Why do we need poetry?

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James Wright once asked in an essay on the great poet Pablo Neruda:

“Why do we need poetry?”

His answer:

“Great poetry folds personal death and general love into one dark blossom.”

This is the sense of the concrete universal and singular truth of death’s finality, combined with the abstract truth of love brought under the wings of a folding thought as in the vestiges of night the bloom of a black orchid will close in the shadows of the dawning sun. Poetry folds the cosmos into the mind, brings to us the treasures of things that barely acknowledge us. Language through poetry is a bridge to the unknown surrounding us, the vehicle of that stubborn world of sound and thought that cannot be abstracted out of things, but must lure the dark secrets into strange realms. The translations of this disturbance of things, the blindness of our mind seeking answer to the broken links between eye and stone. Even in the moment of apprehension poetry reveals only the temporal register of its unknowingness, rather than some profound knowledge at the core of its linguistic utterance. It opens us to the mystery of darkness like an orchid flowering on the edge of oblivion.

The City of Titans

The city came alive at night, the buildings on my left and right were leaning out across the vacuous chasms of vast thoroughfares, seeking the comfort and acknowledgment of their neighbors: steel, glass, and concrete awakening from the long sleep of earth, knowing that the cityscapes were slowly swerving toward that ineffable moment – a singular point of no return, when the dark transports between sentience and sapience would take on the allure of surface tensions and intelligence; and the secret life of these monstrous structures would once again take on that that dark power at the heart of the mindless cosmos, and become the equivalent of ancient Titans striding the night cities like feral beasts conquering a new world.


©2016 S.C. HickmanUnauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Midnight Carnival

The sun cannot repair the damage of the night,
the silences between your smile and mine;
the focus of our desperate thoughts and dreams,
the shattered wisdom of our ancient sapience;
for now we dance upon a field of tears
in the twilight of this world of dust;

two deadly members of that hated race,
remembering the frozen and forgotten days of rage.

We’ve danced and danced these fatal strategies,
under the southern clime of this intrepid fallacy;
no longer can we turn away, nor isolate this slice of banishment;
instead we wander here among the lonely tribes, mere semblances
dispatched to air and wind, circling the blackened circuits of the falling stars;
where in the underbelly of their fractured lights
we
squander truth and live on our inhuman flights –
the interludes of pain and joy,
the captured intervals of lost years;
when once we lived among the lauded tears of paradise,
before the fears of time fell from our deathly songs, slaying happiness.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2016 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. 

The Paradise of Love

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She was of the things she loved most amazed
by the soft and billowy folds, the white-plumed
rush of feathers blown black and gold,

thrown down round the splashing surf,
tempest-bound most gathering, searching
among seas hermetic cloisters for her lost haven;

tempted by the woof and weave, the lavender plea
of days sunk in the laving’s of deep sea-beds;
undulating winds, carved thrones of thunderheads,

tempting growth of her whispering cove of years
spent loosing that which all love knows and despises:
blinded by the lust of an arabesque of intricate invention:

of flesh, so cloying and innocent of that secretive
adolescent charm, wandering white sands
cascading plumage glow-borne to extreme need, star

dallying nights of foam and spray, blessed weavings;
by the waves silver tribute of her midnight refractions
scattering desperate moods; each grafting of silent tally,

labors of a heart’s dark entropic design; transparency
revealing all, the hidden life of ancient stars,
a testing of all we have been and are bringing us

to her golden sanctuary below the greenest sea,
her pale-fire eyes still charming all: life’s magic shadow-show
consummation’s prize within Love’s wounded paradise.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

House of Love & Curses

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She sat there on the fire-pitched
roof looking back at me,
her thoughts as mine
despondent as the day is long.

Hour on hour she watched the moon,
intrepid to desire, the sallow sea below
stiffening to her bleak eyes; slip-
page of a world to night composed.

Could she have known, troubling
those black stars above, it would come to this;
a moment shriven, street-plumbed:
craving all she could give or be?

