Mudlark Poster No. 109 (2013)

Enter Senex
by Paul Hamill

Speck in My Eye | To a Young Actor
Sleep Study | The Clown Senex

Speck in My Eye

I walked into a twig.  
Now, ten degrees to the right
of where my sight is focused,

The scar on my right pupil’s 
a gnat that both eyes chase.
It makes me see my seeing.

It flicks expertly to spots 
of meaning or surprise
in paintings, road signs, faces;

Dances a fierce jig 
if I sail up strange channels;
limns the shapes of fear.

As Luther saw the perils 
constantly teasing his soul
by sidelong vision of devils

That leaped aside when he turned 
to stare, I know the flow
of humdrum habitual vision

As a volley of passionate darts, 
sudden and manic as Cupid’s.
My speck is an Alice’s keyhole

to animal spaces: a bee
floats to the neon tavern
of lilies white to me, 

a hawk triangulates
the scurry of prey, my lover
smiles, a signal flashing

through flesh and memory. 
Intricate as a city,
vision and need run paired 

through such complexities
they weave a guarantee:
So much is what it seems,

We laugh and cry with reason.
But what absorbs me most,
with an erotic sadness,

is my incessant looking.
I fret at the hectic angel,  
the small but enduring damage. 

This mote is a grain of death, 
looming in my sight 
like a cooling lover’s flaw.

To a Young Actor

Caught you, young actor! —miming 
                my stumble among pipes, 
Weights, stymied bicycles.   
                You’re working up a role 
I know, “a burly old barber,” 
                which I don’t want to watch, 
Knowing the model you caught 
                sweating off a feast. 
Here’s how it is with old legs: 
                youth has thrusting hams 
But elders roll like sailors.  
                Later, those legs are stilts 
Absurdly hinged in the middle, 
                and feet do not lift but slide 
Across invisible ice.    
                Practice it when you’re weary.   

Well— Break a leg! But first, 
                let’s trade: For my gait (free 
To you, it cost me plenty) 
                a touch of actor’s method.   
I have scenes ahead 
                that I would carry off
As if I truly played them, 
                wearing whatever motley
Fits the arriving plot,  
                greeting a self invented 
In pleasurable collusion 
                with friends and the passing world.  
Isn’t it odd?  We play 
                more fiercely than we live: 
It’s that I want the trick of. 

I’ve watched you with your fellows: 
                even waiting in wings 
Becomes a role. You flash 
                a glance for practice or stand 
Arrested, scrolling a line 
                you must make new each night, 
Your whole animal 
                alert to the flow you’ll enter.  
A colt will dance and break 
                before a race but you, who feel 
That surge, delight to ride it, 
                march to your mark, and top 
The line that greets your entrance.  

It’s not the hunt-and-seek 
                of youth I’d take, but the quick 
Flame of engagement, as actors 
                breathe life into a script.
I want it for moments sure 
                to have no script, when simply 
To play the human calls 
                for brave improvisation.  
Perhaps it was always so 
                and I walked through my parts 
As if not fully awake; 
                it never seemed an art 
Till now, to play myself. 

I am not my own hero.  
                Perhaps at a certain age
One ought to be, but no: 
                I do not walk the knife-edge
Of essential contradictions 
                that give a soul great scenes. 
Meet a character actor!    
                I stand for the angle on truth 
That time imbeds in a type: 
                like troupers rich in lives 
Tried on, I know how many 
                ache to be unmasked.
And truly known at last. 
                I would not serve a muse 
But Proteus, god of shallows, 
                who turns from an old man 
To a fish or water-spout 
                or what he will, too fluid 
To answer a dry question 
                but witness to the secrets 
Revealed at moments of crossing.

Oh, we are torn. We want 
                repartee with the world
And it rushes past. My friends 
                grow choleric, impatient 
With old error re-labeled 
                Genius, and new ones birthed
In the House of Neglect. The “can’ts” 
                of memory, sex, or hurry 
Gorge our contempt at cant 
                in state or church; and we loathe 
The unfailing cant 
                of the young as they take over. 

