Poems: 1975-1985

Honoring Norman Mallory (Zlatko Waterman) RIP 3/26/13
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Zlatko Waterman
Posts: 1631
Joined: August 19th, 2004, 8:30 am
Location: Los Angeles, CA USA

Poems: 1975-1985

Post by Zlatko Waterman » September 21st, 2004, 2:55 pm


The well-used ends of argument
chain us to every well-sat chair
every white, innocent tile.
You drink
waterclean vodka
hidden against the chimney pipe.
I will slap the eggs
on your shaking plate and wait
until the breakfast war subsides

The neighbors scream through the wall
to talk faster and get through it.
Every argument is scented with the lost
spice-paper fragrance
of your nape you're afraid
I no longer care for.

Vandals at Stonehenge

Pure song
for the beast of a grey
trucker who slushes down the lash
of highway, splashing the druid mortar.

The gatecrashers who hurdle
the steel cable are apprehended before
they can spray
away history in a moment farted from a can.

The dinosaur plinths
sink into
the rain to the genuine old,
soil songs we walk
The Makers
floated stone
on twig rafts up the springtwisted river,
cracking bones for their sweet
marrow on the banks
then sank this lithic melody down
to chalk and granite
never knowing we would come someday,
stumbling after them in a world so terrible
even the weather slapping the waxed car hoods
has become profane.

Domestic Melancholy

A note from the toothless old handyman,
his sunless knee sticking through
his dark jeans like a clean spade
stabbed in a row of beets:
“I would of fixed your toilet
earlier today,
but I was in the grip of Morpheus
till noon.”

Who the hell does he think he is,
in that shop of his, sharpening
hoes and singing all night?

( after the portrait of Juan de Calabazas by Velasquez)

Calabazas, the jester whose head was empty as a gourd,
was the king’s favorite.
A knight of Malta galloped daily
by one account
to the distant Sierras for snow to cool the idiot’s wine.
Armored in steel charity, Calabazas nodded
drooling on the Maltese cross
whose transept of savior’s blood
divided a heart laboring for dignity.

Those distant transactions,
that muscled grace in the service of whimsy
recalls the courtly option of the love affair.
I enjoy the weather of dalliance
waking, flooded with the radiance of your approval.

But as the flames of conquest become the candles of manners,
as the sword droops into a bouquet,
we come to fear any lover’s garden
not ringed with lancets and towers.

We come to fear that where silk sleeves trail over bared chest today,
promises will soon bury themselves to the hilt.


inoperable they would call it now
when they used to tag him a dead man
and put him in the drawer still wet

I remember his knuckles, bloodless
from ringing the bell
squeezing the blistered bedrails

his lips bubbling
under the black tide of morphine

when he spit thorns at the top of his petalled voice
I pried the nurses apart

(for Norm Alger)

“I call you by name,
my green, my fluent mundo . . .”
--Wallace Stevens

We’re waiting for you down here
after your second attack this year,
a door slammed in your face,
maybe something bloody and shameful
got nailed to the post and lintel of your life.

Are we still afloat in your memory?
Amber-slow down
one of our acacias
we sent her
to plant that knot of roots in your chest.
Too late for wishes, you remember her whisper,
“Take care of yourself . . .”

Here in Costa Rica
sweat-pinched Switzerland of
our mango-gold isthmus, we wait.
Teeth still flash in the night,
leaves still float in the clear drinks
the Korean in sequins
still squirms around our bar.

On the map your memory has become,
you fold Atlantic and Pacific together
over a single crease
someone takes your hand, guides it
in a seismic, cardiac scribble.
Now your ink fills a tributary
splashes and scares
macaws back into the bush.
But the stink of piss on stainless steel
is here,
TV swelling with sinuses,
somebody shaving, somebody dying.

Years ago in the Navy
you danced on the deck off this
rich coast
dreaming stars into latin eyes
Now this is the last dance, no
third seizure,
bedpan dancing in your hands.

