The Center for Literate Values ~ Defending the Western tradition of responsible individualism, disciplined freedom, tasteful creativity, common sense, and faith in a supreme moral being.
P R A E S I D I U M
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.
Fools the fence,
Sees in the dark,
Burrows the underground,
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
Toward Jewish settlements.
The Gaza Strip is a hole
Where blind excavations go
To smuggle smokes & explosives
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.
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.
Hurricane eyes the keys;
Summer’s last rites.
Sculpture of Saint Francis at Brookgreen Gardens, South Carolina
(photo by Michael Lythgoe)