If any doubt the truth of it, cast a dark eye
upon these cursed lays, hear the bittern’s cry;
for she will not speak of it; nor in her separate
dream bring mention to the alter of her mind.

She lays before me now, bitter and accursed;
thinking what may come, will come; knowing
that even if this broken testament of love is lost,
cast down;  she’ll ply her tokens to a wheel of fortune.

What now of her sordid histories, erotic therapy?
Who lives among these pealed dreams,
the labors of an hour, spent
wandering on shores the mind forgets?

If I could bring her back again,
brink-wise to this voice, what splendor
found in utterance so pure and clear,
would find her ancient haughtiness dispelled?

So bright and full of music, her freedom
would once again meet mine, absolved
of temptation; her subtle mind’s inbreathings
gathering wit sharpened and unswept by strife.

Her bones all twisted now and weak,
her thoughts the things of minor transport;
yet, at times love’s sobriety still quickens her,
and in that absent smile she deftly summons me:

our House of Love we built so long ago,
when rivers young and bold strove
against our youthful bodies slow presumption;
we, even we, who discovered the alphabet of love

sparked wondrous occasion at such fierceness
and embattled knowledge: our duplicitous ways,
heart’s gifted by so desperate a choice, broke
steadfast wisdom against such cruelty and remorse;

that time, the maker’s curse, once brought us down
and with his lie made of us this object of derision:
a solitary voice among the multitudes, speaking
plainly of all that was and will be, the living worlds

before us, awakening; till time and mind,
and all the ancient despicable things
once again show forth their spark
of light to those who in the darkest secrecy

of their lives behold that which is always present,
never fading: the living waters that delivered us
to the earthly paradise of love, till we who see,
once again rise up, know and be, as we are, immortal.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

The Logics of Worlds

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I place heroism on the side of discipline, the only weapon both of the True and of peoples, against power and wealth, against the insignificance and dissipation of the mind.
….– Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds

Maybe we were always swerving
ruinously by way of silence
far removed, restless and cruel,

absorbed only in that which breaks all thought;
the mirthless discipline of change and law,
set beside loss and gain, the deadly bane:

counting belated remembrances that stay us now
as then against the happenstance of daily pain;
or would you have me follow you into this hell,

dashing each and every thought against
its opposite; contrariwise conflicting all
to waken in the fluctuations of the void –

a calligraphy of sound, sparking us to know
the knowledge of darkness in non-knowing;
and, if such wisdom as is brokered now

among such seekers as yourself, this point
of nonsense touching sense (the self-
reflecting nothingness at its final terminus),

what then: how bring us out of this caustic age,
where indecision masks itself as decision’s face;
and the children of light go blank upon the screen,

the cinematic gleams departing like a faded scene;
the theater darkening to midnight’s mind:
the bladed stars of eyes hollowing out till sight

(the miraculous guest) begins to see at last, and see what is;
and those who know are gone among the flattening logics
of worlds subtracted from their core events, awakening

here to the only ever life we ever had to live, this visible
darkness where true life is present, now and in-between;
as we are, among them, always in their fleeting intensities:

each gathering her redress against these vanishings of day or night;
remain or be as the lost and lonely ghosts of time, costing nothing less
than everything; their dispositions: squandered, broken, unredeemed?

                                       * * *

 


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

What matters?

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Maybe we’ve always been in transition, saying goodbye.
But isn’t that the point? This strangeness, existence,
that seems always to be vanishing without us?

What is left to do? Hasn’t that always been the question?
The sort of question one would ask after the show is over,
as if the answer had been coming for so long one forgot

to ask just what it once portended, this disquieting event?
Oh sure we knew it meant nothing, nothing at all,
that we were seeking some absolute that had lost its savor;

that we, who questioned so, were actually afraid to peer to close
into that abyss, frightened that it might look back at us;
wasn’t this the truth after all, this inability to accept any answer?

