That does not sleep
which can eternal lie,
yet Howard, Old Gent, Ech-Pei-El,
Lovecraft who signed himself
Grandpa and Theobaldus
to his fans and correspondents
most assuredly sleeps here.
We drift into the vale of earth,
the gentle falls and slopes
of Swan Point Cemetery,
gather to remember and praise him
as the Seekonk with its silted memories
ribbons at the edge of vision.
The sculpted monuments
of angels and Psyches
repeat the largesse
of immortal promises
not so for his simple stone
placed forty years too late
to help his absent-minded shade
Yews and cedars
bluff Ides of March
with bitter green, droop branches
like soiled wigs, while honest
bare branches of a spreading beech
retell the long years chase of sun,
the repeated losses of winter.
Which is the emblem of Lovecrafts sleep?
His life lays stripped
as that sorrowed beech
where his initials are carved
(real or spurious?)
his nightmares the evergreens,
lingering through seasons,
as readily as lark.
We stand about, a handful
swelling to nearly a hundred,
trying to envision his folded hands,
his hand-me-down Victorian suit,
wonder how much of his habiliments
have fed the indiscriminate hunger
of the conquering worm,
his eye sockets empty and dry
gone beyond dreaming
though we close ours and see
the tower of ageless Kadath,
the shark-infested ruins of Ponape,
the imaginal Providence
where he walked arm-in-arm
with Poe and his eccentric Helen.
Our Lovecraft, lord
of the midnight shudder,
eaten from within
by the gnawing shoggoth of poverty,
the Azathoth of squamous cancer,
the loneliness of Nyarlathotep,
drugged by nurses into the sleep
where dreaded night gaunts fly
and bent flutes warble
a twisted melody
and yet he faced it stoically
like a proud Roman,
an 18th century gentleman.
Death came with burning eye
and found him not trembling,
never recanting his cosmic vision,
waving away the white-collared cleric
with a wan smile.
Hundreds of miles we came today
to pause and pay homage,
readers and scholars who have leafed
his books, studied his papers,
debated his sources and meanings,
tread in his footsteps in Gotham
and Boston and Federal Hill,
stood with a thrill
at his one-time door.
In sorry, mean-spirited Providence
no plaque or marker reminds us of him.
His grandfathers estate an apartment house,
his mothers house vanished,
his last abode uprooted and moved
like an aimless chessman on street map,
as though the upright town
with its sky-piercing steeples,
would like to erase him.
A baby in mothers arms
intrudes on our reminiscing,
breaks Carl Johnsons eulogy
with gurgles and cries of
Rlyeh! Wah! Rlyeh!
(shunned name of the city of doom
where multi-tentacled Cthulhu
dictates his madhouse symphonies!)
As someone reads a Lovecraft sonnet
the sun blinks off
behind a humped shoulder
and the air turns cold,
in a spell of seconds.
Earth reels beneath our feet
into the chasm of sunless
Ah! this is the moons business,
or the work of a moonless night.
Should we not speak of him
beneath the glimmer of Hyades,
the velvet pall of the void,
the primal ether in which the cosmos
whirls like a raft into maelstrom,
the vast interior spaces
of Time and the Angles
where the gods as he knew them
drool and chant?
But they will not permit us
to assemble by night.
They seal the gates
against our ghoulish
pretend that the coffined dead
cannot be heard
to turn in their neglected
that lingering essences
drawn from the memories
of the living can take
an evanescent life
pale shadows of shadows,
from the dusty pane
of a mausoleum,
glints from polished granite
a sliver of sourceless light
in the eye of an owl
or a raven;
pretend we are not
untuned yet powerful
receivers of thought,
transformers of vision,
as if we did not know
vibrates with poetry,
from the minds of the dead.
Reporters and camera crews
take us in warily,
eye us for vampire teeth,
jewelry and witches teats,
wonder what crimes we lust
upon their babies,
keeping our secret of secrets,
how we are the gentle ones,
is our tightrope over life,
how we alone
the smile behind the skull.
Later a golden moon lifts up,
swollen with age and memories,
passing the veined tree skyline,
leaving its double in Seekonk,
disc face scanning the city
the antfarm of students on Thayer,
the tumult of traffic on Main,
the aimless stroll of dreamers,
dim lamps of insomniacs,
the empty, quiet graveyard
winking like a fellow consiprator
at the prince of night.
Dimly on obelisk
a third moon rises.
The offered flowers
against the headstone
quiver and part.
A teenaged boy,
with horror books,
leaps over the wall,
eludes the sleepy
comes to the grave,
hitch-hiked all day
mouthing the words
for a sign
that does not come
the clear night,
the giant moon
as he chants:
That is not dead
which can eternal lie,
And with strange eons
even Death may die.