Sometimes the shore patrol
stops by your new sloop
candle burning at two a.m., the radio on,
charts spotted with wax islands,
and you, pearled in your own vomit

Now there’s only armed forces radio
slack saxophones, a grass skirt
bumping under your memory’s palm
black lace, mantilla eyelashes.
The last dance, dark eyes
between us and the last watch.

women wear stockings
thick as the husk of a cocoa palm.
Even so, our skies are the same,
and grief is still our common star.

In General Bidwell’s Bedroom
(John Bidwell ran for Congress in 1864 on the Prohibitionist Ticket)

Fifteen inches down
under goose feathers and petit point you struck
the lace thighs of your Annie
that tiny woman minced into parts by Christian charity.
She humbled the Indians before Christ her king
before you forked her like a boot-jack
pun out of her insect handwriting
the spell to make you president of the oaks and branches
laird of the sagebrush and arroyo
soberly reeling with your mansion, your god
your golden spurs in her.

Fiddler in the Surgery

Fine steel rattles under green cloth
as it rides up with me in the elevator.
I have scrubbed here, and carried the guts away
in plastic bags; have watched a human arm sewn open
red sleeve buttoned back
the palm gut-strung.
I have watched them walk away
and wheeled the patient into Recovery
a man tampered with
his reach shortened an inch
the fiddle-bow later thick in his fingers
the violin sinking to dead wood.
He stands by the wash basin and the bow sags.
He with no power to change it back into what it was.


(Enloe Hospital, 1966)

I stand in the parking lot
in the serrated rubber bootprints
of my public service job.

I will pull off my clothes tonight at home
empty my mouth
of the sting of alcohol from the men’s ward.

I will fill up on Thunderbird and saltines.
I will blue the summer dark with my TV.
I will drink some more
dreaming of cubicle curtains
when I collapse.

I am not lonely.

Reply to a Woman

This is the sad lesson every collector learns:
every scrap of decent history
every fingerboned barb of glass
every dog ear of tin
begins to shave away at your days.

Your own male garments
rough against motherskin
bagged in the dark
while you sawed at your
wrists with glass,
squatting wet with your third suicide.

Your wood frame house
termited to the nailheads
smoked at your return
when you finally whored your way home.
How often the sporty middle-aged
talked you into blessing
to laughter through bad teeth
hisses turned to kissing.

Sleep. This you take reluctantly
able to shelve it with your other poisons
trust it to dose others helpless
that lost planet traffic where you feast.

You want this bad dream you live
to make art
to pick poems like fists of grass, flat on your face
but that can’t be done with a kiss, heart
seizing shut.
Out of the death knot you hank around your voice
your lovers slip
as you sink your dragon fingers in their eyes.


It is my father’s wish to remain anonymous
to be the tea leaves that go on making tea
at the bottom of the unwashed cup
to be the fish spindled on the cat’s plate
to be his bones in the hair of the countess at dusk.

He wishes to be the branch
that grows at my true love’s window
the flower at seals her eyes at night with its breath
the green pebble at her feet on a distant shore
the grey sun that scratches
at the grin of the greedy child.

Paris to Zagreb, 1973

“The past
is cities from a train . . .”
--Robert Lowell

Thirty-three hours on this train
Italian kids shitting their pants in my coupe’,
Slovenian dentists in white leather jackets
and Swiss everywhere
chocolate dripping from their foil wrappings.

My beer percolates down the window
and the landscape foams around me in a green sizzle
of Yugoslav brew.

The crocheted hills of Slovenia
barked with logs firm in their mud
tighten around the flowered shrines to war.


Midsummer sea fog salts your glass. This drink is spring gold, something to put you in the mood, unbittered by the yellow leaves that have begun to go. Each moment liquored in the dusk is music, is all the tired dawns washed clean, is light in the eyes that love me.

Someone Gone

Let the guitarist play between these moments, blood raking along a thin string. A bell rings in another town, obedient knees bend, attentive to the sad steps of youth. A castaway lights his last pile of branches and a clipper sails smoothly by. The interval between thunder and lightning in the heart grows a little longer. There is nothing I want more than never to open your door again.