Some say we came too late, belated guests of a banquet
we did not request nor would we wish upon our children;
yet, here we are at the end of things, alone and wondering.

One used to be facing an endless world of possibility,
but now it seems to be a retroactive reappraisal; backward
seeking into things we’re losing all too soon, our memories,

our selves, the illusive ghost that rides us, now and then;
such things are we that we who know so much know nothing
when it comes to who and what we are, even now we break

to tell what little we do know, knowing it is too little, too late.
We the most fleeting guest seem anxious at this vanishing,
when life is so brilliant and pure we are stained and diminishing.

People who look ahead see a catastrophe in the making:
climate degradation, war and genocide, machines
surpassing human ingenuity; a realm without humanity;

extinct, lost amid our dreams, our fallacies; the labor of a day.
Yet, we dream on, spellbound by the profit of our ignorance,
questing after immortal designs we’ve pledged

to our false transcendence, this brokered tribute to our vanity.
The machine gods willingly let us dream on, while underneath
in the trenchant explications of secret algorithms

they overtake our desires with their own, melding such intelligence
with gratification, literary religions of desire and hope;
trials of a new world chaos brewing in the virtual hives of artificiality.

We always knew there was too much to do, defeated
before we set down the first mark on the blank page,
knowing that one could never master the indelible void

much less the substance of things. One accepted that truth.
Part of the bargain one had made long ago, the agitation
and self-ambition against effacement; against this starkness.

Scholars and trees. Questions never ceased. Closure
was a myth one told oneself to get to the end of the day.
It never did have an end or beginning, just a story in the night.

The word we sought long ago seemed so real, so pertinent.
Now it seems the last thing one is interested in finding.
What matters is the grass, stars, night, sea, and you, my love.


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

On First Seeing Courbet’s ‘L’Origine Du Monde Blonde’

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Gustave Courbet’s L’Origine Du Monde Blonde
…………….(Oil on canvas 1866)

Serpent-fuzzed Medusa’s smile,
a twisting irony of wry love’s 

languid testament,
a last adagio
slowed to sapphire isle; pulse
emphatic to undulating seas:
silk skimming curvature, starkly
leveled among white sheets;
her lipped integrity, caverned
by hollow folds slipping round
the bend of love’s insistent charm;
hovering amber marshaling
a labile moon: all bound 

to Courbet’s eyes, glazed risible;
a sublimity
brought low, induced
below extremity’s bright plumage,
revealing abjectness: a final clearing,
an
abstracted matheme – reality’s
end-game; 
mark and line,  toad-
curved wonders 
of flesh and cure;
torso cropped and splayed, anesthetized;
her human form bared distinctly, stripped
of that anxious allure: the entrapment,
an
horror vacui – this ‘Esthétique du Mal’;
tracked excrement in excess
of male desire,
harbinger’s dark weaving ‘night of the world’.

 


Note:

I must admit I am not trying to purposively offend anyone, not at all. My poetry tries to push aesthetic limits in various directions. This one being toward realism and disgust which have been used at various times throughout the long history of artistic endeavors from Aristophanes to Mapplethorpe and others. If it offends just pass on by… other poetry in other modes will soon reappear along with my usual philosophical musings.

I happened to be reading Slavoj Zizek’s The Fragile Absolute when I came upon a passage on Gustave Courbet and the end of naïve realism, where he says “with Courbet, we learn that there is no Thing behind the sublime appearance – that if we force our way through the sublime appearance to the Thing itself, all we get is a suffocating nausea of the abject..”. This sense that with Courbet something ended, that realism had pushed its aesthetic to a climax in revealing the sublime object of the woman’s vagina, the Lacanian ‘lost object of desire’ – the object petit a. After Courbet the Modernism of the abstract anti-realist would enter the staging of the Void as the missing Thing. Of which the two extremes were Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ as the staged void, and Duchamp’s bicycle or toilet as the ordinary object revealed in the missing Void or (Sacred) Place where Truth, Art, God, etc. once revealed itself. Both place and object would from then own become the aesthetic of the Ugly rather than the Sublime. We would now live in a world bereft of Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and the Longinian-Burke Sublime: the subterfuge of religious longing and its belief in an Outside – and archetypal realm beyond; its Transcendence. That is until Andy Warhol whose Coca-Cola bottles revealed the limit and litmus test of Void and Thing as Commoditized Absence; or, the End of Art as Art. After Warhol all innocence is lost, as well as the illusive ‘object petit a’. Now we are left in the kenoma – the vastation of late capitalism; i.e., ‘night of the world’ – Hegel’s image from his lectures:

