A CLOSER LOOK: George Moore






Now this is poetry:
Coffee for the poor
is heart’s blood,
the oil that runs the body’s machinery,
a dark sun on the crest of an inner
       landscape . . . .
George Moore is a poet of landscapes, whether within or without, and his poems move seamlessly, and beautifully, between them. “At Skibbereen,” amid “Kerry cows” and “ancient vines,” he considers:

This late sympathy with the slowness of life,

no wind, and sun just touching hedgerow,
wraps me in the lifting mist,
fine as a solitary thought, transient and real,
and I turn to descend the road again . . . .
His road leads not to tourism, but to places he inhales and knows, to which he brings an empathic pen, such as, in our changing world, the sight of a struggling, dispossessed polar bear in “The Swim to Iceland.” Moore’s poems often arise from the places he has worked and traveled, as well as from his stays at writer’s residencies in Iceland, Portugal, and Spain, as well as on the island of Paros, Greece, where he met his wife, a Canadian poet. And what poems they are: From a boat to Mexico's Isla Mujerés, uniformed schoolgirls suggest “a rapid succession of smiles / like small whitecaps across the inlet waters . . . .”

Moore taught for years at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and presently lives with his wife on the south shore of Nova Scotia in a lobster fishing village.  He has published widely in journals for many years, including poems in The Atlantic, Poetry, North American Review, Valparaiso, Stand (UK), Orbis (UK), Arc, Fiddlehead, Antigonish Review, Queen’s Quarterly, Dublin Review, The Journal (UK), Grain, Cider Press Review, Chelsea, and, of course, the Innisfree Poetry Journal. In 2017, he was shortlisted for the Bailieborough Poetry Prize, and longlisted for the Gregory O’Donoghue Poetry Prize from the Munster Literature Centre. He has also been a finalist for the National Poetry Series, the Brittingham Poetry Prize, the Anhinga Poetry Prize, the Wolfson and the Rhysling Poetry Awards, and nominated for six Pushcart Prizes, as well as for “Best of the Net” and “Best of the Web” prizes.


from Saint Agnes Outside the Walls

Café on the Alentejo

Coffee for the poor
is heart’s blood,
the oil that runs the body’s machinery,
a dark sun on the crest of an inner landscape
at morning’s break point
with the sea of the night.

Without cafés along the praça
where would people congregate
outside of churches
to talk of the gods
in milder manners
or peel back the new work day?

Without this ebony sea of marrow
there’d be trouble in the land of sheep.
Without love in this dark drop of blood,
the bean of the universe
with its broken energies,
night rays imagined in the day’s core,

hours would pass, surely,
but without relief. And in this
condensed moment of Alentejo time
there would be no tongues of Portuguese,
nor the slow crescendoing European,
but merely the static echoes of history.

Without this demitasse of ardor
and amperage, no one would hear the bells
as the cattle drop their heads to feed,
no one would speak of their poverty,
or of their hours, newly blessed,
with the mud of the earth in their veins.


Waiting Room

After all that time, I was out of the room.
The breath rose up and evaporated in a black sun.

That’s what the poem wants, some kind of immediacy.
But then death comes out of nowhere, always.

Going going gone. The life I did not see coming,
did not see the meaning of, the weight of, escapes even

as it has arrived. Now the idea of death is the providence
of the poem, the brief conclusion that goes nowhere,

yet it cannot quite reach back either. For this man
it was no postmodern decay, no great tabooed mania

of cells, but only old age, an empty cellar, a phone ringing
at the end of an empty hall. He taught me how

a doctor views the changes toward death. The hospital
cares less. They milk the cattle, no matter how

humanitarian the dream. So the poem must become
more than what is actually said. This is the room

where the poem lives, where he was breathing. This space
that does not live and never has, but speaks of living.

The poem separates itself and dies on the page.
And only the living can revive it. It crawls back into me.

He said a hundred times that he was ready to go.
That is what he said. The poem is proof we were ready.

It does not matter that the room was empty in the end.
After years, all this time spent making a single day.


The Death of Modernism
for Carter, wherever he is
The very last time, in the library,
you had thrown your shoes away
saying it was spring,
you wouldn’t be needing them.

The streets safer than before
violence brewed on ill-lit screens,
and in neighborhood divorces
and dark centers

of disremembered cities. A game,
living, not just the aftercrop of philosophy.
In high school, we knew each other
indifferently, mad at the edges,

wanting something to break through to.
Trailing rain, you wandered into
the Denver Public Library
in ragged sweater and threadbare jeans.

I was hunting the history of something
for a paper due the next day—the concrete
path already darkening with rain—
without exoneration.

