A day, long ago, when you saw
the wind menace down from
a culvert’s high side
– in the Blue Ridge Mountains –
and rip and shred your tent
like an invisible beaked bird, aggressing against it.
You stood shell-shocked,
watching the violence of it all. A beer in hand.
Was it God, or Great Spirit?
Some advance of bad luck like a fortune
teller’s omen, laid down in the cards?
Something that makes the Universe like a portent?
Should you have known this? The remembrance –
of other shocks, kept camp-side like a book?
The self must be a fabric of old holes.
Shock points that puncture its ignorant solidity.
Portals too, made of weird exits and entries.
You’d been drinking, but what does that matter?
You were also reading Travels With Charley
by John Steinbeck. Weren’t you prepared?
The whole side of your tent
went soaring down – merciless –
into a tangled landscape made of laurel.
Proving – what? That beauty too
is a dark, hungry hole? Something thirsty?
Or that this kind percussive consequence
is just the arbitrary design point
of the self’s gradual assistance –
an assistance slapped awake by shock episodes –
into a greater wisdom:
a wisdom born of kickback and chaos?
Things tear apart, even when you
plan for necessary shelter.
After that, you slept in your car.
The Angel Ashriel Lifts Me Out of Me
At the bedside, I watch the slow pointillism
of the sunshine speckling the hospital walls.
Silence, and the hours like clicking trains.
Even my skin, a bitter orange, softens.
I am old now, so old the sky seems youthful.
My throat, bound by an old slingshot necklace.
Music, deep in my body’s earnestness, echoes.
Visions, cut in purity, float up above the words.
The future was tossed over my bedside, and I saw how it is
I would vanish and die. Loneliness, whispered
the utopian nightingale angel to me – that pining bird –
is an impassioned utterance, reveling inside the day.
Caught there – my selfhood – in a swarming throe.
My shoulders and legs held tight, inside my arms.
Me, gazing into the volcano of a sunset’s ending.
Love, you know – the nightingale angel said to me –
is a mode of virtual space; nothing but life contains it.
It resides in that lone part of the human – cut from the
floral rosette we like to refer to as the soul. Love –
the soul’s laughing, tormenting, romantic soft ale –
is what the body longs to hold on to at the edge
of these late hours, on any lonesome day. And, so,
let me inform me of your future, said the angel,
lifting himself over the side of my bed’s railing
to lay down with me like a salamander, so fused with me.
You will be the clearest bloom, drying up, shut.
And still, afterwards – when the uneasiness sets in –
you will be the crow’s voice of a memory, recalling all this.
Yesterday, after roaming the queer, unnatural fields
where the old Victorian mansions fell apart
into the afternoon’s ruinous bell pepper sunset
and, after a few stray feral cats leapt up to greet me
across the dappled wood planks scattered there
like squatter’s quarters, I lay out along the dirtiest
portion of earth to experience how to give over,
to surrender, especially when everything else I saw
rose high up into the dusk’s salmon truffle hue.
Radiance and strength, all the dancer’s powers, so visible…
Nothing of it, when the funeral coal of dusk descends…
And, laying there, thinking of that vision now, as
the shuttering of the day’s red glow grows stiller
and shrill with a carbonated distillery of violet cobalt,
I am rendered formless in this magic oval, my body.
And the angel Ashriel – clinging to the sensual insides
of the room’s soft draperies – waves hypnotic light
within the hospital room’s sad dancing cataract.
He arrives now to separate the soul from my body,
as if it were a bug just clinging there to the inner rails
of my rib cage. Something of me loves the world
as my body suffers. Some part of me, leaping, swirling,
parting and joining all over again, abides. My hands,
arms, tangled in confusion now as my body releases
its flung light. Hurls it like ginger ale into the space.
Love, the angel says, must be consecrated by loss.
It is a shaking, a shuddering immediacy, a shift of vision
intended for space and time, which is the mystery’s
one sensory value: this illusion of a life whose events
I create. And I lose myself within this meaning –
so that I am abstracted from personal life.
I am a phantom flame, a smokestack stalk.
Just a wild asparagus bloom growing straight up
so that, at apex, I vanish into the night’s crusade.
The angel hovers alongside of me, a partner, an ally.
Something of me, concentrated in this particular act,
is unable to adjust. And the angel Ashriel, soft, furtive,
leans into the curve where my shoulder, sculpted into
a pate of a satin light, bulges out, widespread, vacant,
and, as the starlight floats me, his small bony fingers,
old as ancient tree branches ground sharp to cartilage,
grips my soul, that rosette, and he lifts it away from me.
Something of the eyes, closing upon this torment.
Something of the heart, traversing its watery violet.
Ken Meisel is a poet and psychotherapist. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a 2012 Kresge Arts Literary Fellow and the author of eight books of poetry, the most recent being: Our Common Souls: New & Selected Poems of Detroit (Blue Horse Press: 2020), Mortal Lullabies (FutureCycle Press: 2018) and The Drunken Sweetheart at My Door (FutureCycle Press: 2015. He was a feature poet interviewed by Rattle Magazine in 2018. Ken Meisel has work in Rattle, Concho River Review, The MacGuffin, and San Pedro River Review.