A T

 

A T   L O V E C R A F T ' S   G R A V E

On the Fiftieth Anniversary of Lovecraft's Death--March 15, 1987

Copyright 1987, 1989, 1993 by Brett Rutherford


 

1 

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 
come home. 

                    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 Lovecraft’s sleep? 
His life lays stripped 
   as that sorrowed beech 
   where his initials are carved 
   (real or spurious?) 

his nightmares the evergreens, 
   lingering through seasons, 
   harboring nightwing 
   as readily as lark. 

 

2 

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. 

3 

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 grandfather’s estate an apartment house, 
his mother’s 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, 
   mind-numbing priests, 
would like to erase him. 

A baby in mother’s arms 
intrudes on our reminiscing, 
breaks Carl Johnson’s eulogy 
with gurgles and cries of 
“R’lyeh! Wah! R’lyeh!” 
(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 
   of cloud, 

and the air turns cold, 
  
unnaturally cold 
in a spell of seconds. 
Earth reels beneath our feet 
into the chasm of sunless 
   space. 

4 

Ah! this is the moon’s 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 
   intrusions, 
pretend that the coffined dead 
   cannot be heard 
to turn in their neglected 
   crypts, deny 

that lingering essences
   drawn from the memories 
of the living can take 
   an evanescent life — 
pale shadows of shadows, 
   reflected gleams 
from the dusty pane 
   of a mausoleum, 
glints from polished granite 
   or marble, 
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 
how night 
   vibrates with poetry, 
   eidolons plucked 
from the minds of the dead. 

Reporters and camera crews 
take us in warily, 
eye us for vampire teeth, 
   chainsaws, machetes, 
   jewelry and witches’ teats, 
wonder what crimes we lust 
   beneath disguises 
to perpetrate 
   upon their babies, 
   their wives, 
   their altars. 

We smile, 
   keeping our secret of secrets, 
how we are the gentle ones, 
how terror 
is our tightrope over life, 
how we alone 
   can comprehend 
the smile behind the skull. 

5 

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, 
backpack heavy 
with horror books, 
leaps over the wall, 
eludes the sleepy 
   patrol car, 

comes to the grave, 
hands shaking 
frightened, 
exultant, 
hitch-hiked all day 

waiting, 
mouthing the words 
of
Necronomicon, 
for a sign 
that does not come 

the clear night, 
the giant moon 
throbbing 
as he chants: 

That is not dead 
which can eternal lie, 
And with strange eons 
even Death may die. 

 

 


L O W

L O W   T I D E

"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 fisherman’s 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


T H I N G

T H I N G S   S E E N   I N   G R A V E Y A R D S

 

No 10: THE SWAN POINT GHOUL

Two months have passed 
since I stood here, 
in magic circle at the Old Gent’s 
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 
      by something 
      that tunnels 
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? 

 


H E A R

H E A R I N G   T H E   W E N D I G O

 

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,
    owls flee
         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.

 


M A K E R

M A K E R   O F   M O N S T E R S,
M A K E R   O F   G O D S

                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 age’s bed, 
Not brave enough to risk another year 

Outside the soothing balm of Paradise. 
Yet who, I ask, brings you this message bright — 
God’s hooded broker or a devil wise 
In promise, slavering to steal the light

Of your assumèd immortality? 
Beware these masked intruders, all of them! 
God’s hall and Satan’s hot locality 
Are only a sly imposter’s 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 earth’s sublimest beauties in a tale. 
No matter that the falling years unwind 

The scroll or turn the pages dry and sère. 
Poe’s
Bells and Gotham’s 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 hunger’s 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 god’s 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. 
Hell’s 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 poet’s eye, 
Where neither friends, nor gods, nor monsters die! 


November 8, 1989 



hpl_beech18a

 

T H E   T R E E   
A T   L O V E C R A F T ’ S   G R A V E 


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 HPL’s) 
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 author’s bones, the humus rot 
of eye and brain and memory 
mutated the germ and flower anew 
so that these seeds transcend 
     to sentience? 

Gather these nuts, then, 
    and harvest them. 
First they must hibernate 
     for the beech remembers glaciers. 

Then they will germinate, 
     pale tentacles in search 
     of anchorage, 
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? 

 

hpl_beech21

Will beech nuts burst 
     to pale blue eyes 
insomniac astronomers
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 
     to another 
endure — 


I hold the burst nuts in one hand, 
     a book of Lovecraft’s 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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