Two Poems
by Clayton Eshleman


               Odysseus’ ofrenda
was a ewe-blood-filled trench.
He went down to the realm of souls—
we today anticipate their visit here.
They inhale the food we set out for them
then depart, without conversation.
At 600 BCB, the distance between
the living and the dead was shorter.
Odysseus spoke with Tiresias,
received prophecy, mind penetrated mind.
The tree growing out La Mano Magica’s patio wall
bears cactus pads to Oaxaca’s October 30 sky,
but our dead are inaudible,
invisible,  —is it because we expect them to come to
us? And when they do, are they so weary
no sacrifice can enable them to speak?

                 In The Wasteland
Eliot set out food in tins, Tiresias,
the double-sexed one, was the middle wall
through which events transpired.
If I ask who are my dead                                     [October 31]
Christobal Colón appears, a gross scorpion
whose back is littered with 70 million corpses,
he is punching the smallpox cash register, arms pop up, legs,
a Spaniard sharpens his sword on the eyeball of a continent.
On each side of the cleave,
unknown species grow like hair.

                Amamatando                                      [Museo Tamayo,
        whose mouth                                             November 1]                                                               
is not puckered to forever-receding breasts?
The Olmecs knew the wisest man
is the largest infant, that inscape
is no escape, is natal, is a rain-forest of virus and need,
bald, I am howling for milk,
asleep, sitting up drunk in
this frightening coffin with tits,
and very happy to be stretched here.
                                Chambi saw                        [Martín Chambi, Museo
the rictus and the reception, warm                     de Arte Contemporane  
human welcome of a man on                             de Oaxaca, Inauguración
his own picked potato pile                                 30 de octubre de 1992]           
while his other flashes daft at the peak of the heap,
one-sandaled man, aggressive with fiddle,
who isn’t ready to play?
who isn’t waiting for chichi?
Under a dusty hatband in the 100º shade, on dirt,
a crosslegged infant adult, holding out my cup.
Who doesn’t shake his rattle before any passerby?
Who isn’t waiting for Columbus as the scarlet standards of Santo Domingo
waggle by,     sails without ships,
the Pinta before every cathedral door?

I am Nayarit, blind, with fingers at the end of my flippers,
shoulders poxed, with only a stiff napkin across my knees,
my breasts tattooed targets,
my toes protruding from my knees,
I know that in holy imagination all is in recombination,
I know that I am pregnant,
my navel a hub, in diaper-bib,
elephant-eared, giggling milk spurts.
I am so wise mush is leaking from my mouth.
Come into my stomach hole,
imagine the contents of this architectural dark.
Here the brothel has dried,
the lunch stand, here a quail in galoshes
is kicking the bundle of bones
Quatzalcoatl dropped on his journey out of Mictlan,
hollow lower body, source
and synthesis of Hell, icebox of embers, where an elderly wasp,
freckled, with doodads clustering her ovipositor,
fiddles away to her mummified king.
Aged warrior awaiting rebirth, until drivel turns back,
miracuilous curare, the blood that fears blood.

                    I crouch in Jaliscan time,
so grotesque as to be totally recognizable,
my begging bowl stacked with Coca Cola bottles,
a lewd photo of JC Oates in my watch pocket,
my snot freezes before my nose into a snout protector,
now that my head is on inside out
I face the past, the future behind,
me, I skull the past, I wear the lintel of the future behind,
solemn, I am still too solemn,
what new green head is waiting to break through my nil?


                            In Atzompa cemetery
                I felt a ringing in my hands
as if they had been asleep, and circulation like racing sand.
Scattered cempasúchil, drapes and rosaries of shredded
Day of the Dead flowers, “African Marigold”
accompanied by purple cockscomb, cresta de gallo, or pata de león,
dirt mounds, only a few with tombstones,
palm stalks stuck in mounds overarched by a 10-trunked fig tree
plain redug graveyard enlightened by petals
the color of healthy chicken skin.


