Photograph by Tom Crowley
by John Terlazzo
From The Secret Work,
(Soon to be published by Chameleon Press)
From Vicious Information
From Vicious Information(Published 1978 by Springhouse Press)
Long have I longed to see your face revealed, the veil pulled aside, the splendid & hungry features no longer confined by senseless matter. And long have I longed to hear the music of your harp. When the Engines of Desire are charged, there is a sound within these walls like many mouths thirsting, like many illuminated foreheads pressed & praising, like endless flocks of birds waiting still & silent for that one word that will at once liberate & set them to wing.
Often, before dawn, I search for you by the waves of the sea. Only I will find your sandals & your books – written as they are in that strange language – but you are gone.
Many a night, I can be found ranting in your forests, delirious & thirsty, decorating my face & my body with these ashes, holding my hands to the sky. Strapped to my back is a beast, his eyes roll wildly & he groans & sings dedications to your unspoken name. But you are gone.
I didn’t come here to win “first place” in the pageant. I didn’t come to be decorated with oils & gold, nor to be carried through the plaka on the shoulders of silent slaves. The “celebrity’s life” is no temptation – it represents little more than a plague or a disorder of the nervous system – piles of manure, for my money.
But drunk on the promise of your perfume, I am confirmed in wilderness. I long to see your face no longer obscured, and your wild hands arranging the orbits. Your lips alone will bring down the thirsty armies bivouacked on my own. Your song alone – smeared upon my forehead and my mouth – will bring forth gratitude.
I came to paint these seminal mysteries on your walls. I came to hear your harp. It is for this that I move, blind & intoxicated, through these endless abandoned villages – this holy, unfortunate beast bound unto my back.
Left howling on the deck
Of this pirate’s ship, chains about my ankles –
Still the air smells of lavender & roses.
Wandering, a madman among jackals
In the market, wounds in my hands & feet –
Yet my lips taste of the ginger & honey & milk of outrageous love.
Often I stumble about like a hurricane,
Toppling houses, damning strangers & breaking old treaties –
Yet one glimpse of your silken mane returns me to stillness.
How is it so?
Every hand I touch bleeds light into the atmosphere,
Is electric with the weeping of your song –
I see you leaping like flames from those fingertips!
And once again, I am gentle & warm,
My ears hear the music & whispered voices of tall cedars,
And my mouth is filled with holy milk.
The avalanche is coming down on every culture. The avalanche pours forth from the mouth of the sea. The avalanche is coming down around your shoulders. The avalanche is coming down upon the broken dream. You can’t undress it. You can’t stroke it. You can’t bring it home or caress it with your will. The avalanche is talking to your daughter. The avalanche is wrecking your peaceful sleep. The avalanche knows you.
The avalanche disturbs your little shoes in the closet. The avalanche makes your dog cower & wince & glance over his shoulder. The avalanche causes an illness to sing in the petticoats, causes the madman to burn the minister’s house, causes a long, dark train to burn all night and then explode. The avalanche wills it. The avalanche wills it so.
The avalanche is coming down on the new religion. The avalanche is coming down on the dull credo, on the old sanctimony, on the dis-eased mission. The avalanche is whispering at the nape of your neck, speaking the epistles you do not wish to hear. The avalanche is gunning down your neighbors. The avalanche is in your garage screwing with your recommended tire pressure. You can’t tame it with your arguments. You can’t make it go home. You can’t label it “tyranny” and be done with it. You can’t say, “Wait a minute, I’m on the phone”.
The avalanche knows you.
The avalanche is waiting for you after the dance. The avalanche is waiting for you at the little ceremony. The avalanche is dressed in patent leather shoes, a white corsage. The avalanche is coming down on your Chevy. The avalanche is coming down on your trombone & your green velvet coat. The avalanche is biting the hand that feeds you. The avalanche is coming down across the dashboard. The avalanche is refusing to grant you redemption, saying, “I’m not through with you yet”. The avalanche won’t talk to you about mercy or offer you a glass of wine. The avalanche will crush you first and then it won’t marry you in the morning.
Listen, do you hear that? Like branches breaking…
Let my lips be a palace for your longing
Let your desire cry out & seek to be impaled in this place.
Let the song of this agony – delirious & sweet –
Sing you to the very edge of this cliff.
Let your holy body –
Taut, every luminous nerve charged –
Hover over that edge,
That this tongue
Might bestow the Blessing
If you believe that you came here to amass possessions,
Understand that this belief is ignorance.
You will leave with empty hands.