You there at the edge of things,
always ready for the next thing
in a perpetual day, the wave of the world,
for a moment, holding you up,

until you slipped out, praising
the rain, without a place we could agree on,
the library an aquarium, a joke
housing the drowned.


At Skibbereen

At Skibbereen, I run with the cows,
a free man. They gather near the slow garden of the sea,
crowd the narrow lane down to the next field,
always their destination, and brush the gate
pressing in toward the grain trough.

That there was ever bred a creature like this,
burnt chocolate as bog, without a care but to feed,
clopping in thunder along the tarmac road,
wallowing toward some vague sense of home,
even as we do. I rise up

past drystone fences, smelling
the sea and manure, something in the morning
sweet, indiscernible, but not rotted,
blooming, transforming
the sluggish morning’s reverie.

With these Kerry cows, I crest the hill
that leads to Roaringwater Bay
but cannot run so far,
while ancient vines reach out and caress my face.
This late sympathy with the slowness of life,

no wind, and sun just touching hedgerow,
wraps me in the lifting mist,
fine as a solitary thought, transient and real,
and I turn to descend the road again,
remembering.


The Swim to Iceland

We drive along the coastal road a day
or perhaps only a moment after the polar bear
lumbered down the same uneven road.
Riding the ice from Greenland,

floating and swimming, and what was it
she was looking for, was she lost or was it
some urge to see the edge of the world,
as it’s dwindling? Of course, when she arrives

she’s shot and killed. This is the new world,
after all, island headlands of the Pole, too small
and crowded for her kind, too computerized
and full of thermal swimming pools.

If only the bears could shrink
as the polar ice cap does, dissolve into a dew?
But like Hamlet they are too physical,
too much of this world.

White as a flag on this greening coast,
white as sky but air alone cannot hide her,
and the whiteness now does not stay all summer.
The hunt happens almost immediately.

She cannot reach the interior. Lost there,
she might emerge anywhere into the cities,
such as they are, hard miles from the ice fields.
One bear, more or less, and death

is but a sign of the times. One lumbering
mammal up from the frozen sea, stood erect
and watched her ice sheet breaking up, before
she crossed the aberrant green.


The Dogs of Yucatán
in memory of José Emilio Pacheco
The only way is to get down
on your knees and pray among them.
They are the community of the streets,

and all streets lead to sacrifice,
across the great plain of Aztec grief,
which is living, the other side

of evening. Across the lawns
of the Paseo de Montejo, the beasts
of the Avenue Reforma gather

for the night’s prowl. Crossing
cautiously, the pools of water
where a clock of silver hangs,

five centuries carries them to a temple
many have forgotten. The dogs
do not bark. They have learned

their own sound is an enemy, an onslaught
of retribution. Death’s still cheap,
and the sleeping kill in their sleep.

But the wealthy have moved to
other quarters. So the dogs
wake to roam the ancient

byways, searching for something
as yet unknown, something that
might sustain them: a scrap of leftover

civilization, a token someone dropped
on their way to the Underworld,
that will lead them back to Creation.


Saint Agnes, Outside

In a time of love,
when the body rests on rose petals,
rises from wine baths, or olive oil,
and the body is displayed
in every hallway, on every marble
pedestal, palace step, in every arena,
the body perfect in contrapposto,
figures loosely draped in himatia,
upright as gods, beyond reproach,
and all the Roman world lays
beyond the gates like a field
of lilies, she said no.

In a day when sex was
not an obligation, faceless
in its way, without frenzy
or neurosis, when to lie down
meant to live, then walk away,
born or bruised, but robbed
of nothing, when marriage
was a situation, and, worse,
to make love without payment,
outside of slavery, was stupra,
disloyalty, dishonor, a law
dealing death in its breech, then
honor too could be refusal.

So a basilica built on her aedicule,
built to complete the space
between love and sex, where she
waited for the Lord to take her out
of the brothels, and off the stake,
and perform the sacrificial fire
into saint, into untouchable, pre-
woman beyond the gaze of men,
and all at thirteen when it’s said,
merely a maid, and the boys as
rude as sin, she told the pretty ones
to leave her alone, leave her
to her high bridal day, her body
but a coin in the well of her devotion.


Birds of the Alentejo

On the high plateau of Portugal,
the pigs scrounge out all
the grass and bark,

bend the small trees down
with the weight of their hunger.
But the birds go on chattering

an Alentejo tick among
these other species. Names
escaping are of little importance.

These are human things:
the way we have of feeling
not quite alone.

