ISSUE  1   2   3   4   SUBMIT

Three Poems

Tony Towle


            for John Ashbery

Unifying our inconceivable wonders ¾ the Bridge

of Superfluous Destiny, the Gardens of Resonant Dust

and the gilding that continuously drips

from the prodigious Steeples of Historic Lunacy

that even now with a sudden downdraft

can impale a wafting dynastic feud ¾

is the Yoke of Beauty

with which the ancient despots

adamantly encumbered the shoulders of the citizenry.

“The brochure was getting out of hand and fluttered

by degrees away until my textual orders calmed

themselves, since no one could follow them anyway

except to their respective diminutions and deaths,

the indistinct potential that managed always

to be dropped from the day’s itinerary.” Look,

I wasn’t even supposed to be here this morning,

but perspective must begin somewhere, even

if yet another fade-in on a foreshortened North Atlantic,

the vibrant aviatrix herself a function

only of the conversational ephemera

that turns out to be the ultimate destination:

But when she said her husband was on a board

and pushed buttons, I fled

through the traditional baroque aerial mélange

to avoid hitting bottom too soon,

to thus become recognizable in details

that would have provided no foothold at all, really,

other than what is on the paper over there,

a furtive monument to travel in the form of memoranda.

“But in fact the luncheon was proceeding as if nothing

more were happening, a panoply of colorful fluids

mercifully punctuating the monochromatic fare, until

our calcified plates were at last taken away and one

crossed the provisional bridge

to roam beneath a deceptive roofliness of sky,”

And it is true that your vision will be hampered

by the limitations of the same colors your ancestors saw,

and there will be no new ones in your lifetime . . . .

except that one over there, I added, from the precipice,

hoping a word or two would extend the thread,

but there were now so many interlocutors inhabiting

the erratic daylight whir that it was no longer funny,

and included many who should be simply shot

and fall cinematically into the sea;

however no one will emerge clearly in the photographs,

just as no one could ever read the brochure carefully enough

to remain unretouched in the memory.

Nevertheless, as if by autocratic decree

you will devour every vista in sight,

and even cultivate a taste for Anonymous Death,

the architectural confection

that mingles picturesque shards of skyline

with pastel aroma and chipped illusion,

pointless cavalcades and unrewarded beggars . . .

Traditionally, so the preface determined, if the arbalest misfires

you will be allowed to leave peacefully. So we would probably

suspend the action, a great loss for the relevant conflicts

that are pedestrian enough to justify the cobblestones

if not the stroll itself. Interestingly, I had gone there

to escape all that, encrypted, as it were, in gratuitous anticipation,

but now I felt nominated as a poet of the cliffs

and thus would never look down, but shoulder

the vista the way the ancient despots, et cetera.”


Clouds have again
seized control of the weekend
and Teshub, storm god of the Hittites
(Toshiba, according to the SpellCheck)
casually mentions, in a moistened Aramaic
(which is odd, because it is not
his first language, nor
as you might suppose, is it mine)
that we’re really in for it this time,
that liquidity will be a daily
fact of life for the rest of the year
which means, he explains, that in addition
to the endless rain, cosmic investors
can turn in our world for profit
at the planetary exchange
or more likely cut a loss.
Since I have already removed the helmet of judgment
I could check on the proceedings in Orange County
where “Tony Towle” is suing David M. Reyneaud
et al. for automotive negligence. Apparently
Dave and those other bastards
tried to run down the last persona
I can afford to maintain in Southern California,
my liquidity being what it is,
not that he ever provides any usable images —
just sits on the beach all day and stares at the ocean
in a vast impression of liquidity,
a Mr. Hulot’s Holiday without the verbosity,
which is exactly the kind of reference
that sails over his head and plunks into the Pacific
and that he thinks must have been a fish.
By now, I’m on a trip, if not exactly a vacation
though I expect brambles, mosquitoes,
poisonous berries and lunatics with shotguns
as I usually found on vacation,
except when I would sit on the beach
and consider the Great North Atlantic,
investing the feeling
that a vacation would last longer
than I knew it was going to. But it seems Teshub,
as is the way with storm gods, was hyperbolizing
for the rain has finally stopped:
Apollo has opened another referential window
and is beginning to apply sunlight to the moisture.
“Have a swell apotheosis,” Teshub tells me
and, startled, before I can manage a “Thanks, you too”
we are parted by the clearing air.


It started with serial word play. Hebe, a comely body
revolving around the barroom like an asteroid,
makes a momentary stop at the table,
oxymoronically reviving “hebetated” senses
with further libations. The more intellectually curious
of the sodden hebdomad
discussed what day of the week it might possibly be,
until a hebetudinous passerby actually tells them,
and then, taking their bewilderment as an invitation,
sits down with his beverage of choice to digress:

A bee has five eyes: one large compound orb
on each side of the head, and three primitive eyes on top
to detect overhead luminosity. Somehow
a beam of light shines from above into the hive
but I cannot detect it. Who am I?

First drinker: The blood of a honeybee is never sweet,
if that answers your question.

Second drinker: The Romans used to feed this sweet
raisin wine, called something or other, to sick bees
so they’d get well, but you’ve just got to wonder
if after a while the bees weren’t malingering.

Third drinker: We never drank with our bees
but it reminds me of when me and the missus,
we’d have Raspberry Jell-O every night for dessert,
except on Saturday, when we’d have Orange —
somehow we liked that one better —
but those euphoric gelatinous days are gone now.

Fourth drinker: Speaking of women, I always remember the one
who should have felt more sorry for my long voyage and
ensuing tribulations, so I would keep mentioning things,
setting up a kind of nest at the base of the relationship,
because I’m sure she was a goddess, the elusive minx,
you should have seen the way she undulated
gleaming and distant
in a nightgown of divinity
against a transparent disk of alabaster clouds.

Fifth drinker: The bite of a distant woman
my grandfather used to say, can be fatal.

Fourth drinker: It was like being enclosed
between transcendent commas
and hearing incomprehensible whispers
until I finally nudged the punctuation
but by the time I got to the end of the sentence, she was gone.

Sixth drinker: It doesn’t sound as if you were in her breeding group.

Seventh drinker: Speaking of futility, the biggest
butterflies in the world are in “Queen Alexandra's Closet”
and the door to it is in New Guinea
and I went all the way down there
but couldn’t get it open. And when I came back
I found that their distant relatives had eaten holes
in the clothes hanging in my own closet,
so I think I learned a good lesson there.

The colloquy was getting too bizarre, even for me
and seeing there would be no answer to the riddle
I left these dubious entities
and their unpersuasive characterization
and took my beverage of choice to a nearby table
where I sat down and composed a sonnet:


Early in the morning, raindrops on the aluminum dream
and then a replica of the lantern that had guided me
across the platinum night, which showed the cypress grove
that had been my gift, and I wanted it back —
but I have to go away now, for tigers and elephants need my help
and after they are helped I will create a waterfall
and rest beside it, and draw up a contract with the adjoining space,
the silver drops of spray blurring its terms and conditions.

But to work out an agreement with these successive vistas
we will need help from a circumference of clarity
and a marvelous pencil to record what is happening. The lake
still needs help; it is far from the actual water. And this is characteristic
of the sort of designer who disappears among the cypress,
asking the very mildness of the atmosphere for help.