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Pierson F. Melcher
Poems

About Poet
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Pete Melcher at 82 has moved not only across the transformational decades since the Great Depression and World War II but also from coast to coast teaching English in independent high schools. In addition, he was headmaster at the last four of these schools, one of which he designed, built, staffed, enrolled, and administered almost single-handedly. Along the way he has written six books, ranging from a book of travel letters (Year of Wonder: 1968), an educational autobiography (The Flame and the Phoenix), and a book offering possible solutions to the current public school chaos (It's the Teacher, Stupid!). He has episodically written poetry, often composed in trout streams, on mountain hikes, or after trips to foreign places. His poem "The Still Point of the Turning World" won First Prize in its category in the 2008 five-county Mid-Shore Regional Poetry Contest. He and his wife live in Easton, Maryland.

The Still Point Of The Turning World
A Quartet In Five Movements
. . (to Mr. Eliot)
.
Days of Labor and Sorrow
.
Mountain fog, a grey-white mass of dank
And stifling suffocation, crushes the hilltops;
Wraps its coils around the firs and pines
Which thrust their jagged arms in supplication
As crying out to grasp for air, for life;
Dissolves the chaos-world in pools of wetness;
And drowns the vision-sense in whirling vapor.
Where is the rainbow now, the covenant which pledges
That the world be not again destroyed by flood?
. But in the mountain pool
The trout rises quietly, quietly
And with sudden splash
Of vibrant color
Gulps its hapless prey
From the tensile surface of the still water,
Then, just as quietly,
Vanishes again into shadowy depths,
The circles of expanding ripples
Dying in quick succession,
Leaving the still, mirrored miasma
Of the fog.
Jonah sits thirsting beneath his withered gourd,
Cursing the loss of what little comfort he had
From its thin shade before it was removed.
Then in despair embarks on that voyage of evasion
Only to find the malevolent white whale lurking
To carry him down to the fathomless depths of the sea.
. Captain Ahab smiles wanly,
His eyes afire with hate:
. A little lower layer, Mr. Starbuck.
Is that the little old watchmaker himself,
Waiting cynically to relieve his boredom
With sudden whim of existential violence?
Starbuck recoils,
Pale with despair.
.
.
Brownian Motion
.
The teacher-magician carefully fills with smoke
The transparent box, and beams a narrow shaft
Of light across its densely swirling cloud,
The eager students waiting, pencils poised.
(His pale blue eyes a-glitter, he thinly smiles
As he holds out the tempting, sweet red apple.)
They watch, intense with keen anticipation,
As tiny particles of brilliant white
Shoot wildly off to random destinations.
. Random movement–is that all?
No plan, no pattern, no consistency?
No music of the spheres?
No crystal dome with floor of heaven
Shining through?
No adamantine doors of Hell gaping open
To swallow them up as they fall from Grace?
The preacher flushes with rage in the lofty pulpit:
Believing is seeing! he shrieks to his passive listeners,
While Absolom, watching bitterly from the high ground,
Sees the rising dust cloud of the army
In relentless pursuit through the valley below.
"Hell is in my father's head," he says,
Galloping off to his tree-branch rendezvous
With Joab's spear.
And here King David sits in lonely mourning.
O Absolom, Absolom, Absolom, my son.
. The crocodile
On the great, grey, green, greasy Limpopo River
Weeps large tears of sorrow
While calmly snatching the elephant's child
From the ominous shade
Of the fever trees.
.
.
The Core of the Merry-Go-Round
The children with fixed and stylized smiles,
Their eyes glazed in painless oblivion,
Go up and down, round and round,
Grasping tightly the shiny white poles
Which yoke their gaily-painted horses
To endless circles of aimless motion.
But this is no prickly pear and certainly
Not five o'clock in the morning. They sense
That there is something else. But what?
. The attendant sits in the cool darkness,
His hand on the brake, always watching,
Seeing without being seen, while the mystical
Tunes of the ancient calliope solemnly
Intone an invitation to paradise.
A child reaches out for the brass ring,
Leaning precariously from his wooden saddle,
Teetering on a centrifugal precipice.
Swiftly the attendant grasps the brake,
But the moment quickly passes
And the child rides on in feckless monotony.
. Surrounding the cool, inner darkness of the core,
The unseeing, unthinking orchestra thumps its tune,
No hand touching its ghostly instruments,
But drumsticks banging and keyboards flickering rhythmically,
The flashing mirrors above them reflecting brief glimpses
Of dancing colored lights in the amusement park,
And the anxious faces of the waiting parents.
.
World
.
Is this the way the world ends?
Is this the way the world ends?
Is
this the way the world ends,
Not with a bang but a power failure,
The merry-go-round slowing to a stop
With disappointment thick in the faces
Of children and their parents?
Does the calliope merely doppler-shift itself
Into silence, the mechanical drum slowing its beat
To a motionless sound-void?
Does the attendant, yawning, simply lock his brake
And shuffle off to join the unemployment lines?
. I don't know much about the universe
(Save that it's universal),
Nor much about omnipotence.
(Save that there isn't much it cannot do.)
As for eternity, well it's a dark enigma
(Save that it's pretty damn long).
So how the world will end is not the point:
But rather how it all began!
What caused that brilliant flash across the void,
That mutating violence of sudden creativity
Whose transethereal turbulence vaporized
The archangelic naivete of bishops
Dancing and dodging to escape the falling shards
Of shattered crystal dogmas,
I know not now and never shall.
Astro-physicists shake their heavy heads in sorrow.
Is it still a possibility that humankind
Can fail to comprehend the telescopic
Wisdom of the Moebius Strip hypothesis,
That inexorable fact of universal logic
Which clearly states finite infinity?
.
.
The Turning World
.
So here we are then,
In the years of l'entre-deux croyances,
Wondering at the peeling onion of creation,
Seeking to replace truth metaphorical,
That awe-filled lore of ancient mortal wisdom,
With denigrating fictions of the Word of God,
Ignoring linguistic failings and the foibles
Of human translators and religious zealots;
And yet not daring to accept with arrogance
The godless universe of soulless science,
Which, as legions of technicians vow,
Can like a set of Russian eggs intriguing
With successive acts of unalloyed discovery
Be opened one by one, revealing at the last
The kernel of Creation absolute,
The fundamental atom of our life.
. The still point of the turning world evades us
As endlessly we search for new solutions
And cling like Jonah to a sometime vine,
Which chanced without our tillage or our care,
Driving ourselves in vain to psychic turmoil,
While the world itself turns on in ceaseless motion.
And the motion is the still point,
The ceaseless spinning movement
Of that which is both aging and eternal.
. We pass our lives in splendid isolation
From all reality and understanding
That this blue earth can live without our presence,
And that our presence, driven by our turmoil,
May yet create a planet void of life,
A still point bare and left forever silent,
While whirling off in space throughout the ages,
A granite monument to human failure.
The whale breaches at last, gasping for air.
It belches forth the badly shaken Jonah
Onto the beach where belligerent gulls strut
Their aggressive challenge, and watchful pelicans glide,
Till eyeing a silvery flash below they fold
Their wings and dive like arrows into the sea.
Perhaps the whale is only grey, not white;
Perhaps the brooding sea, blanketed with fog
Like that upon the mountain foothill tops,
Will yet breed forth its teeming millions of species.
Perhaps the watchmaker, shaken in despair,
Will now once more emerge from darkness
Of the spinning merry-go-round and reinvent
The human mind.
The mountain pool stirs in expectation,
Its waters roiling gently as the trout
Quietly rises through the crystal water,
Sparkling now as sunlight pierces vapor,
The brilliant colors of its silvery flank
A rainbow rising, pledging again the covenant
Twixt man and the eternal spirit of life.
Again the lightning splash, the spreading ripples,
And back he sinks beyond our sight and ken,
A solitary mystery eternal.

