The Geometric Lover — A Poetry Chapbook from 1991
“The Geometric Lover” is a poetry and photography chapbook from 1991. It needs a many edits still here (as it went through some further drafts and I need to find those old notes somewhere) but, for now, here is the 1991 presentation of it. All photos herein are original, taken in the Wilkes-Barre, PA area at that time.
The Geometric Lover
Part 1: Train Dream
Track one, two, three — Wilkes-Barre bound.
Cars sweep by me so quickly:
Boxcars, and those new round
Chemical cars like rusty sausages with
Ladders and wheels. Small sulfuric
Decals pass my window, too quick
To read: ‘ide and ‘ate are the
Only chemical endings I can catch.
Cars pass by, blurry as smoke-stack smog.
Rust is predominant.
I stare through the glass in this passenger car
And can’t say if it is a dream or a
Vision, but it is here that I am
Acquainted with a lady who I am
Compelled to call The Geometric Lover.
She is outside and tells me how
Train tracks and boxcars are her soul.
Structures…, she says in the manner of
Beginning some great poem. Then
She transforms herself into giant rusty flying shears,
Slaloming old telephone poles outside,
Clipping the wires as she flies between them.
Later, she is floating over the ell like some
Omniscient ghost. She whispers to only me,
The great geometric wonders of the journey,
Like the Horse-Shoe Curve in Altoona.
No one notices a train, she says
As we pass through a large city.
Men rake their leaves and don’t look up,
The fighting kids over there don’t look up.
Two furless dogs, look, right next to the tracks;
They remain asleep.
I stop looking at her for one moment to
Note a stretch of colored boxcars:
Blue, red, black,
Red, blue, black,
Red, blue, red,
Black, black, black.
I wonder who arranged these, but
Notice the spirit has faded.
The train ignores old railway stations,
Perhaps a whistle
For the platforms on which men
Once waited with their leather cases,
But it doesn’t stop, and hasn’t for years.
After several hours, the trip is over.
Part 2: Stegmaier Brewery
Now, the walls here are painted
By graffiti artists and lovers.
However, the tail end of a larger spirit
Can still be seen here;
A spirit who was a lover of
Strong standing structures,
Of iron-clad architecture,
An enemy of plastics,
And synthetic materials.
It is nearly gone from here,
Its tail caught on pointy glass shards
Of vandalized windows.
I am standing beside two boilers;
They are giants longing to be
Filled with steam.
The sun has
Gone behind a cloud,
So I walk into another room:
Part 3: Talk with the Geometric Lover
The sun drips once more
Through clouded gaskets
And a room is lit up, full of
Valves and pipes which disappear,
Like limbs and branches of a steel tree,
Into holes in the ceiling.
My Geometric Lover seeps out
Of a pipe like a Dryad.
The shadows, she says, are beautiful
From their mathematical shapes
To the function of their change as
The sun rises and sets.
I tell her that I like them too;
The iron window grids, now empty
Or occasionally filled with broken glass,
The hot winds that whistle through,
Industry, she says,
Smoke stacks and trains,
Frames and iron blades;
These are my foundation! —
Cat walks and fire escapes,
Oh, love me —
She moves to embrace me
As the sun falls, again,
Behind a cloud.
Part 4: Machine Company 1883
A place near Hollenback Cemetary
Lies so old and ruined,
Spirits may have even left the bricks.
Walking into the turbine room,
I watch a yellow leaf, caught in a spider’s web,
Appearing to float in an empty window frame.
The wheel no longer turns, but
Is bigger than that of any locomotive.
An inscription reads Machine Company 1883.
Perhaps once it could have controlled time,
Or have started the Susquehanna flowing,
Or ventilated all of Wilkes-Barre’s mines.
There is no way of knowing; only guessing will do.
Outside, the sumac thrives, and the
Weeds are so old here, they’re trees
That look as exotic as tropical palms.
They hide the river and cemetary view.
Now I’m sitting atop a round iron
Structure, stomping ants and swatting
Black flies from my nose.
In the dense jungle-weeds, I can’t tell
If the buildings are stacked,
But I’m at least three-high,
Eye-level with Wyoming Valley’s mountains.
There’s a chimney next to me, unreachable.
I can only see that it still vents down,
But to where, I do not know.
My Geometric Lover escapes the chimney
And says, Weed-pointed leaves
And iron rivet shanks are my soul.
She is a ghost
With a huge hooped dress, made of
Bolted sanguine metal sheets,
Stitched with copper wire and
Laced with sprockets.
She stands atop a lower roof in the jungle-structures.
I’d love to photograph you here, I say
As I look down at her,
Because you are beautiful.
I pause to glance at a black wasp, beside me,
Interested in mining through a rusty spot.
- The Stegmaier Brewery mentioned in the poem refers to a landmark building in the town of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. It is a truly exciting piece of architecture and is also, unfortunately, a great ruin. It stands as a constant reminder of the once-thriving spirit and economy of the area when coal was king.
