Brent C. Dickerson

Copyright © 1999, 2000 Brent C. Dickerson

Un petit soldat.

Index of Sections and Poems

§ Concerning Who Sees.

— Beyond My Fence —

Beyond my fence
A field blooms with wild herbs.
The buds burst gold;
The bees tell where the flowers nod
All fresh,
All fragrant,
As the grasses sway.

And I?
—The fence is mine.
I built it, slat by slat,
My self,
Pure, cold, white, tall, straight.
And on this side—
This side, my side—
The shrubs are clipped
And sit in rows,
Perfect rows,
Spacing wide;
Only green in perfect rows,
No blossom in my perfect rows.

I see my friend
Beyond my fence
Among sunflowers bursting gold.
He winks at me
And walks up close
And says a word
Or two or three;
And often, from respective sides,
We'll lean upon my picket fence,
And joke and pass the time of day.

But in the later afternoon,
My friend is gone.
The slats cast shadows on my face
And then I sit
To think and write to you about
The things that once I saw—
The golden bursting buds I saw
But never had;
The grasses swaying in the breeze;
The dandelion puffs afloat;
My friend winking in the sun—
I see but only see and write from shade
Behind my pure and cold white fence
Among my clipped and well-spaced shrubs
And watch the sun turn amber, red,
As shadows lengthen on my face.

To darken with the dying light,
To sing your morning in my night—
     This, then, my destiny.

— Wellness —

I looked into a well.
So far below, in a spot of silver
A cameo
A miniature
Looking up
Looking down
Which was me
The reflection, where?
For what I saw had form
It was there
To see, to comprehend,
While I had no fixity
But to look and change while looking.
I saw its me,
But where was I?
And while it strove
To take me in
Your bucket dropped
And shattered all us three.
For though you drank your hearty fill,
All you could see was thirst reprieved.
You never thought that this could kill
Your other life. You're much deceived.

§ Concerning Defective Authority.

— Cups for Vessels —

They cannot understand, who blink and wag
Their tongues "No, perhaps you're wrong about this;
I never have . . .", and such. Doesn't it nag
At them how hungry and how void their bliss?

Just think—a cup of water from the sea
Is his whole ocean, to the inland mind;
Trading Wholes for Hints, would rather be
Content with less, like "crumbs" instead of "dined."

A mind which sees—and loves—as through a slit
Can't comprehend the unencompassed heart,
But takes that fulness which exceeds its wit
As morbid bloating of its common Part.

Leave them to their mating ruts! We who feel
Must slop their troughs and numbly hear their grunts—
But meantime we've a banquet for a meal.
We swim throughout the sea they dip but once.

§ Concerning the Fight.

— You, Drummer-Boy —

Drummer-boy, you
Who beat the drum
Who beat the old dull skin
Who thump your father's bass
Or snares
In battle-form
As you take the field resplendent,
Cry to your brothers,
Your kin, your ilk,
And beat the drum
As father taught
His father taught
His father taught
All fathers taught
To beat the old dull skin
As fathers taught
To take the field
To fight the war
As fathers taught,
And as you take the field resplendent,
Look to see your brothers now beside you crowd
Beside you crowd your kin, your ilk,
In battle-form
In rank and file
And look to see your fellows come to fight the war
With only drums
And drums
Their fathers' drums
To take the field with only drums
And beat again the old dull skin
All beat at once
All meet the foe
With thump and thump
And nothing but
Each father's drum;
And drummer-boy
You drummer-boy
And do you never wonder why
Your father never won the war
His father lost
His father lost
All fathers lost
To teach their drummer-boys to lose
To beat the drum
Their fathers beat
But only taught to thump the skin
The old dull skin
But never taught to win the war?
—And still you beat away,
You drummer-boy.

§ Concerning Love and Friendships.

— Though Apart —

So do the clouds black out the sun
When we're apart? Does any one
Of blossoms fade or die? And where's
The flame that's lost its heat? No!—There's
A deaf, unknowing cheerfulness,
A tinsel-joy, in these. No less
Do birds sing sweet when Winter pends;
How can they know what brings their ends?
How true can birds or flowers feel
What I have felt, that joy more real
Of knowing you? But let the shal-
Low sing cosmetic joys while fal-
Low lie their untouched souls: If "black-
Ness" had a rightful place, my lack
Of you would give it home; the "bloom
That would, in fading, find a tomb"
Fades in my heart; a "bird that sang,
But sings no more" 's my soul you brang
To symphony. Apart, the flame
Our friendship burns (though some think shame,
And in their small and beasty hearts
Think all men knaves, all women tarts.
It's natural—they look within
Themselves, and find there naught but sin.
As some at Winter's onset sing,
So others caw though it be Spring!)
Deep burns a blaze that conflagrates
All else, so doing, consecrates
Such shallow gush into a role
Of embassies sent from that whole
Still greater than the sum of part-
Ing. Or (to write with plainer art):
Our friendship cannot be outdone
By clouds—so strong is our shared sun.

