Geoffrey Nutter

The Constant Critic

 

 

I saw an idea coming

from a long way off

ambling along the boulevard

and the glittering canal

not borne by elegant

postillions with smart

equipage but a limping

thing, stumbling, barely

alive. It is nautical

twilight, and the sun

is just below the true

horizon, and on the Bay

of Q where sail the lacquered

boats with pepper-colored

sails the light is flickering.

But no. The mind is the

flickering thing. I can tell

you that you are blossoming

into something beautiful.

Once they see your acts

will live on in memory

they will destroy you

even if you live beneath

a bridge–they will find

the bridge and burn it

with you there. They will be

revered then, like creatures

with garlanded antlers

in some ideal afterworld.

Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot

you were here beside me,

a constant critic, and you

are holding your own

as civilization crumbles

around you, glowing

in the flame of absolute

mastery. The beetle

tanagers are ultimately

flightless and profoundly

mercenary, girls. And you

can flow into the gel

of their prevailing,

but only round-aboutly,

girls. Here is a lone eye

in the cubit stone

for venerating Makepeace

Thackeray, and garlands

of white violets. What

do they mean when they say

that they were carried

through centuries of meditation

as through the frozen, months-old

snow, as if through and against

an exile? In summer it was

green pillars of fresh grass

between the silos, the sky’s

tropes concerning multiplicity,

the hills adorned with gentians

of finality. And as alabaster

silences that look fragile

deafen gradually, there was

the sheer, rock-breaking force

of your refusal. There was

the sheer, rock-breaking force

of the waterfall, glittering

with justice through the spray.

When we moved from the wilderness

of our feelings, past the granite

quarries of our feelings, to the far

rotting bridges of our feelings,

and thence to the suburbs

of our feelings, there too

the dark sycamores on avenues

(and of course the lights between them)

shined quizzically where they

had been committed to memory.

Now the memory is in

its clerical guise, and where

the skeletal houses shine

inside it, the snow is lackluster

and though cold, leaves much

to be desired, much like desire

itself. The river doves

are flying from the river

which is coming through

the town. The river is frozen

under the bridges. The houses

stand along the town. In the

town and along its borders,

the wind is blowing, and

blowing against the rockface

of the quarries.

The Phoenix

 

 

Have you read the poem

about the phoenix?

It’s in the Exeter Book

beside the panther and the whale.

It’s a bird with metallic thread

and seed pearls interwoven

through its plumage.

So what about it?  What about

how it builds a fire

from spice branches

and periodically destroys

itself? What do you know

about it?

 

But there was another book

that we were reading

in the tenement

in the tenebrous shadows

of the stairways. Was it the one

where they beat the sonneteers

with branches wrapped in bright

blue foil until they screamed

for mercy in pentameter?

This was called The Life

of the Mind, and in its Sea of Clouds,

its Sea of Cold, its Sea

of Rains, its Bay of Dew,

its Lake of Dreams, its Ocean

of Storms, we lived

a parallel life where the rain

fell green and glowing

and straight and true.

The lion there is striped

with rain, awash with light

in the peculiar rushes.

The violet glass swans

float nearer.

And the mythical panther,

rainbow-lustrous, sleeps

beside the waterfall.

Tea Rooms

 

 

Greenish-brown grass

sopping wet with bridge water

and tame canals flowing into the sky

red in the dawn of Avalon kingdom.

The houses like antique locomotives

stand along the golden tracks serenely.

You, stranger, coming out of one of them,

in your Edwardian topcoat and hat,

you, macronaut and listener

to the centennial music

of crowded midnight tea rooms

upstairs above the common Chinese restaurants

where lobsters crawl off our plates

and disappear into the ficus

growing green and pointed by the water.

Let’s drive out to the star-lit slopes

and drive-in theaters that border the suburbs

and along the miles of ribbon road

laid down across the rolling hills

with their steeples and their haystacks,

their nomadic sleepers and their war children

waiting patiently abed in weed-strewn hospitals

for the whistle of the passing freight train

until the dark woods of childhood

rise into view with the tanager

and the cedar waxwing, the bottle-nosed

dolphins of the sky–

there is a time for play, and a time

for work, for grass labyrinths and shoe horns,

breakfast, rain. The blue-gray clouds

and purple clouds are passing overhead;

you have been smoking in bed again,

and thinking about the Lake District,

the windmills covering the hills,

peaked houses with open porches,

brick fronts glowing in the sunlight,

the monochromatic idea

of happiness, so easily shifting

like the mechanism in a timepiece.

It’s five-nineteen according to the timepiece

and the sun is setting, yes,

setting already, for it is, after all, October.

And look: along the bottom of the hillsides

the geodesic domes are all in shadow.

But pulling aside the berry vines

you can see the house that we grew up in,

overgrown, an old white coffee pot

bulging in the midst of wild hedges.

Men With Mustaches

 

 

Men with mustaches are running toward

the tower, old-fashioned men in fire-proof

coats, with grappling hooks and axes,

masked and hooded, their heads

like nightingales in metal helmets.

Aren’t they like fathers

of a certain generation, stoic

and unspeaking in the thunder and rain,

resigned to be wet and uninterpreted,

wandering through gold-colored

smoke into the night?

These are such that daughters never told

their secrets to. They are not the clever

men who will live, bolts of brightly-colored

cloth unspooling. They are post-deluvian

giants, they are animists, they spark life

there on the ramparts of the city dark

and tenebrous, their dark or blonde or bronze

mustaches combed out into flaming points.

 

We were reading the decorative tiles

on our visit to the House of Life,

its seemingly sequential rooms, stairways

leading past an alabaster curio,

toward the upper stories where the mothers

who outlive their children were residing.

And the faces of the children

are those of grown men on the cameos

on the rocks around the water-features

in the garden far below, rainbow-tinged,

inlaid in the stone with mother-of-pearl.

These women have no need to tell their stories:

they know that someday you will know them too.

biography

Geoffrey Nutter

GEOFFREY NUTTER is originally from California. He has lived in New York City for many years. His books of poems include A Summer Evening, Water’s Leaves & Other Poems, Christopher Sunset and most recently The Rose of January, published by Wave Books in June 2013. He has taught at The New School, The University of Iowa, New York University, and Columbia.