If you think that you are here to claim power,
To control others,
Think again, you will leave alone, shunned,
All eyes turned from you.
The question is: Where do you end & I begin?
Simply, what is offered to one is offered to all.
Bread, in any language – called by any name – is still bread.
And know this: Any fool can sleep his life away.
Look! They are bringing pajamas & covers of goose down even now!
But it takes great courage to open one’s eyes.
The World is my home, all Humanity my family.
There are those who say the cup is half empty,
Others – that it is half full.
But look everywhere
And you will see the cup!
It’s entirely full.
It lacks nothing.
Open your mouth & drink.
From The Axe & The Lute,
(Published 1998 by Chameleon Press)
I was waiting like a lamb for the Hand of Mercy, but the Hand of Mercy did not come. Or, more likely, it was there where I knelt beside the Interstate, but it was not revealed to me. Those assassins stepped forward to state their case, their metallic sunglasses gleaming. Those bullets were true but did not penetrate to my chest, protected as it was by the brown paper bag of dark stars that I wear like a talisman beneath my shirt. Each star carries with it a single sigh procured from your gentle, white throat.
In another distant life, when once I was king – laboring over pearled harps & luminous beings, moving disparate in disguise through the slave markets, singing couplets & praises over abandoned bones, speaking in un-bargained for tongues – I was led down to the waters to speak your name. Your form appeared, bathing among the rushes, dark thighs shining like wet glass. You were sent forth to disturb my peace, according to God’s plan. The sighs of your lips lay strewn about those rushes like beads of dew, I remember…
Now I do my penance. I make my rounds. I have met the Pharaoh and am not sore impressed, not by his actions nor his armies, nor his magicians nor his greed. Ordinarily, when one of his stature speaks, the bazaar grows still & every forehead touches the dust. But for my part, if I were him, I wouldn’t hesitate to empty the coffers. All the grains in his endless warehouses are forfeit. I would give it all to bathe in the sound of even one sigh loosed from your mouth, even one sigh…
Take me in your hands, O ecstatic dove.
Make me come to the song upon your lips.
Make me weep upon the altar of that song.
Here in my vest pocket is a small, clear vial, aqua in color, where the agony goes & the dolorous locks of someone’s hair & the bird’s small claws & thick rivulets of Catholic blood & numerous whirling worlds of discontent & the kinds of energy I so would like to forget.
Often I act as if the vial is not there or that it belongs wholly to someone else. But it comes back to me, as when I am pushing that black wheelbarrow with its opulent wheel up an innocent hill & I can hear the vial clicking against my buttons, or when the yellow moon is torn down out of the sky moaning, confessing, or when I am too willing to allow my life to drain out of me.
Owl feathers in my mouth, my hands in the cages of some secret police, eyes bound up under endless layers of white lace, the crooning thick syrup of popular song plugging up my ears, my apartments crowded with complaints, thick & dull – like disinterested oxen. How does one chew through this kind of coarse, bitter gruel? How does one eat nails?
There is momentary refuge in the praise of others. They tell me how much I know & how rich & pleasing the fruit that I bring to their tables. But I don’t know – sometimes I go to that same well. Looks pretty dry to me.
Sometimes I seek refuge in women. Or in conversation. Or in conversation with women but I am cut off in the alley, on the way, by children with small wooden boxes, dead ravens, dead pearls.
So I move through the amphitheatre among the empty seats like a ghost clothed in thick ocean water. I clutch the small glass vial to my throat & when I move to sing, piano keys – black & white – cascade from my lips breaking on the ground, crashing, sounding much like tympani & thunder & the round, deep bellowing of monks & old planets rolling down the stairs. Books – immense & dusty – fall from the bandaged palms of my hands like blood from a Christ & I trample down the brown pages & the broken keys & move off toward the sea.
Taking the vial to my lips I drink, come what may, & sit down beside a red boat, my shoulder leaning against its painted wood. Dark fishermen, their sleeves rolled up, are making ready. A black-haired youth labors over his nets, & a small, cloven-hoofed animal – kicking & bleating – dances on the sand in the dim light of morning.
Sighing a sigh that covers the world like vast, formidable clouds, I alone see the angel dancing with that goat.
Pears still ripen.
Rain still falls down.
I still taste your name
In every breath I take.
(For Panna and Nora)
My back against a low stone wall
I wait beneath a straw hat
Near the monastery
With my hole of a mouth.
Pray that the Temple will crack open
And I will be pierced.
Pray that someone will move
Beneath the brilliant olive trees
And moisten my lips.