“Dust, alas
no musicke feels.”
--Gerorge Herbert

I’ve often thought of that poor man, your father, and what he had to suffer, always ill, like a character in a Russian novel. Like the old black guitar player I saw once in a dive, trying to coax one more drop of sweat, one forehead wrinkle one tensile ounce of pain out of his rusted strings. This vacant afternoon, a fever in our ears, singing, is likewise dues, is never wasted.


straight as the oceancut sky
you draw the knife through the braided tradewinds

yet I’m sure you mean to rearrange this rage
to dip yourself into pity, to mist

the windows with your wine
to find new life in the pleats and braids

of this our lost room

His White Blues

There must have been a time when Uncle Jim’s life, his blurred days and steamy nights, did not seem to undulate to the woozy yet tunefully razored bawling of Hank Williams’ songs, but I cannot recall it. The seventy-eights and the Silvertone phonograph from Sears were lashed, carefully, the purple labels of the black disks face up to the pewter Oregon sky, whenever he moved us from one job in a small-town grocery to another.

And as soon as we moved to a new town, which we did with metronymic regularity, my aunt set to work painting our new bathroom with our new claw-foot tub in it, and “Honky-Tonk Blues” or “Window Shopping” would begin to reverberate against the freshly coated walls. The time signature of my schooling, my neighborhood pals, my dogs and cats, ticked to this inexorable rhythm, for a total of nearly two hundred moves in all.

My childhood thus became one long Alabama lament, relieved only by some Cajun sliding, cheery northwest smiles from out of a bottle of Jack Daniels as the dancers glided on linoleum, the big living room rug rolled back.

Hank Williams sang the unrelenting story of betrayal and violation. Of that which, as Arthur names it in Malory, “ . . .has beene brokeyne which coulde not bee brokeyne . . .” The Honk and the Tonk went to the time of Hank, like some Becket line wrapped around some old man’s tape recording. It was said when Hank Williams died, that Elvis Presley was created by nature to fill the abhorred vacuum.

Some white lightning, some nexus of power, some Van Graf generator of backwoods static electricity, zapped our family with Hank’s crackling Zeitgeist. And Uncle Jim went down, not like Hank, injecting chloral hydrate in the back seat of a chauffeured limousine, but like a victim in one of Hank’s songs, prey to faithless women--and his own weakness for alcohol--to keep the pulse of honky-tonk racing, keep his own two poor white feet sliding.

(after the San Francisco Asian Museum)

From the city’s gasoline-blue light we have rolled
to the long grass
and naked heron strolls
written on the sand.
And we wait
like two Chinese lovers
seated six feet of silk apart
a bird flying between them
the leaves, the clouds
even the bamboo
arranged in an attitude of longing

Waltz on Marble
(Vitteaux, France, 1974)

Five of us
on summer vacation:
a rejected lover
Michael the scholar
his wife, a new mother,
and our host
wanting free of his demon lover
who dances in my arms.

After much
march wine
I waltz Mad Kate
around her marble parlor--
I skate past candles
and toward the door,
“NOW while she’s helpless, drunk
down the stairs
into the red taxi to Paris
send her back to Nantucket
to knit sweaters in the lighthouse
of her choice!”

The cries carry to Michael
climbing the stairs to his tower
humming the Koran to a banjo tune,
translating Persian to pay the rent.

These stairs are dangerous
rounded down by the Nazis
who used this mansion as their headquarters.
Their steel
ground into the french heart of the town.
Once, mute,
the mayor watched his daughter pinned
by Der Kapo against his henhouse door.
Later, a collar button, a
bright golden eagle
turned up under a speckled hen.

So we turn and turn and the mirrors remember
and upstairs
Michael translates the story
of a man who painted pen-cases
and who butchered a young woman
put the pieces in a basket
and spread his wagon-bed with aromatic leaves.

Clop clop
all the way to the dump
two holes cut for ears in his horse’s hat
smiling and waving to the washerwomen
never worrying once about the smell.

Lake Aldwell, Washington

The canoe
moves at a dead whisper over
the green water.
I want to get out, the water seems perfect,
but some Northern silence
roots me to the edge.

Later, in the pisswarm public lake
full of algae and tourist
I wave on a hollow snag
at a two hundred pound wife
encircled with a plastic horse while
her five-year-old dismembers
a dragonfly.