~

FOR GOD KNOWS HOWLING
(to Christopher Fry, a sleeping prisoner)

Yes, God knows howling, Kit,
God knows howling.
Your voice alone
Must set his teeth on edge,
Though truth to tell it echoes
Through a theater empty
But filled with ghosts,
From a stage lit by the sixty-watt
Aspirations of one bare bulb
Struggling feebly to light
The cruciform home of the spider
And ubiquitous skittering dustballs,
The tattered flats of your world of faith
Waving imperceptibly high
In the dim baldachin fly loft
Whenever the vestry door opens
For a brief spasm of reality
And the winter wind.

For God knows howling, Kit,
Your elegance of phrase and turn of word
Have left us, weary victims
Of sectarian charlatans,
Nodding our agreement.
No, we’re not for burning,
None of us
With our salt sorrow
And our foolish human tendency
To love.

But Kit, if God knows howling,
Why your silence?
Why your slumber?
Where is now the thunder
Of the cracking floes of human misery
In the great Chinook
Of human expectations, as the
Primordial river of civilization
Again begins to move?
And where is Thor,
That great celestial avenger
With his silly angels? (Is he just
The little old watchmaker after all?)

Your silence now is a creeping
Glacier of despair
That threatens to engulf us.
Let your cry once more be heard
From every church and stage!

And oh yes, Kit,
Break a leg!

~

Pierson F. Melcher
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