Pray, and seek, and pray yet again.
But when the shadows still this land
Like monastery wine spilled by moon
I too will be still, and sleep, in the deep pastures
Beside sleek, golden,
A tongue murmuring in each ear.
A wound deep in my leg – the bone perhaps is broken. The kerchief of a true sister is bloodied & tightly knotted at the knee. I lie in the corner of a shelled building – once it was a church - & I have been here since early morning. Night assails these ruins & through the window, by torchlight, I can see their warning – a small goat sacrificed & dripping from the roof beams. I dig my dagger into the dirt floor.
If I am so unlucky in a few days I will stand before their judges in my grandfather’s black suit in some terrible courtroom, the fan circling slowly. I will tell them, “I have not asked for so much – a woman to walk with, some songs to sing”.
The tin hearts with their swords, the tin arms, the prayer medals & the scapulario all tremble among the impotent white candles. There is more weeping outside. Only yesterday this place was breathing with long-haired Zapotec women, golden squashes, red & green chilis, serranos, glorious melons, old priests. Now, tonight, shots ring out like demented prophets in the zocalo. I hear the Longing in the songs of the martyrs. The Longing enters the tabernacle & seizes me by the lapels.
I am tempted to stall for time, to claim that I am “not ready”. But there in the corner near the sepulcher is the clear form of a disinterested deity, nine hearts of chrome revolving around her immaculate wide-eyed gaze, her rouged lips twisted into a grotesque & brilliant smile. I do not ask for water. I know better than to ask for Light.
There is a sound like castanets. There is a religion deeper than poison, sweeter than the electric bluebird songs in the rafters of this church. There is a nine-hearted deity, delirious & comforting, flashing, obscenely grinning, bestowing on me the promise, consecrating my form to the Only Gift. I do not ask for water. I know better than to ask for Light.
She says, “It doesn’t end here”. She says, “There is no danger”.
On her exquisite recommendation, I remove the tourniquet & hobble out into the harmless night where a thousand bullets move through my body, my form, like small tongues moving through milk.
From The One Who Has No Name (1980-89)
(Audio Recording of 33 spoken poems, released 1990)
Only once was this golden ring removed from my ear. It was in sleep & it disconnected itself & fell onto the pillow of her bed. I was nervous in those days & my sleep was nervous too. Dreams were full of abandonment & scorn. That morning when we awoke & found the ring golden & alone, I asked if she would return it to the lobe of my ear & she refused. A few days later we parted ways, I believe for that Long Eternity.
And now, months later on my bed in Queens where I sleep alone, the ring once again has fallen from my ear. It lies on the pillow bent from the huge weight of sleep. I put it in my mouth & it crumbles. I reach inside for the small gold pieces & I pull them out. I reach inside my mouth & I pull out branding irons & chains, false idols & a Maltese cross, goblets & chalices, knives with their sheathes, old arrows, be-jeweled Arabian swords, and a coat of chain mail. I reach down into my throat & I pull out auto parts & cooking pots, kettles & copper spears of war, silver tea sets & the polished armor of a long dead king. From my mouth I produce the protective shoes of Achilles, and the temple bells of Kyoto, and the hull of a sunken battleship. All this elemental iron & so much more – the stone walls of Carthage, water from the Ganges, the hands of a woman who loved me, & the matted dressing gown of some martyred woman saint. From my mouth I pull the beating heart of a thief & the medicine shield of a Navajo priest, the counting stones of a desert nomad & the beasts & killers & monsters & angels & mouths & tongues & fingers & shoulders & teeth & nails & politics & sins & dogs & desires & ambitions & all the holy & hideous trappings & blessings of the World.
I scatter these things about the room & I say nothing.
I found myself in a village I had not seen before.
Barefoot strangers walked around in the darkness,
Their feet lacerated on shards of glass
They themselves had scattered on the path
In the light of the previous morning.
The grandfathers sang around old café tables
But where lips moved no sound was heard
And long-haired women by moonlight
Brought babies to the well…
I asked for something I might recognize –
A bit of language, or some painted thing,
Like an animal or bird.
But I was led away from satisfaction
And given a shirt to wear –
One woven from the hair of horses
And old women raised in the wild.
I am blessed in this way –
Clothed in the hair of horses
And old women raised in the wild.
Go to the garden expecting a snake
And you will find one.
Where I live the village chief did this.
Now he wears an amulet
And carries a big gun,
His knees shake,
He prays day & night
And lives in constant fear.