The birds speak a different tongue
of pure desire. A deeper need
to find, to eat,

that is not like the pig’s voracity,
a hunger of the air.
Open to other possibilities,

they do not rest on their stomachs.
The birds enjoy a singling out
of time in the morning hours,

a swirl of separateness,
trill to low call. But caught
in the cacophony,

who can eat or sleep?
I’m only another listener,
but the birds make clear

the difference. All that has
occurred, all that time consumes,
in a moment, disappears.


from Children's Drawings of the Universe

Boat to Isla Mujerés

A flock of pigeons, or osprey, or unknown birds
has come to roost on the edge of the wooden barge.
But no, they are schoolgirls, dressed in uniforms
of some secret place where blue and white

are the sacrificial raiment, or all that remains.
And then, a rapid succession of smiles
like small whitecaps across the inlet waters
with its shallows green as malachite

in the Winter Palace; and that older memory
for a moment holds the boat suspended, the girls
at ease, turning now, as if we stood in imperial halls
of mallow stone, after the violence

of a Russian spring, and Impressionist paintings,
stolen after the war, hung in empty rooms.
On this barge, a sudden sense of freedom
in the obvious contradiction.

The boat skirts a small flotilla of garbage
that drifts off as a forgotten island,
and the girls begin to sing an anthem
from some familiar revolution, before their time;

and sunlight shows us the bottom of
a shallow sea harbored in-between, full
of the greens of disconnected worlds,
and we are carried, rocking, to the island.


Survivor Tactics
a stranger and afraid, in a world I never made.
                                  —A.E. Houseman
With the millennia of traditions that create this space you inhabit, as a bear inhabits a cave, or a fish a stream, but with your heightened sense of awareness, that crutch some call consciousness, these environs on the way to heaven are torturously incomplete. It’s not that you want answers, or the answer, as if there were a gold ring on this wheel you are forced to ride, but you want more than a transfer ticket. You want a sense of validation, a reason, a sinecure, but most of all, a space that does not shrink. You want love, perhaps, and/or a few bright children, those fleshy things one leaves behind to tell others which way they have gone. For now that you have found yourself at last alone on the beach at Acapulco, with an umbrella drink in your hand and a sunset that should only be shared, and the warm air curling the hairs on your chest, you don’t feel you deserve such monotony, that somehow you’ve been detoured, misdirected perhaps, and that all you’ve worked for is meant to be enjoyed, isn’t it? You feel like the trajectory of a rocket waiting to fall back down to earth, in the deadly grasp of human gravity, quotidian and inveterate, in fear of the final sum-up and unable even to make the proper face. But think about the doors you have walked by late at night, and the places you could have gone, never to return. Think hard of the one place you could never imagine yourself. Curled in an armchair at home reading an incredible book that you realize only on the last page that you have yourself written, but it ends in a smudged watermark with illegible signature because it has sat in the basement too long gathering mold and disguising the true nature of your choices. And after a short nap, you wake up the survivor, the magician, the god, for you have nothing anymore to go after, and you open the book again, somehow complete.


Caduceus
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
                                               —Sylvia Plath, “Tulips”
My father became invisible after the first injection.
It was to quiet him down. His heart had been racing
to get through the world, to reach the finish line,
perhaps to wake on the other side of an uncrossed road.

The nurse said he would be fine. Which meant
he was soon to die in any case, so whatever happened
was somehow in the natural order of things.
I said perhaps, but how natural is it to live to eighty-nine?

In the emergency room, there were others of more importance.
Gunshot wounds, a man with his leg near severed off,
a small girl who was barely breathing. My father
was a doctor himself. He would know there were no cures.

With the right tubes and ECGs, with the right electrical
surveillance, there’s really no need to worry, and no need
for a constant professional presence. He was a doctor,
they said, so he would understand. I was the one worried

that he might live another day, and find this silence
in the machinery disturbing. The hospital was big
as a cathedral, and though he worked there, I myself
was always lost. It was not that the faces changed;

they were all one face, unchanging. What I once thought
was a snake from the head of Medusa, turned out to be
the staff of Hermes, the alchemist, the conjuror. A symbol
of restraint, control. But if you strike down hard with it,

they say a weeping river will rise up out of the stone.


Riding North out of San Juan Capistrano

Each curve demands the body be reborn.
The bike bends and slants into an oblique world
so one can right oneself and go on.
The road becomes the skin of sense you lose

when your mother releases you from the void
that becomes a life, a pattern in the maze,
that years later creates itself again as meaning
pulled from the ball of chaos like a single thread.

Highway 1 through L.A. is a wasteland
of chainlink fences and ruptured sidewalks
laid out along abandoned rows of warehouses
with bricked up windows and steel doors.

