Howard Moss


Four Birds

“Wake to the sun,” the rooster croaked,
First bird of the day. The world, light-flecked,
Chiselled its lineaments into form.
Where was all that fine light coming from?

“Trance at the wonder,” the second sang.
Whose five dry notes urged the ongoing
Afternoon on. “Why wake and stir?”
It asked. And asked. There was no answer.

“Live through the muddle.” That from the next one.
Not very helpful. It looked like rain,
Or fog in the offing. Twilight. Then
It sang again from an oak or pine.


The startling pleasures all broke down,
It was her first arthritic spring.
Inside her furs, her bones, secure,
Suddenly became a source of pain
And froze on a Saturday afternoon
While she was listening to “La Boheme.”

Strength had been her weakness, and
Because it was, she got to like
The exhilaration of catastrophes
That prove our lives as stupid as we think,
But pain, more stupid than stupidity,
Is an accident of animals in which, once caught,
The distances are never again the same.

Painting A Wave

“Painting a wave requires no system,”
The painter said, painting a wave.
“Systems may get you flotsam and jetsam,
Seaweed and so forth. But never a wave.”

There was a scroll or fine-lined curve
On the canvas first, and then what looked
Like hair flying or grayish nerves,
Which began to move as the painter worked.

“Painting the sea is a lot of trouble;
It never stops still for a moment, so
I try to make it internal, mental,
As though I stopped it, then let it go.”

Particular Beauties

Whether it was a particular beauty
Stirred the tearfall from the eyelid’ s rim,
Rinsing the world once more with self,
Was it not there the general peered,
Thousand-eyed, down from the peak
In the last of all imaginary sunsets?
The light divided in half, the half
Divided again in half, the way
Zeno’ s paradox makes nothing move
Because an infinity of points between
Target and arrow, though never seen,
Exists. And there is snow in a capsule,
A solid floor of individual
Flakes that, shaken, settle in a field —

The Lie

Some bloodied sea-bird’ s hovering decay
Assails us where we lie, and lie
To make that symbol go away,
To mock the true north of the eye.
But lie to me, lie next to me;
The world is an infirmity.

Too much of sun’ s been said, too much
Of sea, and of the lover’ s touch,
Whole volumes that old men debauch.
But we, at the sea’ s edge curled,
Hurl back their bloody world.
Lie to me, like next to me,

The Truth About Love

It seems to have traveled at night,
Supremely ironic, lighting fires,
Laying golden eggs in the midst of squalor,
Its outer garments, in the latest version,
Sumptuous, its linens more than shoddy,
Drunk, moreover, at a seedy party
The discriminating shunned, and, later, bawdy
In a run-down neighborhood, with whores and sailors
Chosen as companions while the queen went needy.
Now that everything about it is known,
Why does it come up purple or threadbare,
Thrashing all its sunsets in a fit of pique,