Chameleon and quicksilver, 
                you know the shapes you take
In others’ eyes: by that 
                do you inhabit yourself 
With deeper grace? A poet 
                once called his art the axe 
That learns to carve its own handle.  
                An actor told me, “My mask
On stage is my unmasking.”   
                So with my age: I must 
Step into a character 
                I find by stepping in. 
In childhood, imitation 
                was the first instinct, a fountain 
—To drink from it again!

But you with your quick ear 
                will hear Polonius
In all this: moralizing 
                to cover. Of course I hate you.  
To think, how little you sense 
                the heart that shuffles off, 
But steal my limp! One day 
                you’ll be a star, perhaps: 
But for me now a planet: 
                a troubling portent, shining 
Above us groundlings who stand
                in the splatter of time and gape 
As you speed across the staid 
                ensemble of fixed stars.

Sleep Study

     I told the med tech 
I enjoyed the fitting up 
because it was cross-dressing 
as the Bride of Frankenstein. 
Multi-colored tendrils 
with little flowers of goo 
drape from each hemisphere 
of my brain; beside each eye 
a sensor records my blinks 
and closed eye movements: 
they’ll make my eyelids flutter 
alluringly for Frankie. 
The straps that cross my breast 
are like the ones that held me 
as I convulsed to life. 
A microphone at my neck 
echoes my night sounds: sighs 
and snoring, whimpers and groans. 
My legs bear sensors: I know 
I chase my dreams like a dog. 
A thimble on my finger 
tells what oxygen 
runs in my stolen blood. 

Bride that I am, I chose 
this fitting, or else would feel 
strangely violated: 
enveloped, as some would say 
they are by circumstances 
less visible than these tresses 
of bright wires. This cascade 
from crown to ankle strips me 
naked, enters me 
in ways I have not imagined, 
telling whether I dream 
and do not know it, kick, pant, 
or even cease to breathe. 

The tech said, What am I then?
You’ll have to be a peasant, 
slave to the grinding wheel  
of daylight, who dares to creep up 
close to the flicker of torchlight 
from the high slitted windows,  
the muffled ecstatic noises, 
the restless life of a monster.

The Clown Senex

Glimpsed in the mirror, he snatches me
Into the oldest comedy:
We limp to a stage in a crowded square 
Where he leans for gossip and cups his ear 
At the quick city jokes and sexy shifts
Of young love conspiring. He lifts
A passing skirt and is slapped hoo-hooing,
Cackles with joy at the scandal brewing.
He is the perfect comic chorus, dense
As the slowest of the audience,
Astonished at the final turn of the plot—
“He’s a girl! But he said he was not!”
He is creaky and dry and abrupt as a cricket,
Admits that his grasshopper is not as quick at
Its business as once, but leers and nudges
Close up to the mischief, and never budges.
A hick in the city, his mind is a wain
Piled high with matters he needs to explain
To the citified: rural life and animal wonders
And a hinterland of years whose weathers,
Famines and pageants stray through his talk
Without invitation, a wandering flock.
A hurrying stranger asks for directions:
He starts from a pent-up wealth of connections:
“Which way to the palace?”  “As a youth, I kept bees...” 
“Right or left?”  “That’s right. My hives were near trees...”
On stage, with his staff and dangling phallus,
Or in the mirror, he offers solace:
There’s always a farce with a place for us in it.
We pant our way through a self-pitying minute
As the lovers outrun us, raising laughter:
But the chuckles are knowing, and softer.

Paul Hamill has published in Poetry, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Cortland Review, Diagram, and others. The most recently published of his collections is a chapbook, Meeting the Minotaur, from Split Oak Press, 2011. He retired from Ithaca College in 2011, where he had been a senior administrator, sometimes lecturer, and also, for a couple of years, county Poet Laureate. He spent last year as a Senior Fulbright Fellow at Lucian Blaga University in Sibiu, Romania, named for a great poet whom the authorities forced to refuse the Nobel Prize in the early 1950's. A sequence of Hamill’s poems and an interview with him can be found in the current issue of the Journal of American, British, and Canadian Studies (Romania).

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