9-3 poem

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A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis

9.3 (Summer 2009)




courtesy of artrenewal.org


Michael H. Lythgoe: Four Poems

Lt. Col. Lythgoe (USAF, Rtd.) has contributed steadily to this journal for years.  Writes the poet of the present selections, “I am often inspired to compose a poem after seeing a piece of visual art, paintings or sculpture.  The poem on Bauman’s Southwest wood cuts comes from that ‘art responding to art’ experience.  It is not a new poem but something I keep going back to, trying to ‘fix,’ inspired by Bauman’s art cards and a calendar of his wood-cut prints some years back.”

Col. Lythgoe continues of his first five years residing in South Carolina, “I am gradually getting more used to my ‘place’ in this landscape, after so many years in Virginia (where ‘Summer Ends’ was written with van Gogh reference) and [seeing often] a local landscape near the Manassas National Battlefield Park.  ‘Saving Daylight’ came from the South Carolina landscape here in Aiken informed by spring, and the Lenten season.  The poem lets in imagery from Brookgreen Gardens—a place full of wonderful pieces of sculpture, some large, some small.  It is over near the coast, near Myrtle Beach. I have Don Quixote there from a sculpture, and Saint Francis—a smaller piece showing Francis squatting on his haunches, as if meditating (photo).  I have been drawn to St. Francis before, but this portrayal of him seemed different, interesting in a real, contemplative way, not just a priestly figure with birds flying to his hand.

“‘Mole’ is part of a new series I am composing on WALLS—variations on a theme of ‘walls’ as separation, linkages, protection, fortifications.  Historical, street art, even Gilgamesh imagery… it is also an example of how history informs my work, and current events.  The aging intelligence officer as scribbler.”

A Small, Untroubled World  


Gustav Bauman cut the Southwest

Into wooden block prints: Bright Angel Trail,

Plum-washed, greens, orange.

He settled in New Mexico,

Painted adobes in Sante Fe, saved Taos

In mustard vistas, blended Big Bend in blues,

Shadows, gray-greens: Rain in the Mountains.

In earth tones, Talpa Chapel rose, a doorway,

An adobe wall, a khaki bell tower under a cross—

The hand-forged bell, campesino-rung,

Called A Small Untroubled World to prayers

In mud, mixed with straw, as in a stable.

Shaded Indian women at sun-baked chapel

Comforting their blanketed young.

He learned print-making in Munich,

Lit-up bold landscapes, drew hard, flat

Mesas, protected Puebloan culture in paints

& water colors—as subtle light changed.

Patience cuts with sharp tools.

Wandering the Grand Canyon, West

Texas, saving a piñon forest,

A Cottonwood in Tassels, deserts,

Marigolds in the Depression.


He worked sand pigments, rock

& wind, scratched rain sheets

Down Guadeloupe Peak;

Rugged canyons, lilac landscapes.


A Mole


Fools the fence,

Sees in the dark,

Burrows the underground,

Undermines Palestine—

A holy land too promised,

Hedged in as are

Hebrews nodding prayers

At the Wailing Wall.

No matter how high

Tribal elders climb—

Even to the Golan Heights—

Eden is a garden too far.

A soldier’s footfall discloses

Secrets, an open wound,

A fault line, a border’s breach—

Koranic verses tunneling

From Egypt

Toward Jewish settlements.

The Gaza Strip is a hole

Where blind excavations go

To smuggle smokes & explosives

To Hamas.

Archaeologists in Palestine

Trace Roman drains, find,

Follow, & dig under Jerusalem’s

Holy mosque & Temple Mount.

Muslim boys in Madrassa rock

In Arabic trance as settlers dig

To connect elusive deep routes

To a Dead Sea, blind as moles

Burrowing beneath separation

Barriers, barbed-razor-wire &

Scraped clean strip to trap

Penetrators’ footprints slipping

Between tall metal walls.



 Saving Daylight


The clocks skipped 2 a.m. in the dark.

Time springs—forward, to hasten a season.

A front hi-balled in from the Gulf to Charlotte—

On up the coast bringing cold.  Satellite photos

Show a nation’s mid-section white with snow;

Skiers in Colorado scar slopes with furrows.

The tropical glacier shrinks on Mt. Kilamanjaro.

Not global warming; it’s more about less snow.

Turning a bend in Lake Burden Road I face

A blizzard of snowflakes, a copse of pear trees

In Easter linen, bride-white, in mid-March.

East, on the coast near Myrtle Beach,

In Brookgreen Gardens, sculptures reign.

Don Quixote plods on his skinny nag.

Pines shed choking gold-dust-pollen.

The Knight Errant is not yet ready to run

His race on Rocinante at Aiken Trials,

Or dual any more windmills

With his earthy squire, Sancho.

Nor am I.  A squirrel appears, albino,

On campus wearing polar bear fur.

Redbuds secretly blossomed, fewer

Than up the Appalachian Trail in Virginia:

Judas trees go purple before Palm Sunday.

Bronze St. Francis—on his haunches—meditates.

Wisteria drip lavender on Whiskey Road.

Reconnaissance bees will soon be dancing

To the distance & heading of the nearest nectar.


Summer Ends With Two Lovers


                                   Returning to wade

The blue-green evening shallows shrinking

In September’s sun: a pair of great blues.

So this is the way the summer ends,

Not with a howling scandal

On Capitol Hill, but with waterfowl.

Grilling steaks with wife and son, a St. Louis

Slugger’s home run, a Cub’s grand slam,

An egret among ducklings, sandpipers

Scurrying on the rim of a pond shrinking

Like the economy.  A bass trombone slides

In the last live concert.

Jazz by the displaced from New Orleans.

Mancini’s Mr. Lucky Goes Latin—Miami

Rhythms mambo into van Gogh’s skies.

Sadness, as after making love.  A neighbor dies

Washing his dog, fatally attacked—by his heart.

Terrible lightning strikes Charlottesville.

Gone the sun from a heaven blue-gray

As Maryland’s tobacco barns; a little rain,

Artillery thunders, a poet’s home in flames.

The solitary egret stays.  One heron preys.

Her mate, on stilts, poses in turquoise.

September moon rises egret-white, floats

In black-coffee—a pond—a sail of light.

The moon is a little glorious, cupped

In our hands, steaming in a brimming

Darkness.  We thirst for what is cooling,

Evaporating, knowing something

Is missing before it weighs anchor.

How long will the mowed hay remember

The moon, a skinny-dipping midnight O?

Even great blues, seldom seen together,

And the egret-white clouds get lost,

Troubled in van Gogh’s skies—


By crows darkening the Capitol.

Seasonal plight:

Hurricane eyes the keys;

Summer’s last rites.



Sculpture of Saint Francis at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina

(photo by Michael Lythgoe)