Friday, July 31, 2020

Nonsongs and Neopsalms: a compendium of poems by Margaret Gunning (Part 1)

Herein, some poems I wrote during various times in my life, pretty much as they went down, unedited. A few of them even got published in the likes of Prism International and Room of One's Own, but my book-length manuscript (Nonsongs and Neopsalms) didn't fly because my style was all over the map. As are these, but I'd still like to share them. For the sake of flow, I won't break these up with my customary images. This ran so long I had to divide it in two parts.

What Happens in September

all the acorns of my brain rioting
           out of a little hole in the top of a tree

I can hear them rumbling
(like Frost’s apples) from long away –

Squirrels whiz in a double helix
         around the black tree/each

bright as a fizzing synapse

The smell of English walnuts

       and an old old box made of dusky wood
                just opened after fifty years in
                                                         the attic

Chestnuts on the ground like the
eyes of fractious horses

that gallop through

                   a seethe of


I am six, scuffy-kneed, collecting
chestnuts to string or sell on the street

or Sixty, dimmed but simmering still,
hair gone to milkweed,

skin with the smell of dried apricots
and used aprons/still on the

wheel of Four, the wheeling and


rocketing year.

Bite the plum

Naked is as naked
does:  as clear as
Your eyes are,

your clothing is
that much

dearer still the scent
             all man,
of you,/inestimable.
I should never
Take you out of that box,
Never sample those
for / dear you are,
the Arabian horse
of my childhood
(standing still only to be

Notice me!  I am more
than a
Brain on a stick, but
an  (all-breathing
       (Non-fiction       /woman.   To break
this cellophane
  (that heatshrinks your
would it be a rupture,
an insertion, an
arrogance of the ovaries,
Or a sweet inevitable,
        angel driven  (deep)
my  /                                 into
the moist cake of your heart
You are  /  removed as
an engraving of a dybbuk,
I can stroke your image
only,  Never get your
smell/or feel your hair
Never grab it –
                 up  in
Let it dry/to a soft
Black wrinkled fruit –

The juice that never
had a chance to
run down my

will gleam in those
glacial blue
Will spark on your
skin –


April’s where I live,
         the place my heart opens
                   rose-burgeoning, shinyleaf-new

a smell of bursting peonies,
           bumble-dizzy bees bumping

swollen buds thrusting
          in the lovesick air.

Leaden, laden, leavened, lavendered, loaded,
one big quivering nose, a moist surprise
hatched out in the nest of my body

April Pegasus-leaps
        in my pulse,

sun-shot                    Pan-piped
       heady, relentlessly



Three haiku

I.      Gift

         Snow, just one slow flake, settles
         subtle as a breath
         Lighting on
         my tongue.

II.     Trail
         Beside the still railroad tracks,
         A hot sun.  Song of
         We ride.

III.    Back road
          The way unspools, retreating
          from a back window:

bridges (a Vancouver haiku)
latecity nightsky –
spill of black/Silk skirt:dancing
spritesparks/arcs of pearls


The antique
smell of
it charges me it

startles my nose:
leaves all turned
shuddering into a
crumble of old
iron at my feet

in a great sustained
hallelujah of praise         /ancient trees are

praying up:  their frail arms
worshipping wide

                                               (some are
redheaded, some
blonde, a few
undecided, as if they
might make a change
at any time) The wind
shifts around like a
                yellow of denture
full of rude/surprising charm

The antique smell of
autumn it changes me it
(startles my nose.    then all at once
an old old woman grundles
by/do I know her?

She is me   do I fear her?    A study in
black/clad with
a scent

lush whiff of


Falling into amber,
a buzzing blur of
honey and blonde,

strings as veins, a coursing, rush of taut
bliss, stretched across a
hollow core
of yearning:    Heart-bulb
will vibrate as  /  hips of wood
shine like patient still eyes

and ochre sounds tease, tug
at hunger, reach, reach.
Fingers and strings kiss and
come apart, kiss and come apart,
The frail box eems in a subtle
pullulation, shy as a girl, lush as a

wild                           and
   /      whiff of mink:/                                all in a stillness

the bow sighs, sighs like a deep
diver, soughing the life in
this creature of tree, this female
fleshed of the organs of nature –

and all nature, all in a murmur
of intimate pain,
draws from this/heart of nothing
(this wood-held dusk, this
stirred scent of stored petals
this great warm handful of love)
a shining:  a chiming, a brining,
a pool of dark wine
spilled from the lustre of flowing eyes,
a seeing, a speaking, this songswept
woman of wood.


playing down the roots of my spine
like fleshly xylophone:    each vertebra

humming with dim  /  secrets

                     Every snake I have  /  handled
entwisted along the cord.    I am
awake now,
chorded by blunt fingers
strummed in the blood
which courses deep vermilion

in the sub-tectonic plates of my pelvis

The gut-song heaving upward
like a straining lifter, triumphant –
Selah, she is new!  (set loose
in a slippery arcing dolphin of  /  prana)
in amniotic

Behold, her crown.