"The tide was flowing out horribly--exposing parts of the riverbed never before exposed to human sight...something descended to earth in a cloud of smoke, striking the Providence shore near Red Bridge...The watchers on the banks screamed in horror--`It has come-It has come at last!' and fled away into the deserted streets."-H.P. Lovecraft, letter dated May 21, 1920
"brisk off-shore winds pushed a lower than normal `moon tide' even lower on Narragansett Bay...miring dozens of pleasure boats in a sea of mud...There are mechanics who say that in the 20 years they've been working here, they've never seen anything like it."--Providence Journal, September 18, 1986
The azure sea, the silt brown Seekonk,
the placid ebbing of suntides,
the contrary pull of the moon,
all form a subtle balancing act
until accumulated rhythms
resolve in one great tug
at the sleeve of the world.
The sea withdraws, the shape
of the earth convulsed by gravity
as if the sentient waters
grown weary of poison and oil slicks,
bereft of the colloquy of whales,
shrugged into space.
Would not the war-hemmed
Mediterranean be more serene
refreshing the cracked canals of Mars?
Would not the North Atlantic,
brimful of nuclear submarines,
prefer to slip off the earth-edge weightless,
an unmissed flotilla of icebergs
writing their names in the velvet sky
as comet messengers of Chaos?
The Narragansett waters drop
as the ocean makes its getaway,
rivers run dry
to fill the falling shoreline.
Drawn from their sleep by the burning moon,
the people, a motley of coats and robes
and slippers, a clot of bicycles and skates,
drift down to the riverbank
to see the helplessly stranded boats
dangle from their moorings,
level with their anchors,
topsy-turvy on a forest of pilings,
sails drooping and torn,
their rotors exposed like genitals,
their captains perplexed and swearing.
The riverbed undulates with dying fish,
the wriggling of eels in the hardening mud,
the half-seen slurry of amphibians.
Around the base of the iron-red bridge,
the barrows of humanity emerge:
a tangle of cars and mattress springs,
the skeletons of suppressed babies,
a statue of the Holy Infant of Prague,
a well-preserved gangster in a steel drum,
a thousand soda bottles & aluminum cans,
and, standing up like autumn trees
or some hideous joke of the fishes
the unfurled frames of lost umbrellas.
Someone says the water will return,
Low tide out, high tide in, insists
the river and the bay and the sea
will repave themselves with reflected sky.
Then why should a fireball plummet down
into the sodden riverbed? They watch,
hoarding their fears in the windless midnight,
as steam subsides over the mud-lined crater.
A madman, barefoot, bearded, rag-robed
avers that the Kraaken is rising
from the noisome mud on the bottom
He snatches a fishermans lantern
and runs across the Red Bridge screaming
It has come! It has come at last!
The people hear a distant murmur. A child
goes rigid with the spasm of seizure.
A woman faints, and no one leans
to pick her up. It is a blur
of stumbling and clawing: a boy
is struck down cold for his bicycle,
a deaf girl trampled near a street light.
Men break the door of the great-domed church,
determined to pray out the end of the world,
encircled by Host and holy books.
Of course, it is only the tide returning,
the meteor a slap from the brittle stars.
Homesick and dizzy from errant flight,
the prodigal sea comes home.
The boats resume their proper angles.
The bay fills in, the river rises.
The elders of Angell Street will say
None of this ever happened.
Photo below: H.P. Lovecraft's one-time apartment at 598 Angell Street in Providence. Photo by Keith Johnson
Two months have passed
since I stood here,
in magic circle at the Old Gents
grave, honoring Lovecraft.
The place I chose to stand on
an older plot by a pine tree
has dropped by a foot or more,
its earth a moil of root-turn,
brown against green
of surrounding sod.
Did the coffin collapse,
or was it removed
beneath the gravebeds?
some necrophagic mole-man,
sharp claws on spatulate fingers,
red eyes sheathed in reptile layerings,
teeth jagged and piercing,
its sense of smell infallible,
burrowing from vault to tomb,
to late night lap of pond water,
to daylong sleep in a bat cave.
Even as we stood here,
speaking our words of praise,
reading our innocent poems,
did March earth muffle
the splinter of casket
the tear of cloth,
the insistent feeding
of the Swan Point ghoul?
There is a place
where the winds meet howling
cold nights in frozen forest
snapping the tree trunks
in haste for their reunion.
Gone is the summer they brooded in,
gone their autumn awakening.
Now at last they slide off glaciers,
sail the spreading ice floes,
hitch a ride with winter.
Great bears retreat and slumber,
and whippoorwills shudder.
Whole herds of caribou
stampede on the tundra.
The Indian nods and averts his eyes.
Only brave Orion watches
as icy vectors collide in air.
Trees break like tent poles,
earth sunders to craters
beneath the giant foot stamps.
Birds rise to whirlwind updraft
and come down bones and feathers.
I have not seen the Wendigo--
the wind's collective consciousness,
id proud and hammer-fisted-
to see is to be plucked
into the very eye of madness.
