regulars are cozy with the waiter.
In the backroom the laughter is playful.
The bartender checks his stock, finds
plenty of bonhomie ahead.
First-timers pause to admire the allure.
















FILIGREE, JUNE '44


Silver-framed photos
on the spinet and rosewood
end tables reflect mid-morning.

Over Germany, hurrying to justice,
my uncles flew combat missions
in shaky bombers and smoked
Lucky Strikes. Such pastimes

pretty much killed them all.
Their decent wives wore lined
hose and bright red lips, listened
to Kay Starr, purposefully hatted,

leaning into the night. Upstairs,
an armoire: pretentious ribbons,
a jet-black handled .25 automatic.
Tiny bullets elegant as pheasants.

















MALA STRANA

Some women of the city,
ravens for love,
dye their lustrous hair black,
do up their lashes and fine white breasts
to attract distracted males.
The youngest of them
smoke ravenously, joke
about their darker curiosities,
shimmer to each other
on Wenceslas Square
like hummingbirds in Winter.

They want to make love
to the brothers of martyrs,
innocence aching in them
like broken teeth.
The older ones wear opulent pearls,
bolder smiles,
learn to annul
the prayers of their mothers.





* The Mala Strana, or Lesser Quarter,
is one of the oldest parts of Prague.
















PLANS DIRECTORATE, 3:45 P.M.


The acting deputy calls me
to ask what gender
are the days of the week in Czech.
I say,
"They don't have genders."
I suspect he does not believe me.

We are bringing out Patek on Friday.
"Patek" means Friday: there is no gender,
nor any family. I do not know the man,
an improvident chemist from Kladno,
big in solid rocket-motor physics.
We will make him a hero
and a handsome offer.
His real name is in the file.
Or else, perhaps,
somehow now it isn't. The electric hum
of a vacuum cleaner cancels
the other noises in the hall.
In his office, I smell the deputy's
shoe polish. Neither of us speaks
for a moment. No one knows
how long we'll cool him,
then put him back, turn him around.

I look at the clock on his desk,
a dull platinum inscribed in Cyrillic,
which surprises me.
Beside it, a washed oak frame
embraces his eager daughter,
her dark violin.
















MOTHERS' DAY


The child they often talked of having
sent no card again this year.
They cover his absence
with the perfect pitch of stillness.

Fancy wraps and calico dresses
hang theatrically in the spare room.
The couple Eind time to volunteer.
There is no mess to pick up.

The child with his father's Eingers,
deft as partial truth,
does not learn his Liszt,
takes no Birst communion.

The careful inventions
the couple make
are stored in boxes of second guesses,
absorbing the weight of undeveloped film.
















UNPLANNED TRAVEL, 5: P.M.


The call comes in on the grey phone,
which rings softly in his office.
The acting deputy jokes about one time,
not saying when,
he'd laid over in Salonika

(the Cypriot mission, I suppose)
and got boosted
by the local goons. His thin hair
and fine Yale tailoring
belie the rough stuff implied,
the panicked cursing.
Grinning, leaning on the water cooler;
he is an aging truant taking the call.

I hear about it all the way to Dulles,
as he fumes in his patrician fashion
over the local security.
The toes of his maroon
British Army shoes twitch slightly.
The car finds traction, pulls us
smartly past the perimeter guards.

Green passports, he says, green -
like any other Joe.
We keep the bags, quiet under our feet,
through the 6Y/2 hour flight.
No date for the funeral.
















PRO TEUS


The matte-black ocean
seems quiet
with the fog's
ambivalent return -
a kind of shopkeeper,
a blind barterer,
dealing in fragments
of doubt.
















RED MONKEYS


(after V.S Naipaul)
The steamer
eases through blistered water
from Kisangani to Kinshasa,
pausing long enough
to take on strong beer,
which the men require to act civilly.

The intrusion disturbs the monkeys
to the leeward side. They appear
briefly above the scraped banks,
curious about two jaundiced barges
no longer up to carrying damp tea,
black powder, veined silver.

The monkeys dream of sharp green
pineapples in the necessary heat
of noon while soldier ants
pray over moths
left like lilies
on the residue of thin commerce.
















LAST SHOES


These are the last shoes I will ever own.
They are grainy and light,
supple as Billie Holiday's voice,
and tan, but not in a skin tone way.

More like the color you think of
when someone says Tunisia,
and you recall the aroma
of Mediterranean sea air,
white orange blossoms, and Roman ruins.

These are the last shoes I will ever wear.
They fit me too well to be replaced by
something more provocative.

More like the comfortable way
your wife kisses, or a song fits the bluej ay,
who sings to herself, sometimes moody,
and never for show.

These are the last shoes I'll ever care for,
a gift from my father when they grew
too narrow for him in the arch,
his hands, dry and hard as clam shells,
unable to pry the reluctant openings
enough to let him in,
unable to walk to the park
to worry the jays, or to come downstairs
and listen to Billie Holiday.
















CLEARINTG THE TABLES, 8:45 P.M.


This is where old spies come on weekends to dine.
They recognize each other by tone of voice
and a confidence learned from petty political crime.

The China-watchers preen at their long tables,
their game still intact.
The senior man watches us carefully,
more suspicious than a Pekinese.

