THE BIRTH OF STAND-UP
—for Tim Whitmarsh
For a very long time she sat in silence sick at heart
and neither greeted nor embraced anyone,
without laughing and without eating
wasted away longing for her low-girdled daughter,
until the careful, discerning Iambe made jokes that cheered up the lady,
as she would many times after to ease her passion
making her smile and laugh and to lighten her heart.
Homeric Hymn to Demeter, vss. 197-204
Start a poem from something I've only heard?
Ovid did from something he'd only read,
nosing around, say, in Callimachus
or another of his many sources,
and so became a grander source himself
of the never changing ever changing
state of things he twirled in a permanent
rendition for us to nose around in.
Call this fervent condition "Black Seeing,"
attempts to light up and out of our dark
holds life's stuff redeemed by sight, sound, and touch.
So last summer in Wellfleet in the woods
nature's call awoke me, and as I padded
half asleep through the hall I heard another
from a wild pack of muses in the night
and I'm nothing if not all ears inside
and out to the out-of-sight in the air
of the coywolves' keen singsongsingalong,
no longer tricksters after translation
into Canis latrans x lycaon,
able to kill deer or an Actaeon,
disabled to tell he saw what he saw,
and whose hounds' grieving howls were thereupon
silenced by the work of the semivir's
Chiron's hands, an image of their master
in his cave. (May Pindar's prayer that that wild,
just mind friendly to men live on live on.)
So they say and so we go on saying
axiologótaton, what's worthy
of being told and thereupon still heard,
many-mused sayings one to another
to another, fused in threaded rhythms
of ribbon plaited through Persephone's
tresses, attuning us to her fated
descents below the light and her returns.
Her mother grieved, though, as if for herself
in silence, they say, seated on a slab
of stone named Laughless as she was laughless
sitting on the stone cold slab that can kill
comedians and tragedians till
old Iambe became famous for good
and told her, "Said one breast to the other,"
as she jigged, "you remind me of mother."
Then lifting her waist shawl from its bottom,
showing her all, shouted, "Penis Envy?"
and bump-ground her answer out, "Mommycock!"
Then all the women of Eleusis laughed
and Demeter smiled at last and laughing
drank her drink of barley water with mint,
then turned her nous to the Rarian Meadow
and other mysteries to come—they say.