Yet I have felt its upward urge
like hands beneath my shoulders,
lifting and beckoning.
It says, You dream of flying?
Then fly with me!
I answer No,
not with your hungry eye above me,
not with those teeth like roaring chain saws,
not with those pile-driving footsteps--
I too avert my eyes
against the thing that summons me.
Screaming, the airborne smiter
rips off the tops of conifers,
crushes a row of power line towers,
peppers the hillside with saurian tracks,
then leaps straight up at the Dog Star
as though its anger could crack the cosmos
as though the skybowl were not infinite,
and wind alone could touch the stars
and eat them.
A birthday poem for Frank Belknap Long
How cold the sphere where all the gods are dead,
How grim the prospect when the end seems near!
How few deny the soul in ages bed,
Not brave enough to risk another year
Outside the soothing balm of Paradise.
Yet who, I ask, brings you this message bright
Gods hooded broker or a devil wise
In promise, slavering to steal the light
Of your assumèd immortality?
Beware these masked intruders, all of them!
Gods hall and Satans hot locality
Are only a sly imposters stratagem.
O poet good and gray, have courage still.
It matters not that gods retire or sleep.
We are their makers, who fashion or kill
as suits us, the gods of the air or deep.
No matter that your hand some days is frail.
That hand has summoned monsters and entwined
The earths sublimest beauties in a tale.
No matter that the falling years unwind
The scroll or turn the pages dry and sère.
Poes Bells and Gothams storied steeples seize
Your spirit, soaring from Providence to here
To ancient barks adrift Aegean breeze
To Mars to plains where gods and heroes dwell
To charnel pit where ghoul contends with rat
To limelit stage where vampire victims swell
Their last aortal ebb into a bat-
Deep hungers all-consuming rage of red
To aliens serene at crystalline gates
Robots implacable and demons dead
Until some stumbling fool reanimates
Hibernal horror with a taste for blood!
What need of gods incense and litanies
When every twist of pen compels the mud
To yield up dark, bat-winged epiphanies?
Fear not. Walk on among them unafraid.
Soul-snatching monsters are as dead as stone.
Hells a blank corridor, its lord a shade.
TERROR you did not fear to tread alone
Shall buoy you up, with WONDER at its side.
Lovecraft you called the kindest man you knew,
Refused a priest the day before he died,
Said he preferred a sky where Night Gaunts flew.
That is not dead which leaps to poets eye,
Where neither friends, nor gods, nor monsters die!
November 8, 1989
This solemn spreading beech
was once a perfect hemisphere
of waxy red-green foliage.
Now it is crippled and sere,
scarred by the pruning
of diseased limbs,
trunk bared, a twisted bole
in the form of a petrified heart.
Its gnarled roots rake earth
with a death-row desperation.
Within another hollowed bole,
(eye-socket for a Cyclops)
malignant mushrooms proliferate,
caps and stalks angled sunward.
The schoolboy gashes
where fans have carved initials
(their own and HPLs)
widen and blacken,
the once-proud limbs
tattooed with NECRONOMICON,
HOWARD P. LOVECRAFT 99,
even a whole sentence
about the primacy of fear,
runes ruinous to a living monument.
Still, the furry beech-nuts fall like hail
to the delight of squirrels.
Still, the hard brown kernels issue forth,
each a perfect blueprint
of a perfect tree
or have the roots, tasting the calcium
of authors bones, the humus rot
of eye and brain and memory
mutated the germ and flower anew
so that these seeds transcend
Gather these nuts, then,
and harvest them.
First they must hibernate
for the beech remembers glaciers.
Then they will germinate,
pale tentacles in search
until the red-green engine
of stalk and leaf
is ready to catapult
into the sun-chase.
Will these trees move
of their own accord?
Will their root-claws crave blood
and the iron-rich earth
of a crumbling grave?
Will the branches sway
on windless nights?
Will fox-fires and will o wisps
paint impossible colors
on bud-ends and blossoms?
Will beech nuts burst
to pale blue eyes
with perfect vision,
counting the Pleaides,
numbering the galaxies.
And will they speak
the patient sonnets
of their greater lifespans,
the long-arced lines
their waving branches beat?
And somewhere within them,
does he smile there,
transmuted poet and dreamer
subsumed into the eons?
Are those his thoughts
that make them tremble
at every sunset,
his elder gods they fear
might swallow the sun
as it tosses in darkness?
Is he lord of their nightmares,
giving them Dread,
the obverse of the coin of Joy,
Fear, the companion of Wonder?
I regard the ailing tree,
the modest gravestone.
The tree will die. The rain
will wipe the letters clean.
Only the whispered words,
the lines the fingers trace
from one yellowed book
I hold the burst nuts in one hand,
a book of Lovecrafts tales in the other.
I study the cloudless, blue, deceptive sky,
the lie that conceals an infinity
of screaming stars
Oh, these roots have read him,
they have read him.
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