Here Arnulfo Mendoza has tied 2                         [Mary Jane & Arnulfo’s
packs of Fiesta cigarettes to                                  living room above  
a full mescal bottle, one burning                           La Mano Magica]
candle, cempasúchil sprays,
Day of the Dead  bread. It’s raining,
the altar in the corner grows darker as I sit down.
Is his dad here now? He has a photo                      [in which he is carrying
to guide him and their adopted baby son                a bottle of mezcal                            
whining in the bedroom. Outside,                          to which have been tied
the old wood door, stained gray walls,                  2 packs of Fiestas]
a spill of magenta bougainvillaea.
A ceramic angel bears a basket between her wings
or is it a candlestick?
                                     I’d like to identify
this darkened room rain atmosphere,
it’s shaped like Sunday in the American Midwest—
as the raindrops crack, the marigold odor wafts
a small white African-face mask, small shoulder bags,
a steer-horned devil mask, rugs to cushion
whoever’s back presses against the long living room bench.
A mermaid with raspberry nipples and arabesque
“designer” tights over part of her fish portion leaps,
drawing a toothy fish toward her breasts—
will she nurse it? In Mexican male mind
women nurse non-human creatures,
a little pig, or puppy—Arnulfo’s mermaid has wings,
long ropy brown hair. Her sky resounds azure,
scarlet, her tail is earthy gleaming ivory,
she bursts her sea egg. She also wears
a jeweled sombrero, or so I observe, in respect for
the otherness embreasted in this room—

                     Tomorrow it is Clinton vs. Bush
2000 miles away. The dead now visiting
will return to Mictlantecuhtli whle American voters argue
a man who might be honest vs. a man
whose entire being exhales lies. O dead,
are you aware of our doings here?
Must we invent new sacrifices to sense the capstone of the soul?
But aren’t we always in sacrifice
as the planet shifts its pox: Iraq yesterday, Somalia today,
Bolivian mothers 10 deep in kids, dad face down smashed in road mud.
Coarse synthesis forever at work,
sacrifice and massacre to make us feel?
As if art eats this slaughter pomp to transform a bit of the cruelty
man and nature (two jaws) provide, mouth eating its own teeth,
feebly renewing life, all things feel of skull if you touch them with respect,
and the one you love, not once does she deflect you from your task.
If she seems to divide you, Rilke, from your work,
it only means she mirrors your mortality so keenly
you innerly divide and project conflict as love vs. vision.
The musicians start up. Their voiceless daughters pull for water.


          In and out, the miraculous
   slosh, the running in of surf, corpse
afloat, inlet. Caramel shadow,
shadow of Freud, of Lucifer,
tombstone-shaped man, man of phallic shoulders,
woman with vulval head. All parts may be exchanged,
the beauty, the horror of it! Idi Amin doll,
blond vodun Christ, football crucifix,
the stadium a caldron with Lady Macbeth cheerleaders.
James Wright gallops past.
In and out, slimy dick, slimy cunt.
The strata of sex and language. All can be used. All
unlike a detergent, spins, washing the mind,
foul, fodder, the parental force in gnats,
the latticework of the living and the dead,
Skeezix among the morning-glories:
lift the cartoon from the dead woman’s face,
in decomposition she is beginning to stir.
Ocelot-spangled morning. I am free,
free and embedded, multiform, unformed,

                      Then Angelica Vasquez
washed her feet and put on tan lady shoes
so as to honor us, the visitors to her craft,
to her ofrenda, fruit softening in a corrugated corner,
the poor craftswoman offering us a choice of beer,
black mole, delicious rice, her roof the sun’s drum,
her dirt yard infant traipsed.
I visit her here, one of her ten pins,
white spook, obtuse as a Spicer baseball,
roll onto my back dog fashion to the sun.

