Clayton Eshleman


Poem beginning with a question from
Charles Simic’s review of Louise Gluck’s Averno

                     “What was it to lie in bed with Hades surrounded
                     by corpses? What was on Persephone’s mind?”
He broke through the bedrock, Hades
did, coiled in a narcissus as if awaiting my touch,
immediate narcosis… he was everywhere inside me,
a  fetal ghost  in every organ… 
                                                           to be shanghaied
by the unknown, infiltrate of…    Is this
flower reverse?  Absence incubation?

My vagina…  his aurora wife to swarm…
sickened by the plunder of my sister pores…
prostrate before his manta loom…  

Wafting chaff-like shades, their siloed mutterings…

Toad-sized flies have fecalized my mindstone…
I’m immortality’s Sibyl husk…   how many centuries,  
                                                                         oh Demeter, will

His winding-sheet    be    stuffed in    my genital    shrine…”




Chromatic Lesions

A fly crawling autumn on my wrist.
Under rib, puma shadows rise.

I have sealed my destructiveness,
cauterized its principle feelers.

Everything is, and
                    has never been,
a milling, amorphous terribilita
                             searching for
desire in which to curl.

Mind is a tenderloin of soup and brothel,
all-night library, hallucinogenic
hitching-post, sweat lodge, navel altar overflow.

As Koko is the soul of Cherokee,
I am a harp of baby birds strummed by Eve.
Into their strings I inject some Koko anti-freeze.

I have learned to see in the faces of the dead
a jug of rose white chickadee explosion.



In Memory Of George Butterick

Fortress of summer. Heat a connecting rod.
Black leaf mouth of the redbud chewing everywhichway.

Thoughts of George back in the hospital
so overwhelmed the light in those leaf jaws
I called Colette:
George was home,
                                        difficult to speak, but he did,
courageous even, asking about Paul Blackburn.
“Where did his start?” Or more specifically: “Did it start
   in the esophagus?    I thought so…”

                 Poetry, a nativity
         on an excrement-flecked blade—

Paradise, you are wadding,
to plug one big gap?
                                               Dogtown to be 
so total a place in Charles Olson’s desire
that concepts of hell, or any mountain-climbed heaven
become inadequate to the congruence of earth’s facets.

But then there is the Celan-
hole, the no-one God, void of the ovens.

Dear George, I am moved by how many lives lived
are ivy.

By how life breaks through wall after wall only to provide
more stone.

How each is less than he is, 
and more.

Self-knotted Nile of the anticline in which
we curl.

                                                                     [9 July 1987-2008] 



Clayton Eshleman’s most recent books include: An Alchemist with One Eye on FireArchaic Design, and The Grindstone of Rapport / A Clayton Eshleman Reader (all published by Black Widow Press in 2006, 2007, and 2008); Reciprocal Distillations (Hot Whiskey Press, 2007), and a translation of The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo (University of California Press, 2007). For 25 years, CE researched the origin of image-making via the Ice Age painted caves of southwestern France, a project culminating in Juniper Fuse: Upper Paleolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld (Wesleyan University Press, 2003; second edition 2008). For many years, he and his wife Caryl have led small groups to some of these caves each June sponsored by the Ringling School of Art and Design, Sarasota FL. He continues to live with Caryl in Ypsilanti, Michigan. This June/July he will be in residence at The Naropa Institute, Boulder CO. His website is