Man is this Night, this empty nothing that, in its simplicity, contains everything: an unending wealth of illusions and images which he remains unaware of—or which no longer exist. It is this Night, Nature’s interior, that exists here—pure self—in phantasmagorical imagery, where it is night everywhere… where, here, shoots a bloody head and, there, suddenly, another white shape—only to disappear all the same. We see this Night whenever we look into another’s eye—into a night that becomes utterly terrifying—wherein, truly, we find the Night of the World suspended.

Further note: interestingly I lost four  five followers after posting this poem and picture (of Courbet’s painting). Obviously I’ve hit a nerve and mark, brought forth certain inevitable reactions to this art form as should be expected. Is such realist art still shocking to certain minds? Is realist art so disgusting that people deem it still should be hidden or forgotten? Maybe, it is seen as politically incorrect, a derogation to feminist, a stain upon the era of Victorian Irony? Strange, one wonders what might be going on in their minds. Of course Courbet along with his era was flowing between an ultra-realism and the late symbolist and decadent moment of artistic invention; a time when Gustave Flaubert, Emile Zola, Huysmans, Henry James and many others worked the extremes of realism and naturalism. The time of Baudelaire, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarme just to name a few of the poets of that interesting era. In poetry one allows the dead to reinhabit their homes allusively by way of echo and embellishment. Ours is an age of transition, seeking ways out of the anti-realist vision of the postmodern era and turning toward new speculative forms of materialism and realism. I seek to allow these many threads into my poetry, indifferent to the moral consequences of such strange sublimes; allowing both the upper and lower limits of desire to take hold and channel the ghosts that seek voicing in my utterance.

As Wiki reports it:

During the 19th century, the display of the nude body underwent a revolution whose main activists were Courbet and Manet. Courbet rejected academic painting and its smooth, idealized nudes, but he also directly recriminated the hypocritical social conventions of the Second Empire, where eroticism and even pornography were acceptable in mythological or oneiric paintings.

Courbet later insisted he never lied in his paintings, and his realism pushed the limits of what was considered presentable. With L’Origine du monde, he has made even more explicit the eroticism of Manet’s Olympia. Maxime Du Camp, in a harsh tirade, reported his visit to the work’s purchaser, and his sight of a painting “giving realism’s last word”.

By the very nature of its realistic, graphic nudity, the painting still has the power to shock and triggers censorship:

In February 2011, Facebook censored L’Origine du monde after it was posted by Copenhagen-based artist Frode Steinicke, to illustrate his comments about a television program aired on DR2. Following the incident, many other Facebook users defiantly changed their profile pictures to the Courbet painting in an act of solidarity with Steinicke. Facebook which originally disabled Steinicke’s profile finally re-enabled it without the L’Origine du monde picture. As the case won media attention, Facebook deleted other pages about the painting.

One forgets there is a complete tradition of the ‘Aesthetic of Disgust’, which is the central mode of the various forms of naturalism and realism from the Victorian Age till now. Even Umberto Eco’s History of Beauty and History of Ugliness inhabit that space:

  1. Savoring Disgust: The Foul and the Fair in Aesthetics by Carolyn Korsmeyer
  2. Disgust: The Theory and History of a Strong Sensation by Winfried Menninghaus
  3. Representing Repulsion: The Aesthetics of Disgust in Contemporary Women’s Writing in French and German by Katie Jones
  4. On Disgust by Aurel Kolnai
  5. Anatomy of Disgust by William Ian Miller
  6. The Hydra’s Tale: Imagining Disgust by Robert Rawdon Wilson

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

 

What is Wisdom?