— Size Matters —

When others cry, "Too much! Too much!",
It's from constriction of the soul:
Just like a box whose size is such
Mere pieces fit, but not the whole.
The weak take flight when strength comes near,
The dullard flees from wit; just so,
The faint- and small-of-heart must fear
When faced with what they cannot know.
So should we then, since someone talks,
The measure of our love contract,
And fit our feelings to their box,
To let Shortcoming tailor Fact?
   Two hearts grown great with love and pride
   Will fit no box, but burst it wide.

— The Space of One Year —

On the wall before my bed
There hangs a tapestry.
The Grand Canal of Venice
I think it is,
Two centuries ago, perhaps.
And in my waking moments
The golden dawn outside
Mimics, for a time,
The woven dawn before me
Which always stays before me;
And my thoughts,
Half-dream, half-waking,
Ripple, splash in those waves,
Rising, falling, tossing,
Splashing the sleek gondolas
Which bob in nervous wait.

And on the anxious surface,
The surface of the water's seethe,
I see reflections:
Images of ancient temples;
Proud lodges for old and noble families,
Ancient lamps in their windows beaming still;
Tiled flats; domes; spires;
Each its space full-filling,
All speaking rich of hopes, of dreams,
All distorted in the ceaseless splash of waves,
All rippling in my half-slept thoughts
To flow, to part, to join, to swirl
Endless in my half-slept thoughts.

Some twenty figures in it share with me
A moment of their lives.
Two sailors drag a thick and heavy net,
To catch a living one more day;
A young woman smiles,
She smiles—coquette!—
Sidelong, towards her cat;
But I think she smiles at me.
Would she but turn
One more half-turn,
I would call to her,
I would reach out my hand,
I would call her back
To be with me again
A moment more, just one,
To lie with me again and watch
Old Venice dawn before us.

A third sailor stoops on the pavement,
Another net in hand,
A basket by his side,
Unaware his mates have gone before him,
Unaware that, even now,
The punter strains to right his boat,
To point it towards the open sea,
Towards the day and night to come.

Some several others, scattered,
Live their woven time before me:
Gondoliers, tradesmen, shipowners . . .
But on this day,
This day we share,
Some there are
Who, specially, hold my eyes,
My heart.

Two boys there are
Upon the land,
Two boys at water's brink,
Who look into the colored dawn,
Into the sky,
Over the boats,
Over the waves,
Into the sky,
Into the colored dawn,
Into their future,
Their future so full,
So blank to them now.
One points—
A gesture at what he knows
Among all he cannot know;
The other sits
And gazes where he points,
Trusting, hoping, deep in thought,
Quietly waiting to see,
To see what life the future brings.
I think I know these boys,
I think we know them both
And always will,
These friends at water's brink.

And then I see—but not too well—
Three final figures there.
A boat being guided by a gondolier
Bears two fine ladies, gray-of-hair.
They sit,
All passive as their boat slips by,
Their gondolier, all muscles, brawn,
In charge.
One looks away from me, away
Towards passing boats; and yet
I know, I know she does not see,
But only waits for journey's end.
Her shoulders droop, she simply sits,
And only waits for journey's end.
Her friend has turned, and faces me.
Soon she'll shift again,
Her eyes turned back to join her friend's.
But just this once, just now,
Just now for me, for us,
Her eyes meet mine;
In all the tapestry, hers alone
Meet mine to speak a silent thought—
I put, "I see, but not too well,"
And this is why:
These two fine ladies, gray-of-hair,
They wait, but, too, the fabric fades;
The tapestry in which they live
Is all untrue
And picks some spots to fade
And picks some spots to keep their hue.
The one who looks at me,
She cocks her head,
This I see,
And, too, her dark, bewitching eyes;
But that is all,
Just eyes and hair and shape.
But as she fades,
She cocks her head at me,
She stares into my eyes and,
Fading, passive, still, demure,
She says to me,
"Yes, Brent, I fade; and soon, someday,
The rest of me will also go,
My journey done.
But, remember:
For you I once was here;
And as I go to empty space
Remember, too,
This empty space is still my space;
And let your memory
Supply to you what once I was—
And in your mind I still will be
All that, for you, I used to be."
And, powerless to change her course,
Her gondola, her gondolier,
Her friend, herself,
All quiet glide to journey's end.

