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The Second Man and Other Poems

The Second Man and Other Poems

Copyright Date: 1955
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 72
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  • Book Info
    The Second Man and Other Poems
    Book Description:

    The Second Man and Other Poems was first published in 1955. The forty poems which make up this second volume of Mr. Coxe’s poetry display an impressive range of subject and technique. He writes of love and religion, of men at sea, of historical moments of violence decision, and of the face of nature. But the predominant themes are those which Mr. Coxe treats with especial authority: the living meaning of his native New England, of its past, and of the people who make it. Mr. Coxe writes many kinds of poetry. There are lyrics, songs, reflective poems, and dramatic monologues. Although he experiments with meter and explores the riches of language, his poetry is traditional in the best sense. Among the poems in this volume are some that have been published previously in such magazines as The New Yorker, Partisan Review, Western Review, Furioso, Hudson Review, Poetry, and Paris Review.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-6200-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. iv-2)
    (pp. 3-6)

    Below the elm, whole on that hill,

    My father’s house abides me still;

    A parcel of its shade could grace

    The mound I moved to found this place.

    I look back now and see the door

    Scarred by the arrowheads of war

    I urged all day from tree to road

    And ambushed Time there like a god,

    And beat the brush for painted men,

    King Philip’s demons. Candid then

    To kill or keep I ran the field

    Of paintbrush with my youth for shield.

    When shadows found me at their foot

    I walked that darkness to its root

    And crossed...

    (pp. 7-8)

    The red veins in the Gravensteins

    Started before the frost. I felt

    Desire move my blood where vines

    And trees hid fruit I only smelt.

    That day when windfalls cost me dear

    The Indian deviled in his stain

    Caught up my solitude. His fire

    Ran on my house-eaves dense as rain.

    Across the brush he dragged my hate

    The miles of Merrimac to north

    Where captives stied like pigs were bait

    To tempt our kin and vengeance forth.

    I would not weep though he splashed out

    My child’s brains on a beech’s root.

    God mocks the mockers: with each gout...

    (pp. 9-9)

    Old Wheatland bent those brows like brushes

    And watched me through his office glaze

    Fitting the fence-post urns. My touches

    Were what he paid for. There she stays.

    My rooms were lit for Lafayette

    And General Washington. They knew

    My art took form for art. I spit

    On weakness that would make art true.

    I spit on art. What men are these

    Who cringe at history like jews ?

    Who lust for gods and cannot tease

    Even themselves with lust for news ?

    I cut a moulding — egg-and-tongue

    Or wreath — Mantegna’s and not mine.

    By God, old Wheatland...

    (pp. 10-10)

    Where I had set the colonnade

    And curving bays to grace my hill

    Life grew with nature and I stayed

    To watch new bricks engross my will.

    Freedom a willing servant dwelt

    And sang a season in my leaves;

    The spirit of the laws had dealt

    A shapelier breeding in my eaves.

    Classic, symmetrical and clean

    My life receded to the past,

    Like vistas ordered and made green

    But stopped by wilderness at last.

    There ruins wrought by men grew wild

    As minding them of rage outgrown;

    I knew the pleasure of a child

    At ease with playthings not his...

    (pp. 11-11)

    Each year upon this day I post

    My guilt in public for a sign:

    The fiend draws back to let the ghost

    Of future ages mix with mine.

    High up on Gallows Hill the tree

    May spread a shade unchanged by sun;

    Rooted in darkness, it grows free

    Since men made wit to cut it down.

    Right the first time! Hang them all!

    Who changes minds will change his god.

    I hanged those who had news of Fall

    And Resurrection in their blood.

    You seek a proof from disbelief:

    After the halter and the bough

    The Devil gets his due....

    (pp. 12-13)

    The curse that called me to the hall

    Hard by my father’s barrow grew

    Like fat on idleness. For all

    My sleights the monster came and slew.

    Across the sill of winter — green,

    Unseasonable — he kept range

    And fed upon our sloth while queen,

    Courtier, and soldier worshiped change.