When the freeway dies you’re on an open street
exposed.  A delirium of mechanical sounds
agglomerates: the traffic chirr of trucks blindsided
by mirrored sedans, the combustion of particle time

fuses and coughs, garroted and dented
in shorthaul journeys, ram-air breaths of a city
gone long before you fill your lungs, old immigrant city
that has given way to soot and human dust

like fallout from some future atomic war.
And your breath is the steel lining of transport.
Inner-cities bleed into each other, Signal Hill
Wilmington Harbor City Torrance Walleria

RedondoHermosaManhattanBeachElPorto
until you are free of the stuttering lights
and clinched wheels, the screech of escape
from hours of the tightening confluence.

When somewhere north of Santa Monica
you break loose from the nightmare center
of the apoplectic cell, breathing erratic dreams
of blind-alley suburbia, of sweet children waiting,

of husbands in shirt-sleeve before TVs,
of wives in gray aprons washing, in nirvanic quarries
of kitchen sinks, sipping the stasis of first martinis
through the straw of a new plastic wisdom,

believing there is nothing north of the city limits
but the next city, the next neighborhood where
radios ululate with repeated dreams of location,
and miss your body’s streak into the road’s escape.


The Dead Horse
for Cecília Meireles
In a field of winter wheat gone brittle
in the mouth of the wind,
I stumble across the golden body of a friend
whose time was such that she lay down
and the wheat became her.
She has sunken in, kissing the earth
with her whole head, completely at rest,
possibly free, it is hard for anyone else to say.
The garden of her thoughts are winds
stirring the flanks of her time,
and I watch, that act of seeing that is lost,
itself something never regained.
It was late afternoon, and just a little cold.
That was the name given death.
I waited for the rest, for the monuments,
the carvings of great men,
the impossible fires and cremation into the air.
But she was there in the earth
half buried, half part of this moment alone,
waiting for me to drag her into life.


Saint Quintilla

Favored with the iron spits, the cross-beams
on a saltire cross, so sure of the path that you dropped

your name on a small French town, but then
you died a martyr in Sorrento, Italy. Little more is known.

Without irony, the asteroid 755 bears your name.
Discovered in 1908 by one Metcalf. Or was it

Meta-calf, the perfect cow, carrying stones rolled
once into our history. Ellipsoidal solid bodies,

all of us, no perfect spherical hope. M class
asteroids. The heavens filled with history’s debris.

Were you the fifth child, named after the Roman tribe
Quintii? When your name was first Quentin.

Is this where Faulkner found you, in the deeper
outer dark: Have you ever had a sister? Have you?

The legacy of heretic or prophetess. We see
only the broken wheel, the tortures.

Of what were you so sure? Why deny or not deny?
If it were only a measure of wheat, something real,

or any quantity of grain. If it were only a weight of stone
or a section of land, or more than

or less than some thing that rests in this world.
But it was not. The patron saint of bombardiers,

of locksmiths, and porters. A prisoner of what remains.
And for the poor poet who searches for names

not forms, nothing more than an octosyllabic
quintet rhyme. A measure of the meanness of the world.


from The Hermits of Dingle

River Ice

The river cracks
in syllables, impossible
to say that here we step
but once, for with ice
the river sways,
buckles back upon itself,
and bleeds its own
universe of words. Across
the icy way from where
Niagara Park ends,
other children are
staring into our void.
They challenge us,
each other, testing fear
for its power of renewal.
A half-mile perhaps,
this white street of glass,
a field that suddenly
contracts. You hear it
give up winter ghosts;
beneath it our worlds
do not exist, the cold
too cold to imagine.
For us, the Arctic begins
right here, the next
Ice Age. Out past where
our mothers will say
was good sense, we
chance our way.
These words themselves
might shift, weather
already warming,
and with our retreat
only the water beneath
is moved to wave.


The Hermits of Dingle

Nothing but rock and gannet guano,
and the sparse kinds of grasses that cling

to the inevitable, and cliff edges gouged
by bluster and cold Irish sea, and this

beauty, stark as a shelled moon. The clachan,
beehive huts, coned in dry stone masonry,

no cill to hide in from the gaoth blown up
from the fuming coves, and here

to contemplate the will of God,
and one’s own will’s failure, comprehend

how the taste of nothing can sate
a restive anima that has fed on worlds

and gained no weight, light as a shearwater
or kittiwake, fix-winged, afloat on lifts

of anonymous air. And how in time
the eye-length of the world runs a course

from Skellig rooks to shore, and back,
interminably, and white-capped rocks

at lantern’s edge bead to a focal point
and score the night as on a living stone.