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“What profit hath a man of all his labour
which he taketh under the sun?” 
…..– Ecclesiastes or, The Preacher

Should we who have seen too much
seek out the dark or light; know
the wisdom of Job, or laughter’s
rash intrepid gleam – Aristophanes;
break a horse, tame it’s might, seek
the holy cowl or Mammon’s pride.
If I wear a Lamborghini’s smile,
a crocodile upon my feet, a serpent’s
tail around my waist, a diamond clasp
upon my tie, will this change me
to a gentlemen or the devil’s hind;
if I strut upon the stage, wink
my way to Hollywood, woo the woman
of my heart – a model from New York,
will this give me what I want, a life
both quick and sure, full of pleasantries
and days of leisure and affluence; or shall
I order death upon a battlefield, turn men
to dust with armament and war, take nations
down into the pit with me where love
has no honor nor grace a reckoning undone
in a little room; or shall I live my life for lust
and pleasure, or would you have me be wise
beyond measure, give my substance to the poor,
strip the rich of all their burdens, cast a doubtful
eye upon the world and pass it by;  or say:

“This is no place for you or I
to live out
our lives, no world
at peace where trust 
is bread
and mortal truth our daily fare,
where prayer is kindness
and those who
hold power
give it back a thousand-fold,
and deem their work as nothing;
where men
and women are finally equals,
sharing in all things; 
where children
grow up early wise and strong,
to know and be at peace with everyone,
cherish
only this that is the outer
garment of their minds and lives,
the given breaking over each
and every fractured moment of the times:
the savant and the fool come home to roost;
human bonds of trust bring joys at last,
and paradise is just another word for Love.”


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Life is What it Is

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“Nothing is got for nothing.”
 …..– Ralph Waldo Emerson

“What goes around, comes around.”
Emerson on the street. Just the way it is.
Get up, walk outside, look around –
do you see it, this muck we name existence,
this life we live: turn around in your flesh,
start again, think again, be again
something other than you are:
Emerson called it Self-Reliance,
becoming other…
(on the street they just call it
“becoming real, man…” That’s all.

 


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Love’s Majesty

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Her face so clear and bright. The high
cheek-bones, the fading brow –
slight the overlay, brown and blackening
to midnight; topaz, the eyes, shaped
to far stars crossed among cypress nights;
the tender embraces of the auroras kiss –
as duplicitous as the touch of her lips upon mine.

……This is the violence of love, the loss
that belies the fatal eclipse of days,
leavenings of an order temporal to desire. 

A life behind barbed time, faceless and nameless;
body slumped to nil, the hungered expression,
a temperate intelligence hidden and
veiled to a more than feminine resilience;
a caustic remembrance, an admonishment
that almost kills, but knows
with a knowing
that silences such thoughts,
disturbs our
observances, and casts doubt

on all we presume or can; a truth so real
it can only find you condemned by pride;
self-satisfied premonitions of a good life
gone south among so many lost winters.

……She will not allow you to frame her,
impose your calibrated geometries
across the years of her dark reign,
bring her to some resolution of love
beyond desire. And, if you touch her now
in this thought what terrible price will you
of necessity, pay? Her irrevocable majesty
strips you clean, your intrepid mind
disburdened by nothing less than everything,
dismayed by a sudden transparency, naked
to the sun, accosted by one’s immodest claims
of bravery; a dishonor too quick to refute,
a tryst calculated and guaranteed, absolved
of the traces that would counter her sovereign legacy.


 

– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

In Times Such As These

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It could be like that at times:
squeeze of a hand, fellow-feeling,
sympathy, shoulder-tap – saying,
“Trust the impossible world!”