    By night the honey in the cup

    Coursed round to cheat a healthless court:

    I called the last of honor up

    And found my fund of power short.

    Bankrupt I slept beside a friend

    And knew my queen and blood no more.

    That night the cold came. Snow made...

    (pp. 14-15)

    I let fall rebels from my hand,

    Brown clusters from the deodar boughs:

    “The General’s Mark.” My God, command

    The curse to quit my heart and house.

    The iron of solitude and sword,

    The rigor beating in His call,

    Fettled my will as David’s Lord

    Shaped David on the rage of Saul.

    The wilderness wrung out a crown!

    King David’s house brought God again

    Walking the water. And renown

    Turned Nicholson to Nikal-Seyn.

    They came to worship. Most I beat

    And cast to the cantonment dust.

    Who was the god they knew? A heat

    Of violence tried me out like...

  10. LAMENT
    (pp. 16-16)

    When I was young the salt air swam

    Along my blood and girls I knew

    Stood seaward with me in a game

    Of water where the west wind blew.

    All afternoon by ebb and flood

    I sailed my girl in heaven’s eye,

    And slimed with salt as thick as blood

    Desire came whistled to my thigh.

    And laughing as the lee drew under,

    Astride the windward coaming she,

    All body and my yearning on her,

    Unsheeted beauty and ran free.

    Where is she now? What water scurries

    Across that summer-shoal delight?

    What bodies are we now? What flurries

    Squall on...

    (pp. 17-17)

    Before dew falls and dark has clutched horizon

    He comes, tilting with shadow from his marsh,

    Cruising the meadow, stooping and all vision

    For white-footed mice ascuttle under slash.

    Late vetch, Queen Anne’s lace, soiled yarrow

    Stand still beneath his lambency of flight.

    His brownness merges into bay and alder,

    Death in the vein of evening bringing night.

    Curved now like space as the cove curves to the water,

    His talons creep with hunger while the cruel

    Mandibles shudder to the ghost of savor

    And the eyes throw light as frozen as a jewel.

    He homes in on the fear...

    (pp. 18-18)

    Now have we come to this, by autumn rent:

    The remnant summer parceling our ground

    And fire in piles along our firmament

    Where traffic wheels. Fall builds up a mound,

    A barrow by our thoroughfare, and daily

    Shapes show through trees that leased and let their shade.

    Under the eaves the pigeons groan. A failing

    And fine disaster sifts where fires are laid.

    Smoke like an Icarus upward tumbling fills

    Our senses that wait tightening for the feat

    Of fire with its mound. Whatever wills

    A thinner air than this must die by heat

    Or ice. For gathering north of...

    (pp. 19-19)

    The circuit closes. House and heart

    Must cut and save the heat they use.

    A circuit closed by sleep shall start

    The nightlong quarrel life must lose.

    Ticking like deathwatches, my house

    Stands up this night to ice once more,

    Knowing at last it cannot rouse

    That strength and sap it knew before.

    The seasoned timbers of the stair

    Creak to my weight; a dog outside

    Howls windily. How should hearts prepare

    To front a cold few beasts abide?

    Padding the hall I pause by doors

    And listen to my children’s breathing,

    While cold of night-fear and remorse

    Puddles and...

    (pp. 20-20)

    Buy me metal for my throat,

    For the wrist I arch, a stone:

    And along my shoulders, coat

    This flesh with fur. Love me alone.

    I will buy you stones and ores

    Newer to air than kindling flame,

    And pelts grown fine on other stars

    Shall warm you. Warm me still like them.

    Furpiece, neckpiece, piece of gold —

    None can bank up my desire:

    Give for giving. Am I sold

    And bought with these ? My love comes higher.

    Men must buy if wish means want:

    And these are vows: this gold, your trust,

    Fire that woke you, adamant,...

    (pp. 21-21)

    The whooping crane and fat-backed trumpeter swan

    The passenger pigeon, fearful once in flights,

    Dwindle like ice in the hand; of some, all gone,

    Of others, morsels huddled by lost bights.