- Hollenback is an old cemetery in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, home to some monumental tombstones of the early coal barons. Also a landmark to the turn of the century class stratification, then more defined. It’s neighboring cemetery, the unkept Wilkes-Barre City Cemetery, was for the common and the poor.
1776 (Voice of Emily Dickinson)
If I walk into the Woods -
And there — perchance I find
A Feather — of a Bobolink -
Thats floating on the Wind -
Do I look — up to a Tree -
To try to find this Bird -
Who sends a Feather — down to me
Because — He can’t send Words?
The One Who Never Falls
You get caught up in walking the tracks,
As if the Earth was still until you walked
Straight up a track on a meridian —
Now the Earth starts to spin,
Pushed behind by your feet.
The more you focus on the rail,
The faster the world goes by,
Without peripheral vision.
You see one rusty rail,
An earth sized tread mill
And just the lateral railroad ties —
You’ve passed the equator again,
The ties are like huge balance beams
And you need one so you stretch
Your arms and suddenly you’re carrying
It on your shoulders and your arms
Become nailed to either end and you are
Walking towards your crucifixion.
You look around and there are others
On the next track walking, trying
Not to fall as if falling would be the
End of the line and someone will
Shove you, railroad tie and all under
The rails to support trains. Every tie you pass
Is someone else who didn’t make it.
Maybe cracks in the wood really are a
Language that says Hier Ruhe
Like old tombstone inscriptions in your
Town cemetery, and they say
This is where he gave up
So they shoved him under the rails
To hold the engines and boxcars.
So you walk on, wondering always
If the far off whistles are warnings
Of things to come. You start to feel
The creosote oil in your blood and
You wonder if maybe you should get off,
Put your ear down to the iron
And hear something far off.
You wonder why some stretches last miles
And then suddenly
A slip, you almost fall,
But twist and contort yourself
Wildly as if nothing is as important as regaining
Once, after a close call, your body
Is a perfect curtsey;
Left knee bent, right leg extended back
And to the left, your back bent and head looking
Up to an imaginary lady who is pleased
To meet you and she applauds and so does
The crowd and certain others wipe away your sweat —
You are infallible after this,
The One Who Never Falls.
Save yourself, the others say, if you’re
So great. But you don’t;
Because nothing is so important
To keep on walking,
To keep the world in motion.
People are falling from my hands:
A young girl’s face from Union Station.
They are all falling like leaves
Into a stream — slowly, so I can watch
Their graceful turns in the air as they fall:
Your attention, Ladies and Gentlemen,
On the center ring where Jim’s Grandfather
(Thought to be dead from throat cancer)
Will attempt a death-defying triple somersault
Into the arms of the frail, but strong-to-the-end
Grandmother-on-the-Italian-side ! ! !
He’s looking up at me, in the air,
His cancer preventing words,
But he’s saying, There’s no net. There’s no net.
Had he more time, he’d try writing
Everything down on a notebook
For me to decipher.
But the whole circus: the Ringmaster and
Lion-taming women, foolish Uncle-jesters,
The former-acquaintance jugglers,
And old lovers, in tights, selling cotton-candy —
It all bounces into the flow
And is swept to a nearby sewer.
At once, I’m in a far city, waiting at a streetlight.
When it changes, I look over and there’s a dingy clown,
In the passenger seat of the next car,
Waving to me through rainy windows —
Soundless, as if the person
Is reaching. When I do drive away, I go knowing I’ve
Watched and lived again, certain moments.
Riding a Broken Roller Coaster
I am on the scariest hill right now,
Just before the big dive into the amusement park.
I’m on the slowest part of the track,
The last second of climbing the first hill
Where everyone sort of levels off before
Gravity takes over and the people let go.
It’s the part of the ride where details are noticed.,
The part where you can see who the lady is next to you,
Where you can see others noticing you,
It’s the last slow-motion second, when the screaming woman
Behind you clenches her arms around her boyfriend,
And the woman next to you is like a ghost with red hair.
This is the point that I am at, but the red haired woman looks
Down the tracks and I have time to notice the terrible condition
Of the ride. The wooden frame is falling apart -
Even the red paint of the trim has dried and
Chipped. Along the rail next to the track,
A long strand of broken lightbulbs completes the picture.
I wonder where the missing section of track went off to,
And why am I on the big downhill, almost
Flying out of the old seat,
Coming closer and closer to the drop off ?
If I have enough speed at that point,
I can maybe sail across the park
And catch some branches on the way down.
Or I can find a manual brake,
And create such a friction and energy
On the old rails that for a second,
This section will light up again and
Become alive with the spirit of a carnival
And the calliope will keep time for some
Rising and lowering merry-go-round horses,
The ones with the broad chests and high gloss paints,
And especially the mighty wooden hooves.