But that first lake, Aldwell
seemed too perfect. Better to dive here
deep in the common urine
than there

polar green
under the sound of dragonflies
walking on the dusk:
a man could disappear in that.
California Winter

This coast
named its cities after saints
and if, as Arnold said
Faith is subject to a tidal pull
then the ebb
is meant to tell us what we are. Waver
and the season floats with us.
Saints stay
near the shore; up in the hills
the pimps and goons hustle in trenches of fog
wait for the votary to kneel
the chance to break his prayer wheel. Thumb out his candles.

Spring sinks, and winter
is truest in the underworld where
the Miami sun creases silk suits and large bills
but here, winter is truest to small ambitions.
Feel the earth roll under January
a solstice of hope,
an ephemeris grating against the stars.

The evangelist glows on his rostrum
two nuns in a volkswagen
are headed for the spit and trash
of Golden Gate Park.
The lilies lean
away from the pimps here
the roses are neatly folded
and the poppies do not contend with snow.
Each lacks something as final as
Minnesota blue or Mennonite black.
The evangelist urges you to cringe
get down on the knees, the real
organs of prayer
not the heart with its drawn shades.
Wait for the lark ascending
for the season to shift
for the sure-blown notes of the heavenly riff
played blue over the snow.
You’ll know it when you hear it but not before.

But love is seat besides: no obscene poking in God’s eye
look for faith in a testament of salt,
in the waves pulling at your feet
in gravity
which only strengthens a world
where object consent to fly apart;
in wet salt longing to become rock
compromised in foam against the shore,
as a prophet compromises
and walks on water
when he would prefer to walk on blood or tears.

Bird Box

I keep a box of bird bones,
still partly feathered, on my desk.
I found them on the hill here
where the horses grazed around them
never touching one
and huge golden flies
paddle among the mustard greens
indifferent, symbiotic
working the old partnership between
love and excrement.

I put my hand in where they fly
open the lid on another world
and open my box sometimes
letting the grey humors
drift around the room
disconnected from their stiff, dry wings.

Here where the bones
seem to grow up out of the earth
looking planted
like a row of white crops
I confess a strange joy, the sun warmer,
a shy humor among the horses.

I am even walking over them now
walking over the bones, not noticing
or thinking of death at all
so small and faster than a bird can wink.

Fever Lightning

I lay under the African coverlet
as the giraffes flashed white
and each black face drained white
and I thought, “I’m dead . . .”
And you heavy asleep beside me
and all my amends to you like flesh without bone
and there go all my dreams of dying in the night
to the sound of distant trains.

It was like the time in the lightning storm when we clung to each other
and waited for the rain to cover our kisses.

So I waited for the yellow to flash back
into all the savage skins
for the Fresno cowboy station
to crackle its barstool opera to me again,
afraid that I would disperse
into morning clouds like the carnivore’s jaw
that still sleeps in the dead carbon of the city
builder’s steel.

Three Poems on Jupiter’s Red Spot
(on seeing the spacecraft “Galileo”)

A telescope fills with a bubble of blood
in the snowbank hum of white noise
where continents come untied from one another
drifting like May scarves around
poles of gravity.

Europa was bothered
by the flicker of red scarves
the gravity of the situation
as they came untied, one by one
as the ashy plasma of Jupiter, cold sun
jealous of your planets
stiffened in my telescope.


How can gods love mortals?
That very effort
to lower your wary horns
shift shape into a gold shower
dims you like a star gone out
a white hole in our astral glass.

Callisto is laughing again;
her dagger has scratched you
just below the waist
where a red spot marks your human side.

Hangover Poem
Written in a Copy of Shelley
A soap opera rising
through the apartment floor;
a twist of wind in the tall palmettoes,
a paperback Shelley on the unmade bed.
It’s best to read him coming out of this,
his life one long summer wish
really believing he could bleed but never die.

To Gregor Samsa

You are better off than Kafka
at the bottom of an office well
of murky beetle light,
an insurance man,
penning a claim for a pierced cornea.

Wings spread over the housetops of Prague
you are your own man;
your only transactions are with the wind.
High above the diviners
stained with arranged marriages
the tiny popping of bitter coals in nuptial stoves
you fly.
Their teacups are confounded in their leaves
which have no power now to tell your fate.