    Air that once rang and rumpled with their search

    As north or south they shed their sound or shade

    Flows to an altitude the mind would urge

    Though blood’s to the heart and would be stanched

    and stayed.

    Let me know nothing of the heights. I’ve clung

    To crosstrees where my brain unstepped the mast,

    The wake ran up the stars, and rung by rung

    My life groped down...

    (pp. 22-22)

    The rain blows silver from blue sky

    Aslant upon my vessel’s steel:

    Maui to starboard, Molokai

    To port. Between, the world I wheel.

    The squall blows back and walks the wake

    And sun draws steam from metal, blue

    With wet, while Maui quivers like

    A lover waiting to come true.

    Between these islands heart is fed;

    Between two waters, salt and fresh,

    The spirit drinks a life it bled

    And sun moves kindly on the flesh.

    Let Maui far to starboard shift

    Her shoulder. Let the rainsquall blow

    On Molokai and lava drift

    And lepers whiter there than snow....

    (pp. 23-23)

    The odors of Ef ate stain

    The memory with a shape of flowers

    Borne on the wind and in the vein

    Built coral-like to cusps and towers.

    Sense stains the blood about the heart

    A color caught from reefs unseen:

    The body bears a moment’s part

    With turtles rowing grace in green.

    Then Maui lying cool in sun

    Lets in her lover over tide

    And down on her flank the cane fields run

    With water whiter than a bride,

    Unlooked for as the crater snows

    Of Mauna Loa teemed with fire.

    These are the young delight. Who knows

    These islands,...

    (pp. 24-28)

    The wicked dun of winter on the town,

    On flue, spire and steeple, on concrete,

    Visiting sadness wrapped in grey and brown —

    This slowest detriment to love I meet

    By Dock Square, at the windy coigning of Park Street,

    And feel death in the Latin tags of trees

    Where the Common catches soot like a disease.

    Is he still there, I wonder, piping his call,

    “Lavender, sweet lavender”? Slipping past

    Uphill I felt the rigor of the wall

    Against his fragile back and felt the last

    Of pity for dead youth. High up, the mast

    Above the State House...

  19. THE LAKE
    (pp. 29-29)

    The light that labored to an early fall

    Fell in the woods like rain, secret and spare,

    And where the autumn road ran to a sprawl

    At the lake’s edge, four geese blundered into air,

    And seemed to pluck my breath in foil of wings

    That scooped the gathering dark, and in their ache

    For height to take a rhythm from those springs

    The heart feeds for the feeding of a lake —

    That lake where autumn calls in brant and blue,

    The whistler swan, all game and under gun,

    Doomed and in wild beauty dear, those few

    In pride...

    (pp. 30-30)

    Tell me what shapes your mind. The light grows less

    And currents with the lapse of summer fall.

    Does crimson stealth bleeding the sumach guess

    The end, the death a root alone can call

    Promise of new largess ?

    Speak. Say it all.

    Falling, the brutal air weighed down with frost

    Thickens the squirrel’s coat and blights the vines.

    Desire turns migrant, birdsong high and lost

    Exhales like color from the peaks of pines,

    And autumn to our cost

    Speaks fewest lines.

    If seasons in the flesh turn with the sun,

    Then cold in turning shall engross the hand


    (pp. 31-31)

    Who waits by water looking down

    Shall fathomed in his image stay —

    A seaman with a sky to drown,

    Flukes in the heavens, limbs aweigh.

    Unshifting, windless, afternoon

    Decants him filling up the hours:

    Evening unseals a tumbler moon

    And sluices daylight out in showers.

    And livelong lying all night long

    He feels tomorrow soak the grass

    While submarine the whitethroat’s song

    Bells like a secret under glass....

    (pp. 32-32)

    They know that life and beauty fail:

    Does not desire fire to waste?

    The jewels of water children flail

    Are faithful. Children know them paste;

    They turn to element. The cake

    The child may ask he knows for stone

    Yet each by sleight of wish can bake

    His secret bread to eat alone.