Yes; or The Chagall Bride

i pray myself
Awake:   the smudge and
drudge of day
bleared by the bliss
of existence
a leaping fish of Be/the singing
blood that cries
 I am


(i insist on you
the way I insist on
an E. M. Forster yes
close beside the
everlasting “why”

                     (like man
and wife
why answers
Yes in an endless
                 “I do”

Poem on my fortieth (for my secondborn)
and bliss flicked
through, too, (quick)
like the flip of an

when did it pass over,
an infant surging to
      burstingly              woman?
a  /                beautiful  
when lost it I,             gone
days, these days, when
did the  /  plum become a

She went by, my dayspring my
firehorse of a girl, life fiercing in
her/          eyes:
        fleetingly                    this Astarte,
too/danced, Fred Astaired/                     toddle
turned to whirl as (slowly
my age
pulled ripe skin down
like the rind of old

              Love fresh and juiceful


       passed  into a darker
hymn, quiescence. 
The juice of jigs, all
that/ sex, gone by
too.  Ova will
dry/to peach pits
dessicated as hair.
(She, my spring, my/
offspring, spurts still
    that warm
juice,/sucked hard out
of  my      /      heart)

                                                      Guitar (for Keith)
How could I tell the way, tender as a lute,
his voice plays me,

especially over the wires, in the place
Without faces, a coiled, blue

Secrecy?  Sound strums off
 the tips of my fingers.

Some chords are stiff,
Almost hard; slick and shining,
stretched in iridescence
over my ringing ears.

My smile bars the strings.
The warm seal
Breaks; the peal
(spreading like a fugue
inside my chest) makes an
Easy, reaching harmony.

There are worlds beneath the words,
This overarching pattern, high
as a cat’s back; caught by the spreading
Nest of my hair.

                                               Bird in the hand

My bird in the
My bright dollar,
 blonde head
 Hard as a dime,

there in your
trench coat streaming
with spring, wet
as new robins
Downy as stamens,

I would suck up/the
merry contempt in
your sleigh-bell

Pepper my salt
with the wit of your

Dive into the
iced-over pool

 of your


I sense a tightly curled potential in an
alternate self/I have never met:  is it me or
What do you call the sound before the wind blows?

How many wolves precisely hide behind
the icebound pre-flood of your
unmelted eyes?  How would they bound,
unbound?  How does a glacier
feel when it groans and cracks like a
cannon, all its
                       sluicy sperm released?

How to judge the fertility of what has
not yet happened,
an approaching train rocketing backwards
into the sucked-back pre-time of imagination?

Would you smell like shredded wheat,
like gunfire, like an impending
surprise?  Would I be able to touch
you, at least with my mind,

or would all my juices, sunparched, bleached with shock,
frizzle away to the nothing in which it all began?

blue popsicle (for J. G.)

I live in your throat, curled
with a cat
 sleeping in sounds
 that drift daily/supple man-

What flavor?  I cannot
fathom/Yet shaking my head at you

(underwater) with surprise.

Joyborne, my heart smiles
(chiming) in sleepytime

                                          tune – is it
magic yet?/Dark out
now, I palm the

of your voice.  Dandle me:  cat
in a basket
 breathing our lonely, our smilenest in larksilent

candlesmoke - 

                                                 pomegranate wine

I sip at
your smile;
fire        light
 dances on your teeth
 on a hearthrug oh; comfort.
Close with you, on the sofa
(tight) breathing
in unison
rubies.   Heavy
with spice; promise

(of bursting kernels
shared on a back step
I’d stain my shirt)
I.                   Lover

    What is the song of you?
               Electric; blue
               A spurt of brimstone in the dark.

               I snatched your eyes
               from the fire,
               They lit the coals
               of my desire
               you’ve turned my being
               to steam and sparks.

 I.            Tin man
                He walks through
                robot days,

                listening to the echo in his chest.

                Quicksilver tears
                spill from his liquid eyebeams
                to fuse his jaws in place

                And then one night it rains.

                for the tender mercy of an oilcan,
                he holds his rusted axe aloft
                Frozen in mid-chop.

 I.                    Skater’s Waltz

    We slice in new ice
               Keen figures with bright, honed blades

               carve in the virgin white
               Harsh cuts that cannot be erased.

               I let you go.  I trust you
               to move gently on my twinkling plane,

               You loose my hand
               to let me spin across your space.

               We slice in new ice
               Keen figures that cannot be erased.

                                                 I would say
I would say that you are springtime,
That lambs
could not be lovelier: laughing bells
Of eyes bright with seeing,
the shining, shone of you.

I would say that you are a
Renaissance painting
of a beautiful woman:

So restored
that the paint gleams; its sheen
Fresh from the brush; its wetness
smelling new.

I would say that you are living
Water:  I see tiny
perfect selves, suspended
upside-down in the silver
Merriment of your eyes.

If true, then I would say that you are
Not my brother; but some other; some
me not yet thought of; next year’s


cast lightly (God’s amusement)
over waters

rendered still.


 sweet shy
dark girl          I’ve seen her

here before
  she always wore the best clothes
(silvery things/bangles
feathered skirts
necklace made
from the teeth of a wolf)

now I see Gina in the ward
kitchen.        Still beautiful
part Cree          her hair tied back

she shows me the tracings of
partly-healed               gashes
sewn back together in
a gridwork

on her arms,                                                 wrists.

She must be twenty or so
No one comes to visit

Once she had a boyfriend
but he got sick too

I dreamed of a petting zoo 
with live men in it
all naked in their splendor

fuzzy, some smooth
all smelling good
of dark leather/gull feather
spanish heather

eating their golden chest hair
like shredded wheat
and leaving whenever we feel like it

could we name them?  No,
that would be getting involved.

But we’d remember their
sad eyes at noon
(feeding time – go feed the bulls)
some luscious sea-blue, some rich as
melted chocolate.

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