Survivor Suite

Phoenix hotel zone density
thins to the razorwire playgrounds

Aztec Bride
My Tuxedo
a motel for the first night
next to Faith North School

Running easy, Hohokam
canals running beneath
these desert-clean streets

Garfield historic district
gravel yards

artificial turf
chain-linked corner lots

a man squatting
no, a sago palm

crossing the sunken freeways
invisible to the empty streets

the bungalows on half-acre lots
broad boulevards for avenues

sunshine strips the wide arteries
of fear, the quiet morning light
penetrates time, that

disabler
wakes a line of identical
doors slowly

a man cleans out his car
soft Mexican crooner sings
from his half-dozen bassy speakers

four men shift feet in a yard
around a grill, Hatch chilies roast
in Saturday morning stillness

aged hippies laugh out loud
from a bench, one
gray black beard
glistens in last night’s dew

as trees, the Bradford pear
mock snow in white bud glean
in the desert heat of streetlights

the city still slow to wake
slow all day in the heat

echoes a primal urge to be nowhere
dissolving amid long grids of even streets

seeing the old golden waters
Yavapai to Camelback
and White Tank mountains

a landscape of railroads and mines

John Birch mumbling
in his drink, to waken
evangelicals

turning right and right again
territorial capital, awkward lean towers

Chase Westward Ho Sheraton skyline
high-rise fountain in an arid land

surviving the extremes
of planted oasis
crime kings and beasts of burden

and out on a Saturday morning
the pre-heat sympathies
of an old woman led by a dog

and children playing in a jet stream
from a cracked yard hose.


Kathmandu

Back before the neon city,
when cars blew by you in a fit of dust,
when trees were thin as pencil lead
(but there were trees), and stupas warped
for centuries in monsoon swelling heat,
still held together with hand-forged nails,
there was a hostel off Pie Street,
where foreigners always moved through
various states of meditation, transmigration,
bubbles of consciousness, around
the winter solstice and Christmas that year.
At the U.S. Embassy, they served us scotch
with ice, the taste forgotten for a year,
served up for transient trippers
like children at a poor man’s knees,
and said this was the American thing to do,
to bless those who the rest of the world left
forgotten in infected, Indian prisons,
or trapped at borders whenever the war
with Pakistan renewed. Seasonal greetings.
But it was something anyway.
And more than the cold room,
washing my hair in an icy tap,
and curling tight in a thin bag
to sleep out December’s failing light.
The scotch warmed, silk
soaked in the smoke of a wood fire,
an old scarf around my inner core.
And the sleeper awoke, the season revealed,
all in the smile of a Buddhist hearing
an Embassy staffer’s joke. That was
the first Christmas away. Now,
every one not home returns me to the East,
to the cold that was a cure for the season’s
isolation. To that brief contact with others.
As clear a moment in my mind
as the single candle heating the hostel room.


Capela dos Ossos

A space full of bones, the monks’ map
of the next world, or the world as they see it, here,
among the ephemeral, the fragile, the mothers

whose children have disappeared. No children’s bones
were used in the construction of this chapel
the sign reads. We believe in an even chance.

Light low as the meditative atmosphere of a tomb,
but with a thousand femurs, a thousand more elbows,
a hundred ripened skulls. The walls draped out

in death, old death, ancient sensibilities, finding
our way along a broken world, grave by grave. Then
suddenly, in the street again, the unmapped day

infused with sunlight. This hidden nave, Évora,
Portugal, farms sprouting new wheat, olive orchards,
sunflower and oilseed. The lane leads slowly back to life.


Last Gas for a Thousand Miles

It’s out there on the edge of things,
out past the café with its pink flamingos

next to the railroad tracks,
where the engineer stops on Wednesdays

to have a bite to eat, his engine sitting restless,
wheezing, at the knife-edge of the universe.

It’s on the road mistaken for the road
from town, for no one comes this way,

the desert just beyond digests the living
in a mouth of sand, and sun seems to shimmer

on a vein of blood. Riding into the swayback
station, in leather spacesuit, chaps and goggles

glazed with a paint of insects, you see
the next dimension, a liminal storefront

simulacrum, light of stars and lights of towns
just down the road rising on the highway’s

wet mirage. To survive this coming world,
you’ll have to choose another mate,

a scorpion perhaps. Skin will fuse to bone
before you acclimate, the sky will drop

in tidal waves of rain, flushing arroyos clean
across your trail. It’s said the insects grow

to giant science fictions. Your meek
five gallons galvanized by time, you’re born

out on a flagellum of road, a new body of glass
fused from light and an ancient world of sand.












                                    

 

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A CLOSER LOOK: George Moore

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