    His waste of energy unfound

    Fills up the rotten air with heat,

    And beauty harrowed into ground

    Keeps age and generation sweet....

    (pp. 33-36)

    Island of our endeavor, ledge of stillness,

    Those whom most you love abide least long.

    Wave them farewell who, loving their own, will press

    Outward to hold speech with foreign tongue.

    Less havens your harbors than the yards of healing

    Where spirit is brought home and shored again;

    They open to sea broad channels marked for sailing

    Great circles back to longitudes of home.

    What vessel moving from your womb to weather

    Shall, hurt to death, slip fathoms out of light

    But bottom lastly on one shore where gather

    All islands dry or drowned within a bight?

    Inside this womb...

    (pp. 37-37)

    What must I do? Loud-speakers say:

    Imperishable in electric space

    The politician’s yea or nay

    Circles my sphere and may not cease.

    Cold words in the nebular outside

    That rattle on my brain like sleet!

    What should I do? When words have died

    Men conjugate the verbs To cheat,

    To kill. What shall I do to sever

    The living I from death by tongue?

    Over the speed of light there quiver

    Desires of the mind for wrong.

    What can I do? Speech is the pus

    And suppuration of the sore.

    The oracles that doctor us

    But mess with entrails on...

    (pp. 38-38)

    He grows in air by foil and four pitched blades,

    Under him a monster, metal, a career:

    I dwindle in his eye. See where he wades

    The flume of altitudes, his small hours my year.

    Terrible death a pip on the radar scope

    Grass-green leaping from the base of fear

    I only guess. He sees it at the cope

    And curves with it to home safe miles from here.

    Yet other cycles of a world and war,

    Towering passions and the osprey’s hover,

    Shall lade his flesh and weapons to a shore

    Where the secret boils, turns bloody and runs...

    (pp. 39-39)

    Once while I dreamt, time rolled up like a shade,

    I saw the priests of Cybele burst out

    Dancing from caves, and hurling in a rout

    On the mountain, Corybantes, and I stayed

    To dance while the bent flute trilled. This hand betrayed

    New rumor in the drums, mine was the bruit

    Of praise as the priests’ knives gleamed, and every gout

    Bled at the castrate thighs was my sex spayed.

    By day I can remember lights and song

    Lifted before the figure worn in stone,

    The sweet accord, all of us made clean

    Again in love, the branches smelling...

    (pp. 40-40)

    All day long I glance against

    Girls in the street who glance away:

    The rare blood dances in my head

    For curve of breast and thigh. It danced

    Before my world. When I am dead

    Lust shall gambol the world away.

    Stiffening of joints when I stoop down

    Calcines my age. Yet must I sweat

    For this girl bouncing high on heels,

    Liquid as love in moving. Drown

    In such a liquor! Lust that feels

    Still moist is a lust inveterate.

    Has she no shame to warm old loins

    Tossing that flesh she thinks she saves ?

    The purse that...

    (pp. 41-41)

    Summoning midnight brings its toll to hell

    And fire shall live on him who thrived by cold.

    The blood Don, famished glutton of sin, shall

    Lie proud with flame, under its flagrance rolled.

    Next to God God’s very likeness, believer

    In death he fleered, in chastity he burst,

    The black Don mad with knowledge like a fever

    Sees himself plunge beneath a covering beast.

    “He mocks himself who mocks me with a soul

    Like his. See I have eaten it, drunk the blood

    From my heart’s host and shall fat me still

    On pride left virgin for the lust of...

    (pp. 42-43)

    South and west from the tidings of Calais Maine,

    In the tousled commons squared off by the elms,

    He grows in local stone, grey on the green

    Like a hull a bight becalms,

    And stockstill on the granite plinth can see

    Under the kepi through the blind stone eyes

    His land slipping from him between

    Towns leveling to prairie and the terrible skies

    Of rotting Hollywood and Los Angeles.

    Whoever botched him into statue knew

    Skill out of place for this, grace out of order.

    The grounded gun no more familiar grew

    Or shapelier to him, murder

    Less than his...