Our year of friendship!
Let us stitch it, stitch by stitch,
Into the part where two boys hope,
All vivid, with no fade, two friends,
Their lives always at brink,
Dawn of day, dawn of life,
With wonder, hope, and greatness,
With all of these before them,
The tapestry before them,
Lasting friends, with lasting life before them.

But if, someday, that gondola,
That gondolier, all muscles, brawn,
Comes perforce to take our friendship off
To join the ladies as they fade,
Remember that the blank that's left
Is no mute empty blank.
This faded empty space that's left
Of boys at brink of day and life,
This proud and noble lodge,
Still it is, will ever be, our space,
Our edifice at water's edge
To image on the lapping wave,
Ancient lamps in windows beaming still,
Our shared and quiet sign that
Our friendship lives within,
Endless in our half-slept thoughts,
Now all-vivid,
Now all-strong,
Now beyond the power of time to fade
Inside us, strong, forever shared.
A year!—but, no less, Always.

§ Yuletide Thoughts.

— The Star —

". . . lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them" —Matt. 2:9.

An eastern star
Once, from afar,
   Led magi by its bright warm ray;

New magi, we,
Still searching, see
   But darkly, in the present day.

Some scan the skies
With anxious eyes
   —Those stars are cold, and mute, and black:

Oh, lucky me!
Your star to see
   That shines within. While others lack

Their way to find
And stumble, blind,
   I'm led by beams from friendship's heart

Which, burning bright,
Exceeds in light
   All the coals of Science and Art.

     That heart's my incense, myrrh, and gold;
     That heart's my star that's never cold.

— The Frost —

I, the cold North …
     My fathers bled ice, came snow,
        From the Beginning.
          This my Yule;
          Frost my heart;
     Dark woods of frozen boughs.

He, the warm South …
     Born this day—whose love
        Can thaw the ice,
          Still my Yule,
          Christmas morn?
     Buds cased in frost, black, wait.

§ Concerning the Irrepressible.

— Salute —

So proud, those soaring towers stretch
To point the sun to us.
Their peaks, their stretching lines
Proud boasts, bold gambles won.
You too can hear his angels sing
Who built these monuments of joy
So long ago, his gift to us.
Yes, they still sing
To those without deaf spirits,
They sing,
Their grimy faces raised in niche, at coign;
Festoons adorning, though darker now,
Pilasters rich with fluted rills
The streaming rainstorm streams there,
Thrills to spatter off a satyr's nose,
Or, intimate with Venus' clothes,
Whose face shows tears of seasons past,
Pools within her draping folds,
And runs off straining titans' arms,
Whose muscled stone still holds aloft
Their mighty builders' dreams.
But we fail them.
How many masts
How many poles
How many staffs
Stretched out, stretched up—
The bugle-calls of builders' dreams—
Jut naked now
Our unresponding flesh
More cold than builders' brick
More flint than builders' stone?
These naked flagpoles say to me
There once was joy in dreams.
Are we too impotent, too weak
To honor masts that call to us?
You cannot proudly flaunt your dream to me,
Who cannot fly those given you.
No flags, but only wind!
Inhabit first the house once built
And raise its banner to the sky,
And in the living of that dream,
The catching "now" of your dead "seem."

— The Bright Sad Spark —

Oh, blackness in my soul!
Could you but flood the light,
Wash dark and numb the bright
Sad spark that spots the whole,
      The mocking light of part.
      Oh, blackness in my soul—
      Could you but black my heart!

— A Greeting Kept —

Carl von Linné, better known as Linnæus, was a Swedish botanist who lived from 1707-1778 and who was born in the same area of Sweden as the poet's ancestors. He is particularly notable in being the originator of the binomial system of nomenclature for plants and animals which remains in use today. One delicate and elegant kind of wild flower of which he was fond he named after himself. In maturity, Linné was based in the Swedish city of Uppsala, where his house and garden are maintained to the present day.

I saw, in Linnæus' garden, his flower,
      A Linnæa, hidden,
Blooming out of season, for me,
            Like an oracle's voice,
            Like Nature's sly wink,
            Like a greeting kept for me.

It was not the crystal beauty
      Which made me weep,
Nor yet the lucky chance
            That brought me there,
            That made it bloom,
            That made me see;

But rather, then, the outstretched hand—
      One I could grasp—
A pledge between us, only us,
            Of Linné and me,
            Of me and Nature,
            Of forgotten voices,

                    Blooming out of season, again, for me.

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