Syukhtun Editions


J'ai lavé le visage de ton avenir.
- Henri Michaux

THE DYING YUCCA

In memory of
Everett Ruess (1914-1934)

Fanning his daggers desert-wise
....like a land-locked sea urchin,
........flaunting his tall flowered stalk

as a scepter frantic with ants,
....Yucca has waited years for this
........tumultuous April blossoming.

The high noon of his spiny life,
....fragrant with dates and mad panicle
........of sticky white flowers, is popcorned

on the intense blue field beyond Joat 1,
....the Tongva people’s snowy peak.
........Yucca shouts in April to Joat –

one strident life-filled blossoming
....jubilant floral swan-song westward –
........and immediately Yucca dies.

One fervent burst of pithy oratory
....to announce dying, as this, my chant.
........Yucca too is a weather-beaten exile

wandering harsh deserts, thriving on drought
....and frenetic adversities, as this, my soul.
........Self-fructifying ultra-plant, he stands

erect in hot and cold winds of Yavi 2
....wind-that-dries-things-up, archaic exhale,
........inhale, of the world’s rhythmic breathing.

Candle of Happiness, he radiates
....the flames of Mukat’s 3 funeral pyre
........and that non-human force: affirmation.

Yucca’s lone shadow exults with me under
....the shooting star cutting night’s canvas
........coldly with a white-hot sword stroke.

This nocturnal tremor of terror moves
....within these lightly poisoned spines,
........lit in April, as was this, my spirit.

This ironic blossoming in the graveyard
of yucca ancestors now dead and fallen
(or some with brittle stalks still standing

that Yavi’s fierce Cajon Pass blasts
....for the life of him couldn’t knock down),
........evokes Odysseus in the House of Hades

before pouting Ajax and ghostly horde.
...Living and dead yuccas meet as those warriors,
........though Ajax’s spite made him darkly hush

while the wind noisily shakes dried phalloi
....rattling dry date pods like desolate bells
........or a dead poet’s posthumous verses.

The ghostly horde receds into death’s realm
....while the living shuffles into life
........briefly, transfigured Birnam Woods.

Yucca! Your blossoms wilt and humbly fall
....to fulfill your remaining destiny: decay.
........Once moist, Sun struck Yucca’s pulp bone dry.

His hold on the continent finally loosens
....and Yavi ruthlessly knocks him down
........into years of dusty biography

to slowly rot beyond the seasons
....of teeming insect infestations,
........made dust, as will be this, my body.

We die twice: flesh and spirit disappear
....and then second death – we are forgotten.
........Brief rites with flowers and words

and then the dead are finally left alone
....not tempted to return from shadowy play
........beyond fading names on tombstones.

For poets the second death is delayed
....called back from death by fame’s illusion
........and anguished mortals lost on earth

who warm themselves briefly at our fire –
....until all whom we know, love, hate
........shall dissolve and ever shall forgotten be.

Yucca’s dead stalk lay across the boy’s path
....when I hopped over it like the day of my death
........”an ’twere a man born in April.”4

................


1. Joat means ”snow”, the Tongva name for Mount Baldy, tallest of the San Gabriel mountains north of Los Angeles.
2. Yavi, called "wind-that-dries-things-up", is a deity among the Cahuilla, sometimes seen in the shape of a man. (Mukat’s People, Lowell John Bean, UC Press, 1972)
3. Mukat is the principal god of the Cahuilla, the flames of whose funeral pyre produced the flora and fauna of the region.
4. Shakespeare, born April 23rd, is here referring to himself in Troilus and Cressida. The author was born on April 24th.

(new revised edition 2004)
82 pages

(Table of contents)


Three yuccas in spring
Lytle Creek wash


Three yuccas in fall
Lytle Creek wash


Yucca in bloom
aquarelle/collage

Photo gallery of poets
cited in The Whetting Stone



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