Two Meditations on “Large Interior
by Lucien Freud


Lust has moved one eye to tears
in a room planked with misery--
this woman is not your mother
her hands are clawed meat;
her heart falters in her palms.


The pestle is to grind
the grey sky that refused to gloom
above your half-nakedness.
Why the gasp swollen behind your teeth
why clutch yourself to rise from love,
or are you grooming again
under your Navajo blanket?

Inner City ( for Jim Hannon)

Numb on Sunday
you walk it off on the eastside pavement
straight through the alleys burning
with war whiskey.

They are arming in Detroit
you swear, hammering down on the first syllable,
rage beaten hot on an anvil
still deep in April snow.

Rain smokes on the L.A. freeway
blue jazz swarms in the tin kitchen
where no daddy ever finds enough
at home.
I drive by, a honky, a sheet
in the wind, and you point
your eyes full of tears.
Your hands have lost their first and stretch out
empty again.

Third Operation ( to Roy)

This time I would advise
Abraham to stay his hand
“Let him be; he has the spine of an angel.”

The scalpel goes down through layers of dream
old feathers and fur,
the colored strata of myth\then they run a tube
back into this world
to drain away your blindness.

Let there be no more cutting.

Let the body and the mind
tryst as lovers
or at least live harmlessly,
like an old couple, palms dry, beside one another
like Quixote staring into the fire that warms him
and dreaming of battle smoke.

Class of 1963 Reunion

Hard orchard work and the orchard girls, their blossom eyes on me
picking, picking
and this afternoon slavery
finally fuses dusk with a storm:
time for the Saturday Night Dance.

Watching the lighting climb the bluffs
hand in hand
we could never have imagined this party
where we meet the orchard girls
not in a slash of sun
but under a bright flurry of gin.
A foam of kisses
well-wishing over the well drinks,
a night of stars and business cards.

They all dance
as if melody were a returned investment
as if they were the brokers
of their own joy and pain
as if they tasted the liquors of these
tears, kisses, songs
they cannot improve at any price.

Three Women

1. Nun with a plastic ruler, weeping

You are measuring and drawing straight lines,
blue rectitude where each
of your ballpoint blue tears
falls into the vale of pages turning in our world.
They say there is an adjustment
before you float, odorless, up stairs
until the cell adjusts its stone
around you.
But just now, your cheeks
color a holy rose;
this is still a public place with a public pulse
vessels without vows.

2. Divorced

Through my shades
an inch to the east I see her:
she wears a scribble of red lipstick
her arms are full of laundry.
Two nights in a motel a year ago in Reno
and she could already imagine the baby wallow
in her belly’s secret vomit.

She practices her mother’s smirk
the same one her mother used
to draw her father to the couch
while the Motorola sputtered Milton Berle at them.

Her expression grew puppet wooden
with Howdy Doody light.
She moved west, looking for fringed sleeves
and saddlesquare jaws: Buffalo Bob.
She longs for me now, hangs on my bell,
but my T.V. is off.

3. Motel Movie Girl

Prospector sweat and coyote bones
mix in this old movie.
Everyone is a victim, and on the neighbor channel
Anne of a Thousand Days
loses her head
the unrelenting smile
spiraling down into its basket.

You have tortured me even during meals
and the fine things I meant to be
tangled like the sheep and cattlemen.
No wire, no water hole, no railroad, no hero
in white buckskin, only Leland Stanford
and his vampire landlords.
It’s the real Wild West this time,
and we’re in it.

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Post by mnaz » September 25th, 2004, 1:56 pm

Zlatko, there is so much here to take in.....

"straight as the oceancut sky,
you draw the knife through the braided tradewinds

"Fever Lightning".....
"afraid that I would disperse
into morning clouds like the carnivore's jaw
that still sleeps in the dead carbon of the city
builder's steel"

"Inner City".....
"rage beaten hot on an anvil
still deep in April snow"

I also dug Brandy, Blues, the Jupiter's Red Spot poems,
Paris to Zagreb, and the hangover poem, of course....

Thanks for sharing,


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