Everyone knows which truths to avoid.
Everyone has shopped in Berlin,
been drunk in Brussels,
ignored the poverty of Bogota.

The older men's wives dream of pensions
and blue pearls.

"Tonight we are out of Prime Rib," says Thomas,
disappointing the acting deputy.

A few of the younger men turn voluble
after the Madeira.
The bus boys begin to stare at the floor.
My wife says we are making them nervous.
















CONNEMARA


We drive the broken mountain pass,
leaving lakes of shimmering nickel;
we inch past random sheep, torn lorries
coming at us fast.

Suddenly we are upon the old stone
of Kylemore, dozing at the water' s edge.
The hopeful town of Letterfrack
guards the castle to the West.

The inconstantly colored Twelve Bens
soar above, while their fishingmen
help us find our way again
after we are turned around good.

Winds forge across our windscreen,
smearing the way, and we slow to find
a single white primrose hanging on
against the rain.
















GETTING INTTO BED WITH THE OLDIES


What a bother it is to get up to pee late at night
and get back into bed with Gene Pitney.
And suddenly
there are 3 of us scrambling on 2 pillows.

With Freshman papers yet to grade
and serious poems to write,
I can't seem to settle my head. Still,
"Ifwe stop to gaze upon a star... "
"People talk about how bad we are ... "

I suppose Gene Pitney is better
than the Beach Boys, climbing in
and dragging along all their sand and hormones;
and without question it's better than ZZ Top,
who stumble over their Fender Stratocasters,
awakening the dog.
Our matching terrycloth bedroom slippers
remain surprisingly taciturn,
sleepy, I suppose, from the weight of day.

This is not to say
my wife hasn't had Little Eva in there,
sometimes nearly 'til dawn,
larger than her name would suggest,
stirring things up with her "Locomotion. "

She does not particularly care for Gene Pitney.
It's nothing personal, she says.
Still, I can only keep him quiet so long...
















LOST AMONG THE TOOLS AND BLUNT INSTRUMENTS
OF THE NATION' S KITCHEN

What am I to do now
without weepy Edmund Muskie?
I've lost track of how long he' s been gone.

In the plains of Minnesota,
(and clearly among the most dead)
Hubert continues to welcome
the disenfranchised
and all democratic members of their staffs.

Had I been working at the kitchen
of the Ambassador Hotel
using my steely-thin fillet knife,
suitable for preparation of orange roughy
Shitake flambe, and hearts of artichoke,

I might have saved RFK and we wouldn't have
the sorry idiots we have now.

Order up, Cookie!
Gimme a constituency with the consciousness
of steamed clams. Hold the vinegar.
















DEPRESSED BY AN OBSCENE BOOK OF POEMS,
I SEARCH FOR MEANING IN ROCHESTER, MINNESOTA

What more must we know
of her lavender-
most tender parts,

her eternal soul
nude as a shrimp?

She clobbers us all
with the ball-peen hammer
of her libido.

Above,
chicken hawks

elevate their diction,
sermomizmg -
vicars in feathers.

I try not to show
my indifference,

awaiting my turn
in Jim's hammock.
















LOST ON NORTH BEACH


You ask for the map I have folded,
circled, worried over,
as an acolyte studies worn texts.

With no proper bearings,
we alight less than confident
from the 32 Northbound bus,
lusting for moonlight. We think
we'd like not to be lost here.

The trail of something very cool
and alto sax is near,
but I cannot pick up the strain.
We walk toward the sudden smell
of peppered red sauce.
The city's appetite
is seldom sated.

A young man hurries back
to a busy alley kitchen,
his apron flying from his pocket.
He keeps his voice low,
weary as a three-legged dog.
















ON THE TRAINT TO SOCIALIST REALITY


ZdenE~k is looking jaundiced.
He has been eating
his clotted poems again. He eats
the smaller ones like so many grapes
as quickly as the7 drop through
the slot in his 2n class cabin door.
They come back daily, some
come simultaneously.
Their spiny truths stick in his throat
but he ignores them.
He keeps a bottle of something
clement to help them go down.

ZdenE~k observes the stronger ones
as they begin to organize
on the dusky floor
like disciplined factory workers.
There are always one or two
who choose to stand apart, strive
to make things clear for all.
ZdenE~k tells his traveling companion,
a pensioner from Karlovy Vary,
he is grateful to the government
for sending back all of his poems.

ZdenE~k celebrates the largess of the state,
adjusts his frame into the cracks
of the ruptured bench that serves
as his personal office. More poems arrive,
but ZdenE~k is preoccupied
writing new poems. The pensioner stirs,
makes three unseemly noises
which the poet silently pardons.
He listens to the calls rising from the floor;
ZdenE~k' s poems are demanding change.
















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

Arthur McMaster retired from federal civil service in July, 2002, having worked for

30 years as an intelligence officer with most national agencies. He holds a B.A. in

political science from Indiana University and an M.A. in international relations from the

University of Maryland. He returned to graduate school, after a 30 years hiatus, to learn

more about the craft of writing poetry and to earn an M.F.A. in preparation for teaching

creative writing. He is the author of three stage plays, numerous travel stories, and a bit

of fiction. His poetry and poetry reviews have appeared in literary magazines in the U.S.

and Ireland. He also translates poetry from the Czech.