Five Branch Tree

  • From a Thomas Lux interview with Peter Swanson:

    History seems particularly important to you. 
    As I said, I read a great deal of it. Never in any systematic way but I have read deeply in certain areas: World War II, medieval, lately a lot of nineteenth-century world history and eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history. A persistent theme of mine seems to be man?s inhumanity to woman and man. Lots of examples of that in history and right up until the seconds before I finish typing up this sentence. Lots of metaphorical possibilities to mine there too! I?m just curious: I don?t want to take tests on what I read; I don?t want to argue with history professors about theories. An example of the kind of book I like best would be about the daily life?in as great detail as possible?of a fifteenth-century German pig farmer. 
    The Drowned River uses a famous saying of William Faulkner?s as an epigraph: ?The past isn?t dead. It isn?t even past.? How important is that idea to your poetry? 
    Well, I believe Mr. Faulkner was right. I don?t think he meant simply ?history repeats itself,? though that?s implicit too. I think he?s saying that humans are pretty much the same as we?ve always been. I think he?s saying that despite all the tremendous advantages the modern world brings us, we carry our past, ourselves, our history, with us always. As a country. As one country among many others. As individuals. I think he?s taking a swipe at our human arrogance, the relentless drive of the human ego.

  • To Help the Monkey Cross the River
    -- Thomas Lux 
    which he must
    cross, by swimming, for fruits and nuts,
    to help him
    I sit with my rifle on a platform  
    high in a tree, same side of the river
    as the hungry monkey. How does this assist
    him? When he swims for it
    I look first upriver: predators move faster with
    the current than against it.
    If a crocodile is aimed from upriver to eat the monkey
    and an anaconda from downriver burns
    with the same ambition, I do
    the math, algebra, angles, rate-of-monkey,
    croc- and snake-speed, and if, if
    it looks as though the anaconda or the croc
    will reach the monkey
    before he attains the river?s far bank,
    I raise my rifle and fire
    one, two, three, even four times into the river
    just behind the monkey
    to hurry him up a little.
    Shoot the snake, the crocodile?  
    They?re just doing their jobs,  
    but the monkey, the monkey  
    has little hands like a child?s,
    and the smart ones, in a cage, can be taught to smile.

  • Render, Render
    -- Thomas Lux 
    Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle,
    bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil
    it down, skim, and boil
    again, dreams, history, add them and boil
    again, boil and skim
    in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves,
    the runned-over dog you loved, the girl
    by the pencil sharpener
    who looked at you, looked away,
    boil that for hours, render it
    down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom,
    the heavier, the denser, throw in ache
    and sperm, and a bead
    of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist
    as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up
    the fire, boil and skim, boil
    some more, add a fever
    and the virus that blinded an eye, now?s the time
    to add guilt and fear, throw
    logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw
    two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders
    used for ?clearing?), boil and boil, render
    it down and distill,
    that for which there is no
    other use at all, boil it down, down,
    then stir it with rosewater, that
    which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence
    which you smear on your lips
    and go forth
    to plant as many kisses upon the world
    as the world can bear! 


  • [ The Dream ; Franz Marc (1912) ]....

  • Is there no change of death in paradise?
    Does ripe fruit never fall? Or do the boughs
    Hang always heavy in that perfect sky,
    Unchanging, yet so like our perishing earth,
    With rivers like our own that seek for seas
    They never find, the same receding shores
    That never touch with inarticulate pang?
    Why set the pear upon those river banks
    Or spice the shores with odors of the plum?
    Alas, that they should wear our colors there,
    The silken weavings of our afternoons,
    And pick the strings of our insipid lutes!
    Death is the mother of beauty, mystical,
    Within whose burning bosom we devise
    Our earthly mothers waiting, sleeplessly. 
    -- from 'Sunday Morning'; Wallace Stevens