Can you tell me if this needs revision, Mictlantecuhtli,
or can I inject it directly into your veins?
Have I sacrificed something here
or have I just been toweling my behind?
Once the poem has been skinned
it cannot be recarpeted
no matter the hobnail cha-cha on its sole reader’s boots.
“I want to write poetry equivalent to
the insanity of flowers here.”                                           [Peter Redgrove]
Wallow in language’s fertile mud
but be aware: there is a Cossack
between the eyes of every reader and
this Cossack does not like to be disturbed by
what you do. Thus antler to antler in double
backgrounded gridlock.  Is there an outside when
we make contact with the brains of heaven?
Yes, and its all so much copal
asunderwritten by the breath of trees
in the cemetery shallows of your fig and mine, or
my errant lay… 


                 Knot of 3 wailing                                           [November 2]
on their knees men, feet
half-sandaled toward us on side benches,
the jarred candles aflicker as if
nudged by their kinetic bunching, shadowed,
all mouth and dusty soled, huaraches bending,
                      the graveyard sanctuary
                      at Teotitlan del Valle,
we’re here for Arnulfo’s dad (he calls him)
dead now 1 ½ years.
                                  Slop of beer drooling across
The grave mound, we drink the rest of the warm Corona,
cempasúchil, network of this ensouling,
clumps of friendly mourners, one plot thick with green stalks,
Karen Tortuga has a black ceramic turtle center of her plot,
Zapotec silk-knotted twisted braids, blocky small women,
Arnulfo’s mother shaking with 1½ year old agony of loss,
he was there in the living-room but she couldn’t see him,
force of the invisible dead visible to the heart
which tries to grow eyes, pain of heart blindness,
copal smoke: winding, disappearing forms?

Rest in peace my mother
Rest in peace my father
to Oaxaca have I come
to bless the life you me gave,
and say it backward to span 22 years of no grave
cempasúchil, no copal hardly a thought
at Equinox when Arnulfo might say
your spirits stand open-mouthed by my table.

      Señora Mendoza’s sorrow
   sent out grappling hooks
the anger that the dead are dead
the frustration that the clumped men
   as if on one iron hinge
cannot resurrect in chant
the frustrating invisible berating dead,

who are here, heart inhabited,
and thus this barb-wired heart?
Stonehenge of the heart
protected by barbed-wire?



The man who is always wanting to see
now knew he must imbibe semen,
     but in imagination—
as at the openings of the mountainous mother
he had perceived the stones were so alive
they were freezing. He had to release
the semen parachute way too long nailed to
the zenith of male brain,
had to let it pass through his eyes
to experience the octopodal
sensation of submarine drapery,
to be thin as a veil, but also to fit into
the carapace of a crab. The project, then,
is to let the treasure descend
through the interior zoo of chakras
until Kundalini, blind as Tiresias,
coiled so long her rattles have gone soft,
raises her head and gulps the displaced jade
—not nag, nor strumpet,
but the nearly untranslatable fool’s gold,
the glacial division in muelos-elevated man.

At Monte Alban, before a danzante,
the shadow of Ana Mendieta bends.
A flattened man all surface like Ana,
cheek of stone, a lily-groined hunchback,
pages of a scattered stone book,
dismembered at the core of vision,
three halves that never join,
two orgasms jolting past each other.
Thus compassion. Thus tenderness mixed with gravel.
In the tip of the solar arrow,
I discover my mother tied and splayed.
A great snail has arrived in the plaza.
We cry Beached Whale!
In metaphor, the primal anxiety:
everything is nothing,
something is a toadstool under which
ragged elves are cowering.
How long does it take to get the weight of the earth
     through my head?

                    Coatlicue leans forward
just enough to offer a worm shade.
Before Her as a man, I felt my infant size
before my mother—or let’s say
Coatlicue is the size surrounding the hole
I made in mother’s apple—and so, indeed,
I am a worm in the shade Serpent Skirt offers
—with whom one never shakes hands.
One shakes hearts with Coatlicue,
for she too is part of the cornucopia,
part of the great snail’s retinue.
All true answers are questioned
by the two rattlesnakes that like facing
question marks fuse as Her head.