    (pp. 44-44)

    Waiting in dark of vaults tied up with rods

    Names dig in marble placards veined like sacs —

    The names that now on State Street, tending bonds

    Left by the fathers, dig for their futures’ sakes.

    By gloomy morning file this morning’s men

    Past these cut data dead at Chancellorsville,

    Shot by a stray, God knows where how when.

    Agony stiffens in their posture still.

    Poor names, lost alphabets no scholar reads,

    Runes that encrypt your cause from newer grief,

    You figure still for life. Look at what bleeds

    Along this marble vein-shot like a leaf.

    Stay still. What will...

    (pp. 45-45)

    Alive where I lie and hide,

    Ghosts and desires by night

    With war and its vessels ride

    On dream and my heart, in spite

    Of miles inland from tide

    And memory bled white.

    The ships a man has served

    Claim like a rousing touch

    Delicate on the nerve

    And bursting sleep for a watch:

    A vessel yearns to curve

    Forever an arc too much,

    And gives to a man no trust

    In sleep rocked under the past:

    War and watchtime thrust

    Below the dark and cast

    The civil man to his lust

    And the lookout to his mast....

    (pp. 46-46)

    White and black in the morning

    Above a grey and white sea

    Nuns skim the deck, turning

    From windward to lee;

    Swung as the gulls swing,

    Not willing, not free.

    Trains sound beyond

    The hills of this north town

    Calling the blear land

    To freeze, die, drown,

    Turn from the stretched hand

    Of traveler, go down

    Secret in hate of man.

    A dampness enfolds

    Rock-mole, cape, vessel.

    Wild air gropes for a hold

    And beads on rigged metal

    Thrusting the cold

    Yet yearning its old fettle.

    North is a train’s sound

    That mourns to her hills.

    Nuns rise like buoys,...

    (pp. 47-47)

    I sluiced my steps of summer dust,

    Now ice grows up by northern cold.

    Ashes and sand I sow in trust

    That friends’ and seasons’ footing hold.

    As from such gesture life grows up

    By seed spilled out for nourishment,

    So in the grave we ashes drop —

    Love living past the force it spent.

    Today the walk that bounds my trust

    I dust with ash. When spring comes round

    Nothing shall grow from dust I tossed

    And ashes growing into ground....

    (pp. 48-48)

    Winter is thick as rock

    In the quarry of icy season

    And snow squeals underfoot:

    Locomotives’ smoke

    Shivers and sheds a poison

    And duns the white with soot.

    All that the failing year

    Has done in seasonal range

    Lapses to me by deed

    Done as the season’s heir:

    For worse, better or change

    I spend the year at need.

    Why should a man beat out

    The hot steel of his forces

    For a weapon against a lie,

    When in the year’s rout

    His stock is laughter, torsion

    Wrenches time all awry?

    Nothing takes single form

    And simple in all weathers,...

  35. THAW
    (pp. 49-49)

    Winter has loosened hold and drops

    Diminishing ice struck through and through

    With warmth. Strewn sand at all the stops

    Grinds to the tires gripping true,

    No motion askew.

    Thaw is the movement of the heart

    Sudden at corners, where no sign

    Can tell of surfaces, no dart

    Point way or weather settling fine,

    All water turned wine.

    For massing west and north of love

    A proud front colder than a floe

    Turns in a forward whirling drive

    And shall heap up the heart with snow

    And for long will not go....

    (pp. 50-53)

    In the pale corridor of afternoon

    The smell of loss clings greenly to the walls.

    Ministering human lacks, quicksilver nuns,

    The nurses chart his forces as they fall.

    Sinking with evening, all that host of life,

    Of pain, of weakness borne from womb to world

    Huddles in sterile white. A shape of grief

    That had run wild goes back to dark uncurled.

    And for this, water off the weeping eaves

    Drips to a dagger pendant from the stone,

    Or incremental, like the sweat of caves,

    Builds fantasies of ice. It works alone,

    Like grief, like pain. Death had a lust...

