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Online Poems by Michael Palmer

As a Real House

(Sarah's third song)

"I said darkling and you said sparkling"
The play-house appears before us

as a real house in the dark
filled with people cut out

of magazines and postcards
and called real people at the start

Why is the curtain partly drawn
and why does the stair turn

to the left as you climb
and the right going down

Here all day it's midwinter night
and the musicians will continue to play

in the music room
and sleep will never come

This is lesson three
where the fiddler is made real

by the sounds she hears
pouring from her fingers

Copyright © 1987 Michael Palmer
Online Source:

Book of the Yellow Castle

This can be seen as placing a mirror against the page.
The mountain is where we live, a circus there, a triangle
of unequal sides the days no sun appears.

This is life in the square inch field of the square foot house,
a September particle, biochip, or liquid in a jar,
and here is snow for the month to follow, light easy to move

but difficult to fix. The cat on the book has fleas.
It's a real cat with real fleas at least,
while the book is neither fixed nor field.

As soon as you had gone an image formed in order to be erased.
First an entryway then a left and right which seemed to be the
This letter explains everything and must never be sent.

This other arranges figures along an endless colonnade
imperceptibly darkening toward red. One pretends to be the case
the other is. Mornings the hands tremble, evidence of a missing

Arrows will tell you where the words are meant to lead,
from hall to hall apparently. The hair is thinner
and the veins stand out a bit more.

Who could have known he'd be dead within the week,
victim of a loosening thread, the system by which we perceive.
Thus the castle above valley and plain, the logical circuitry and
    other such tricks,

the constant scanning, all kinds of features built in.
And thus the difference between sign and sigh, and the bells which
    signal a return.
The dog instructs the goats, the man instructs the dog.

Should we count the remaining trees to decide what they mean as
traces of a conversation possibly, or a larger plan. You enter the
    stories as a surd
and sleep through them, ignoring successive warnings,

shards of cloisonné, broken table legs, a canopied bed.
They are there because the rest have left.
These are scalings of a sentence.

Copyright © 1987 Michael Palmer
Online Source:


Write this. We have burned all their villages

Write this. We have burned all the villages and the people in them

Write this. We have adopted their customs and their manner of

Write this. A word may be shaped like a bed, a basket of tears
or an X

In the notebook it says, It is the time of mutations, laughter at
jokes, secrets beyond the boundaries of speech

I now turn to my use of suffixes and punctuation, closing Mr.
Circle with a single stroke, tearing the canvas from its wall, joined
to her, experiencing the same thoughts at the same moment,
inscribing them on a loquat leaf

Write this. We have begun to have bodies, a now here and a now
gone, a past long ago and one still to come

Let go of me for I have died and am in a novel and was a lyric poet,
certainly, who attracted crowds to mountaintops. For a nickel I will
appear from this box. For a dollar I will have text with you and
answer three questions

First question. We entered the forest, followed its winding paths,
and emerged blind

Second question. My townhouse, of the Jugendstil, lies by

Third question. He knows he will wake from this dream,
conducted in the mother-tongue

Third question. He knows his breathing organs are manipulated by
God, so that he is compelled to scream

Third question. I will converse with no one on those days of the
week which end in y

Write this. There is pleasure and pain and there are marks and
signs. A word may be shaped like a fig or a pig, an effigy or an egg
        but there is only time for fasting and desire, device and
design, there is only time to swerve without limbs, organs or face
into a
        scientific silence, pinhole of light

Say this. I was born on an island among the dead. I learned
language on this island but did not speak on this island. I am
writing to you from this island. I am writing to the dancers from
this island. The writers do not dance on this island

Say this. There is a sentence in my mouth, there is a chariot in my
mouth. There is a ladder. There is a lamp whose light fills empty
space and a space which swallows light

A word is beside itself. Here the poem is called What Speaking
Means to Say
                    though I have no memory of my name

Here the poem is called Theory of the Real, its name is Let's Call
This, and its name is called A Wooden Stick. It goes yes-yes, no-
no. It goes one and one

I have been writing a book, not in my native language, about
violins and smoke, lines and dots, free to speak and become the
things we speak, pages which sit up, look around and row
resolutely toward the setting sun

Pages torn from their spines and added to the pyre, so that they
will resemble thought

Pages which accept no ink

Pages we've never seen-first called Narrow Street, then Half a
Fragment, Plain of Jars or Plain of Reeds, taking each syllable in
her mouth, shifting position and passing it to him

Let me say this. Neak Luong is a blur. It is Tuesday in the
hardwood forest. I am a visitor here, with a notebook

The notebook lists My New Words and Flag above White. It
claims to have no inside
                                    only characters like A-against-Herself, B,
C, L and N, Sam, Hans Magnus, T. Sphere, all speaking in the
dark with their hands

                                G for Gramsci or Goebbels, blue hills, cities,
cities with hills, modern and at the edge of time

                                                                        F for
alphabet, Z for A, an H in an arbor, shadow, silent wreckage, W or
M among stars

What last. Lapwing. Tesseract. X perhaps for X. The villages are
known as These Letters -- humid, sunless. The writing occus on
their walls

Copyright © 1987 Michael Palmer
Online Source:


for D.S.

O you in that little bark
What is the relation of the painting to its title

The painting bears no relation to its title
The tiny boat bears

nameless people across
water that is infinitely dark

darker even than snow on paving stones
darker than faces in shadow on a boat

The boat is called Blunder, or Nothing, or Parallel Lines
The poem was called I Forget, then Empire, then Game of Cards

a game played yesterday in milky light
light which played across the players' faces

and the arcane faces of the cards
There is no relation between the painting and its title

The painting came first then its title
The players are playing cards in a little boat

They are asleep and it is dark
Their dream is called The Orderly Electrons

One traveller dreams she does not belong
Another dreams with his eyes wide open

like a solemn philosopher
dead from an act of thought

Two more lie with limbs intertwined
The painting has no title

though it has been signed Keeper of the Book
the signature obviously forged

Copyright © 1993 Michael Palmer
Online Source: (Avec Books)


They tell each other stories,
lies composed as dreams and
always in the colors of
dreams: rust, chrome yellow, coral,
chemical green. Of the dying
figures, loosely assembled, by a
riverbank. The gatehouse. A journey
by train through beautiful countryside,
indescribable countryside. I was there
cut in half, only to
survive. A young dancer, standing
at the third-floor window. Cobalt
blue, argentine, bone white. What
we called that hour in
those days. He means to
say that on that same
hill Goethe and Eckermann would
sometimes walk. "Always the old
story, always the old bed
of the sea!" He means
to say, The music of
moths, the small lamps. She
stares from the window on
the third floor, toward the
square below. He says, These
are yellow-hammers and sparrows, but
there are no larks. Come
Whitsuntide, the mockingbird and the
yellow thrush will arrive. Here
at the heart, a small
pond, stagnant in the shadow
of smoke. The late flowers.

© 1996 from Four Kitaj Studies
Online Source:


What of the wolfhound at full stride?
What of the woman in technical dress
and the amber eye that serves as a feral guide

and witness
to the snowy hive?
What of the singer robed in red

and frozen at mid-song
and the stone, its brokenness,
or the voice off-scene that says,

Note the dragonfly by the iris
but ask no questions of flight,
no questions of iridescence?

All of this
and the faint promise of a sleeve,
the shuttle's course, the weave.

What of these?
What of the century, did you see it pass?
What of the wolfhound at your back?

© Michael Palmer. Online Source

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