He has pictures of snakes everywhere
And tells the people in the village to look out!
He locks all the women in a room without holes.
He says, “Don’t Sleep!”
And “Don’t Walk on the Ground!”
He made an enemy of the snake
And now there are snakes all over the world.
Do I want to be a Rock Star?
Or maybe a man with many possessions,
Bright machines pulsing in his house?
Isn’t that like wanting
Syphilis or senility? Spinal meningitis?
Listen, I laid down on a dark hillside
And giant clouds laid down on me
And I can’t forget that now.
A large bird with strong legs & red wings
Entered my home & said things in my ears
And I can’t forget that now.
And an ether woman, the color of lilies,
Came across the fields & entered me
& I was returned to that place where I am reminded
that I am an animal!
An animal who knows that the Most Secret Thing
Dwells inside & will outlive the stars…
Go inside & wrap the Secret around you like a lover. Entwined this way, with these limbs, one can dwell in Lethargy with an endless, speechless passion.
Days might pass un-noticed & in that time barely the hand moves – the sun rises in its palm & the fingers are farmer’s plows stroking deep furrows in the long hair of the One Inside.
Cowherds might pass the simple hut with their animals, dust rises & falls, bells are heard on the animal’s necks and the Cowherds hear also the song that comes almost as if from dream sleep – the song of the One Inside.
Ants might move determinedly across the cracked earth dragging a broken crab claw down into their home – five ants at the labor of carrying burden & five ants digging tirelessly around them to enlarge the community’s tunnel to take in the claw. And all this beneath the hut, beneath the farmer’s plow and the Cowherd’s feet,
beneath the singing breath of the One you have found Inside.
You hang so lightly on a fine saliva thread
Dangling over the edge of a snowy place –
Your belly white & open to me.
How many times have we praised beauty together in this way?
How many times have we begged the final note of the song,
Only so that we might sing again?
My fingers strumming the lute,
The warmth of your breath as you descend to embrace the flute,
Rises & billows,
And urges us on to the valley of our longing.
What we seek is below & before us.
When shall we burst & flood that white valley
With a thousand snowy doves?
If you try, using the eyes of ministers, scientists & priests,
To see what is out there,
You may find those eyes are sealed with a sickness.
And if you feel about in the dark
Using the hands of another
You’re liable to miss the warning & lose your life.
Don’t wear out your shoes running after God
And don’t wear out your mouth trying to make up a name for him.
That which you wish to taste
Is already there, on your tongue.
From Vicious Information
(Published 1978 by Springhouse Press)
Note: I was a kid when these poems were collected (you’ll notice traditional modern American angst as well as a traditional youthful allergy to capitalization & punctuation), & many of them probably should not have seen the light of day, but there are a few good moments. I’ve included three here for the sake of catalogue. I am forever indebted to the poet Gary Moore for encouraging the good moments & quietly ignoring the rest. -JT
you are lying next to me asleep
oblivious to this writing
it doesn’t matter –i’m still writing it
your breasts have become permanent sundials
upstairs where I keep all my thoughts –
right next to the vietnam war
maharishi mahesh yogi
water color paintings and
other mind-type living room furniture
I notice your beautiful athenian nipples
are slowly adopting a wet permanence
similar to the shape of my mouth
I notice again that I still love you
(just as I did in the last poem)
I who am a pacifist, have been at war
all my life
I am at war with everyone and everything –
and there are no friendly partisans
but tonight I sit a witness
to something not unlike the geneva convention
something of gentle humanism
is introduced into the painful siege
there is a crusade going on here –
one in which beauty such as yours
becomes a cause of sorts –
one in which my rest from the war
lies in the crusade of the lovely Athenian
who lies here asleep.
I love the smell of your jacket
As I wear it on my way home in the rain.
You know me,
Please crawl into my mouth
Tonight as I sleep.
& Finds No Distant Star
I noticed first an absence of light in the house
As if there were no power.
In one room there were old women
Who were alternating their behavior.
They were sometimes making small babies laugh
And sometimes they would
Stick them underwater.
In the next room I found
People chewing on quarters & nickels
And I saw that some of them
Were putting plates of green jello
Near their genitals.
Still, in yet another room
Were people of all ages
Discussing RCA Victor
And Famous Jim Bowie knives
And they all clowned around
& killed each other
until there was only one guy left.
Then, and only then,
Did he start asking everyone for their names
And I was the only one who answered.
And then I came to the kitchen.
There were creatures in it
So I left & walked towards
The large glowing mass in the backyard.