  37. HAYING
    (pp. 54-54)

    I tramp on hay two oxen draw:

    The ricks of summer slanting sway

    On a sea-sloping field, and flaw

    Bursts sunstarts on Saint Mary’s Bay.

    Treading in timothy waist-high,

    I pile the salt air up with scents

    Grassy and hot — gratuity

    For man and his yoked ruminants.

    Beyond the sea-wall, where the weirs

    Stake all on tides, Saint Mary spends

    One tramp hull down, her stacks two smears,

    And three terns shifting as their winds.

    And I grown up in mows of grass

    Hold up to heaven and salt air

    A grace the heart will shrink to guess


  38. EPISTLE: To S. H. M.
    (pp. 55-57)

    On the hither edge of cold

    Late October fools a gold

    From the stiff twigs bending down

    Above the stonecrop burying-ground.

    Later months shall, over miles

    Of northward, move in single file

    And snow you in. Before such wintry

    Tombing baffle me from entry

    I speak across that growing death

    To you for comfort to us both.

    What time was ever ripe for those

    Like us who stab atstatus quo

    Hoping with counterpoint of wit

    To needle and get rid of it?

    You and I who see our monsters

    At the bed’s head curled as bolsters

    And would remain...

  39. TOWER
    (pp. 58-58)

    Against this window windows wink

    Dazzle and hide so struck with light

    And who’s behind I dare not think,

    Striking a pose to capture sight.

    Five floors lifted from a maze

    Only lift clear the prospect down;

    Though in the street none feels such gaze

    He shows as part and parcel now.

    Flagpoles vents stacks pods of smoke

    Crowd in the windowframe, and fire

    Bursts on a pane. A single stroke

    Of plane slants singing like a wire.

    Who’s there ? Five floors of girded stone

    Encell a stranger. Light has sealed

    Him up from light to die alone


    (pp. 59-60)

    Below the Renaissance defiles

    Europe’s starving junctions twist.

    Famine flags clear the downward miles,

    The deathwatch ticking at his wrist.

    Up from the dark to this dark time

    The engines of despair have churned,

    The bridges folded but the climb

    Was worth the fuel of books it burned.

    Although American technique,

    The gay integrity of friend,

    Afford a pittance to the weak

    And can lick evil with one hand,

    My neighbor still has no appeal

    But technic for her washing machine,

    And slowly on the Nazi wheel

    Turned years unbroken. Does that mean

    God has no axe to grind and...

  41. AUBADE
    (pp. 61-61)

    The world is married by this light:

    (God send me love, that I believe)

    Infant and lord, the very God

    Brought forth to beasts, shall claim by right

    Manhood, Godhead, flower and sod.

    The name that marries Will to Word

    (God send belief that I may love)

    Has wrought a wedding with a kind

    Bitter in loving. Surely the Lord

    Had love enough to grace his mind;

    Yet mindful of such grace gave men

    (Send me my God. Believe my love.)

    True God and man. The world unsealed

    Its tomb to life. No grave again

    Nor womb shall hold love’s...

    (pp. 62-62)

    Night that has settled in

    On a ship lightless for war

    Allows dead reckoning

    By the pale compass rose:

    Man pulls down no star

    After horizon goes,

    And steers by binnacle-glow,

    The course shown him true

    By the whispering spun globe

    Of the gyro. Who would trust

    Pull of a pole askew,

    Old magnets and old rust ?

    Spun in a mercury pool

    The gyro finds out north,

    Till some momentous fool

    Nudges that spin to lie

    And the blind world blunders in torque,

    Passing old bearings by....

    (pp. 63-66)

    In our country they have killed the god,

    Him we called beautiful they have done to death.

    Our god goes up in smoke and turns to cloud,

    The concealer. We are strangers on the earth,

    To one another, and lament a private loss;

    Each to the wounded self laments a health

    Gone with a smell of burning from our blood.

    Once when we stood and humbled us beside

    His pool and prayed the trees to let us in,

    The god came walking like a dropping flame

    Down from his mountain, took our choicest maid

    For his desire and our hearts...