Artists are the ones for whom it is death not to be intimate with the gods.
The following poems are from Cruel Heart, a collection in which Chris Morgan probes our need for deeper connection—to ourselves, one another, and to the natural world. Cruel Heart is a meditation on intimacy and its absence, on the necessity of authentic Eros in our lives and the dangers rendered by its neglect. These pointed, intelligent poems about survival of the human heart in a modern landscape are alternately a barbaric yawp of celebration for being and a howl of grief for what we have wrought. Simultaneously, a lyrical current of hope animates this remarkable collection too—an unequivocal faith in the transformative power of nature and art, an insistence that compassion and beauty go on mending our deepest wounds.
i’ve been waiting
for have come home
in their own time
ripe and ready
smell the rain and
roots of trees
on their burnished skins
how i love
the smell of them
just like that I offer up
this incandescent breath
and accept it’s true after all
about those corollary boundaries
of the heart and sky.
my blue-green losses
have made of me a sea bird
with no space for freight
in the paper-chambered bone,
land a clay thought of fogged cliffs,
red dust shaken like shroud.
i live in the layers between,
pared down in air for the journey
over an ocean’s wide waste.
this ache in the beaten wing
signals a life balanced somewhere
between the cruel sky and the cruel sea.
I lived in the time
of the final desecration
of the temples of earth.
Which side in the agon was mine?
What finger did I lift
against rapacity of the monster race?
Is the fact that I’m alive a testament
to complicity, guilt?
Was I ever once a voice crying
in the wilderness of bone?
One by one the emperor trees
fell to the blades of the new gods.
The sludged meadows glowed a moment
before withdrawing into ash.
Migrations blundered in petroleum seas.
I lived in that time.
I was a man of the Machine.
My little silence blessed the slaughter
of the elders of the world.
I came for the red oleander
on the forest road where once
I saw a girl on a white bicycle
with around her the sound of wind
or the sea I could not be sure
and when I looked again
through that dappled light
breaking over shoals of pine
she was gone I could not be
sure she was except the flower
of her mouth like a red
memory among the trees
Anarchy of Love
He speaks from the precise mind
precisely, his blue eyes cool with
in their pebble-beds the bones of truth,
fleshless, bleached, elegantly arranged.
Meanwhile at my house
the grass rages, green with war.
Armed with nakedness love goes
overturning the government of the mind,
suffering outrage, plundering the countryside,
spending its nights in the revelry of towns
or occasionally secluded in a firelight of prayer.
At dawn it calls the dead from their caves,
all day touches broken things with a child’s mind,
then hands itself over to be killed.
My death that is coming
will not stop the documentaries of love.
Over and over again one begins
with the word, utterance such as tree.
And the insurrection resumes.
Births insist over thresholds of flesh.
I have seen the dark earth turned like a grave
and the yellow dog crazed in the wood.
After silence grows over the stilled river of my mouth,
my ears forsaken by the sound of light,
the declaiming of the earth will go on.
I was a single song.
My death was a building.
My death was making room.
He emerges like Lazarus
from stone caves of sleep.
He squints through a suffering of light,
shakes off the cloy of slumber.
The puddle fur dimples down
in wet circles of sprung bone
and unseats more than sleep:
torpor, punishment, guilt, despair.
The scales fly like disease
from the sickled snare of canis
made new again, the first dog,
companionless and pure. He draws
new breath and blows with shining
eyes the yellow trumpet of his heart,
shatters the incarcerated world,
waggles onto the fields of victory
to love, to be loved, no more.
Since you’ve asked
my religion is sunlight
and dune grass
blue cruise of sharks
in a smoky sea.
For the record
my religion is seabirds
the open coast
combed black on blond.
It tastes of oysters,
skin and) bones
And poses no questions.
Suffers no remorse.
Accrues no guilt.
Its supple figure reclines
wind-shaped in the wisp
of a woman’s body
Its psalms are sung
in the throats of beasts,
in the seethe of tides,
in the lunar phases
back and forth through
the cruel heart.
The heat and the rage of it
and the dew on the world.
You have to write like the dew is on the world.
You have to forget everything that has come before.
A voice wakes me to the first
real heat of June, a violence
so blunt the dog refuses to follow.
Despair reclines in the window-chair
and I’m slapped hard again
by the strangeness of this world,
its searing beauty and searing pain.
Then remember the red strawberries,
hear their dimpled calling
from cool caves of dark.
Guiltless with a hooked knife
I ignore the labor of their long spring
and sever their soft heads at the sink.
I eat them as if I were dying.
when i’m done
make a chandelier
from my sung bones
to hang in a high
pine above the bay
with room enough
on each bleached rung
for a heron to burn
bright and wild as
my days were once
on this lost earth