I need to stop so suddenly that I’ll have time to
Put my feet down — and, even if it’s just for a second or two,
Walk into that crowd down there and
Get onto the back of a wooden horse with a new friend.
Knott’s Berry Farm
Danny takes out the Knott’s Berry Farm lighter.
He’s out in the vines with his girl,
Pointing far off into the richer fields,
And he’s pulling her and her red face close in,
Lighting up a Camel, prying his way through prickers
For more berries to pick, better berries —
He squeezes the red and purple fruit,
Choosy as an old man at a bushel of plums.
He rubs the red front of his lighter for luck.
Later they’re on a roller coaster and it’s something
About the silhouette of a ferris wheel in the background,
Something about the powerful machinery,
About how the wooden frame bends just a little,
And about the sparks on the fast curves
Where she wants to float out of the car
With him and back into the fields;
This makes her scream and sink her face
Into the side of his leather jacket.
The most difficult thing to capture is
A flame’s burning out. The wind suddenly
Blowing it out: this is too poetic, too dramatic.
Licking thumb and forefinger and manually
Extinguishing it is too showy — like stating
Control over fire, or claiming to be superhuman.
Letting it burn to its base is too hopeful —
There is only wondering
About when, indeed, it will die.
Burning it at both ends is interesting.
I’ll give it a triplet;
(Edna St. Vincent Millay gave it a quatrain).
The best way is the accidental,
Like the way I once met a girl
(It’s a true story): I’m best at accidents,
At throwing a snowball into her window,
Knocking-over a candle into her hair,
Transfering all of its flame to her head.
You must be dreaming of questions
Because your hair is thousands of locks
Just like fancy brown question marks.
And I think your head wants to know
Who’s outside the door knocking,
So you’ll get out of bed in your dream
And look through the fish-eye peephole
Into a scary foyer because no one is there
Except maybe a spirit that looks like
Bright bars of light from the hall windows.
This is the light that you need to separate,
You need a good prism, that’s all:
Take one of your eyes, hang it in the light
And magic will happen:
Everything is not so warped as peepholes,
You’ll see, and your hair will straighten
Into long, long exclamation points!
Under a Pennsylvania lake, where people
Don’t breathe, where it’s motionless-
Black and everyone lies still,
Sometimes, every hundred years or so,
Someone is struck by a sinking nickel
From lovers on the shore, or old fishermen
In a boat, or a tiny Japanese boy wishing upon
His faith — someone wishing for luck, let’s say,
And you’ve wished to take me there,
Where a heartbeat is not important
And only happens once a day,
Too deep for the tiny waves, for the skipping
Of shale rocks, too deep for the color of a trout,
Much too deep to know about rain.
Those people aren’t dead and haven’t yet drowned,
They are exploring the old coal shafts,
They are even eating fist-sized chunks of coal
As if to say that when a person becomes too cold
And senseless, he must eat such things;
Become so hungry for such things that he’ll
Glide mouth-first into a cavern wall,
Suck the Earthen nipples of stalagmites.
It was a complex system of water-wheels,
A system based on pressure, on the power
Of a healthy Susquehanna. There must have
Been a giant axle at one time for this place
To have turned with all of the grace
Of a giant ferris wheel. “It really could have
Worked,” I remark, as if it never did.
Perhaps certain parts of the wheel
Went towards the making of the giant
Ferris wheel in the 1904 World’s Fair
In St. Louis, a time when Scott Joplin
Was playing his
Could he have known the important link
Between waterfalls and ferris wheels?
The same link found in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Where ragtime was not as popular
As, say, the Polish Mazurka, but just the same,
Water wheel paddles,
Ultimately, through gearboxes and grease,
Crushing the coal, crushing the coal, crushing the coal.
Was it an eye-trick,
Or did a red petal
Move just a bit as,
At the same moment, the
Night-sky grew one shade darker?
Anchors in the Park
Tonight, I sat with anchors, in the park
And said that maybe sometime, if I was
On the ocean floor, and a warship came overhead,
I would sit on its anchor,
Hold onto a giant chain link
And if it could just hang midway in the water
As the ship moved across the top,
I’d travel along if I could for a while,
Relaxed on the heavy iron and
Soaking in green,
The same way the park is green,
But the grass is algae, the trees kelp,
And exhalations bubble to blurry stars.
Perhaps the river over the next hill
Has changed into a long shale current,
The Susquehanna current, they might call it,
A fluctuating current — now thick, now thin,
Here fast, there slow. Even the concrete bridges
Aren’t manmade anymore, rather natural wonders
Like giant coral,
So abstract now that it would do just as well
To say someone built the distant mountains,
Or the stars, or else to say that no one built
These anchors I’m sitting on. I’ve become
A fish who doesn’t contemplate the
Broken bottle which makes his home in the river;
A part of the nature is all it is,
Same as anchors are part of the river commons park,
And I am a part of their ocean.