Against the underlight of Oaxaca
the night sky in suspended rise,
the necropolis in suspended fall.
We are nestled, forever, as now, or never,
in soft bone arms, buttressed by breeze and the wail
from the zenith tube into which liquid night flows,
a kind of larval ebony for ballplayers’ hands,
the braid of events in the fleeing stream,
the present the parachute’s weighted pouch,
the past its cape, the future
the rising hidden smile of the ground.
The firmest, most loosened poem meets us with the force of
am I vain to hold my report open
while being written, so that we know
no more than a given instant realizes
—realizes? Makes real, like makes water,
meaning re-leases loss, showing blocks,
the block is seen through
but only as a winding window at the mercy of
I stand in a rushing tower and write
with fluid pen on a tablet with a blank of its own
—what I remember are only my experiences.
The power of time, wider and deeper than life,
hurtles around skull racks, boulders with no recall,
body crates in which the gagging
if divine marrow is experienced on a plane
I know of but do not know.
Flower is consumed   lmost fast eth n ap ears
then and, dear procrastination, seeks to add
and my tablet gratefully sucks in my pen.

Time is layered. Each beginning deepens
as if each leaf weighed its tree,
and thus where I stand: the weight of me?
Infant emerging from the crotch of stone,
Or is it stone merging from man,
what is hardest in man, the bearing of non-being,
to be a finite cul-de-sac
impacted with seminal angel.

I am pinned against the base of the Southern Cross
to a position, a vane over
the tumulus of my hopeless central sleep,
here with my pots and dolls,
buried alive in my background,
in the crested fist of the specificities
I’ve been hung with, have chosen to wear.
The white Western heterosexual moves
no revolutionary boulders. Unlike the Césaire-man,
he does not speak for the poor.
Even if he is not to be zapped,
but his boll weevils spun into porridge,
he is still a mink in the flavor—
       something that won’t go down,
    or that does,
       failing those stacked
          in the flues.

“navel of the moon”   Mexico
first disinterred me, a black cape of flies
took off form the pineapple of my innocent heart.
This is where I’ll bury my poetry,
blood gate of the moon, vale whose path
is the back of ants, glossy
scarlet road, conveyor mirror,
this is where I always wanted to play,
aloft, on penile dream stilts,
a Gulliver-man, in collage with time.

I am the man who waded in man,
who ate man’s marrow and report it is without source.
WOT TIS SOR ROW the Noh ghost entoned.
“dirty water which nevertheless cleans a pail”
the menstruating dreamer replied.
I, Ariel, spat between the two,
I, Ariel, freed by the two,
saw a girl dying in bed, her hand a rose tree,
crawled in with her, let self
form a moat around her, a halo,
then the tree bloomed a fairy shower,
each wore a tiny fig pinafore,
each carried a sparkler as she circumambulated the tree.
“We come in self-annihilation and the grandeur of inspiration—
take the foul deposit in the cooking pot
and preserve it, for it is the source of heartage.
Come with us under this red rock,
we will show you the beast Blood Girl rides,
her broom bull, cratered, incandescent,
whose sides are open portals to the black mantra shadow
on which we dreamers ebb and flow.”

And we were followed into Monte Alban
by a little mongrel bitch
still nursing her litter,
our consort on that moonless night.
She rested by us as we sat, filthy, frisky,
wagging to the parking lot
where I wanted to adopt her.
Literal man, you’ve been adopted,
Sick little dog, little Shulamite on the sward—
on her leash, power flows into your throat.
The work is everlasting conversion,
the mother is endless, the work is
everlasting conversion. Merton is electrocuted,
Vallejo’s death curls a scorpion mark,
Caravaggio under a nitroglycerin sun
copulates with his own wounds.
Against vampiric literalism, hold the metaphor,
burn the cross with mental pain,
it will spring forth a violet,
a summer storm, the bellows tear,
the cinder burns through one’s palm.
Tonight I have made contact with
the immortality of error. Alchuringa,
impinge! Open your foramen magnum to me.
Between genitals and the brain
there are only exploded bridges.

                              [Mexico City/Oacaca,
                              May/June, 1991]










Clayton Eshleman...