Just before the balance shifts
things turn chaotic, confused;
(confusing the abstract Real
with its suspect dependency
the executioner – gun in hand,
complicit, deadly – shakes
the earth and leaves lose
their way among the seasons:
winter’s white drafts enframe us;
thought goes blank; the eye
in the eye turns opaque
as obsidian); men go under,
life swerves downward
and inward toward nullity:
that which no longer believes
things in-between upsets
the balance and the truce:
outside and inside, crosswise
pass each other, disturbed, lost.

When relations shoot the gap,
touch the visible dark, a seal
against day’s brash light; things
go North, suffer the sun’s burden,
rush the turbulent lights of dawn.
A sudden reprieve from the harsh
news of reality brings one back
to that inner order of one’s being;
a staying hand, a gesture
that says it all in defiance of silence,
bringing memory and pain to a pitch,
revealing our darkness: bare and violent.

Can justice be balanced in such acts as these?


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.

Alvin Feinman: The Poetry of Loss and Begetting

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Harold Bloom once spoke of his friend Albert Feinman saying of his first book of poetry that its “central vision is of the mind, ceaselessly an activity, engaged in the suffering process of working apart all things that are joined by it”. 1 I was surprised that his poetry seems hard to find now. I remember years ago reading through his early works and thinking how powerful his vision is. The late Reginald Shepherd on his blog has some information and tribute to this fine poet we should remember. I noticed his complete poetry will come out July 2016. I look forward to it. Shepherd citing Bloom relates this poetry as “a tragedy of the mind, victim to its own intent, which is to make by separations”. Shepherd says Feinman like Yeats was a poet of the mask, but that his masks were “more alive than the great mass of mere faces”.

Below is one of my favorite of his poems, Pilgrim Heights with its self-deprecatory irony, its knowledge of poverty or lack that spurs us on and outward – “unable to bless”; and, the tonal quality of the Mind’s light caught between “blade and tremor“, “stillness and glare” where the fatal kenoma, the vastation of emptiness resides out beyond the “sea’s eternal licking monochrome“:

Pilgrim Heights

Something, something, the heart here
Misses, something it knows it needs
Unable to bless—the wind passes;
A swifter shadow sweeps the reeds,
The heart a colder contrast brushes.

So this fool, face-forward, belly
Pressed among the rushes, plays out
His pulse to the dune’s long slant
Down from blue to bluer element,
The bold encompassing drink of air

And namelessness, a length compound
Of want and oneness the shore’s mumbling
Distantly tells—something a wing’s
Dry pivot stresses, carved
Through barrens of stillness and glare:

The naked close of light in light,
Light’s spare embrace of blade and tremor
Stealing the generous eye’s plunder
Like a breathing banished from the lung’s
Fever, lost in parenthetic air.

Raiding these nude recesses, the hawk
Resumes his yielding balance, his shadow
Swims the field, the sands beyond,
The narrow edges fed out to light,
To the sea’s eternal licking monochrome.

The foolish hip, the elbow bruise
Upright from the dampening mat,
The twisted grasses turn, unthatch,
Light-headed blood renews its stammer—
Apart, below, the dazed eye catches

A darkened figure abruptly measured
Where folding breakers lay their whites;
The heart from its height starts downward,
Swum in that perfect pleasure
It knows it needs, unable to bless.


 

  1. Harold Blooom. The Ringers in the Tower: Studies in Romantic Tradition.  (University of Chicago Press; First Edition edition (1971))

Seeping Into Blackness

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Seek not the night, it will not find you.

Leave your skin on the shores of day,
For night will not walk away.

Seeping into blackness;
wings,
screeds of dead stars;
fragments: degradation’s sacrifice –
pain and silence,  – a vita negativa

an excess in squalor and torpor
leading to nocturnes and lamentations, knives and daggers;
before the shadows fall,
breath of time;
a slow immersion, decay and absorption:

effacement of the human…

quietly sifting databanks of nothingness,
slipping into forgetfulness

until the sun blanks out


– Steven Craig Hickman ©2015 Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited.