Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

Contest Archive

The Poetry of Michael Heller: Finalist, 1999

Stanzas At Maresfield Gardens

Water, Heads, Hamptons

At The Muse's Tomb

Stanzas At Maresfield Gardens

The dream manifest as ruin. He feared forgeries
and eliminated suspicious items from the collection.

Still, after his death, many fakes were discovered.
The ruin manifest as dream. He deployed figurines

of ancient deities at which he gazed. Those with
half-turned heads he positioned over journals.


His antiquities: the buddhas, the protectors,
the instructive voids he saw in Roman jars

half-filled with a crematorium's ash and bone.
Those heaps! Their inimitable deserted air—

out of that clay and back to clay, adamah!
What to will from these shapeless mentors of speech?

What utterance lifting powdery blackened grains
to something human? What voice to throw out

against those other gods always in miniature in their cruel presiding,
in their fixed vesseling in bronze and stone?

Time-maimed fickle Isis-Osiris, noble Avalokitesvara
whose raised hand is a gesture to the named and unnamed

who stand guard over the scriptor. And there too,
are the onyx-faced ones, scowling at heresy and betrayal.

Do not look askance; do not miswrite! Thus, to hear
each persona in the room utter form, in babbled hope

of words poured back over the eons, in hope of words
given to gods as sacrifice, as exigent futures

of sound, divinities claimed in flawed obeisances.


The collection was a dream unmarred by forgeries
he ruthlessly eliminated. Manifestations of half-turned heads

he thought of as ancient deployments, listening to patients
as though gazing on collections of ruined forgeries.

He deemed these manifestations as collections he deployed.
Half-turned dreams of patients gazing toward ruins,

of ancient figurines he looked at ruthlessly while journals
under deities lay open manifesting as his collections.

Water, Heads, Hamptons

             "the unbearableness of idyllic literature"--Canetti

My dear,
it is summer. Time to be out of time.
Let us read together the world's newspapers.
But the wind blows away the pages of the Times
they rise, stretch full-length in the breeze like
any vacationer wanting a day in the sun, an even tan
to return with to a city, to proclaim "I too have been away."
Let us read. We can! Memory is our language. We are two
minds that lie athwart each other, two continental plates
with errant nationalities that articulate via subterranean grit.
In time, we will grind this world to powder, to be upraised
and bleached by processes of the seas.
But the wind blows. The surf ripples and slaps with the sough
of all the living and dead it has dissolved, and, with a great
respiratory suck, deposits on the beach what waves
must leave even as they take back what must be taken back.
Ah, you hear the anti-noise where gusts expose the sheet
of crumpled newsprint buried in the sand. What is written
is written. But we will lean close, intent, where
wind-blown grains pepper the page with faint pings.


It is one of those days when my will seems no more
than the will to conflate utter laziness with a poem
or with roiling sleepily in some good sex. Sleep,
O langorous sleep where I am forgetful of the misery
of history, my brutal West, a dozing Prince
before which all gives way.
                                           And summer
lightning at the sea's rim transforms the high
gorgeous blocks of clouds into a dance, a shadow-screen
of our imaginable gods: blue Buddha, Shiva of the knife,
Kali who follows footsteps in trackless sand, aereated Christ!


A weird pang of nameless joy. Look, a swimmer's head
is bobbing in the sea. And I point, my finger
like a sunbeam in a barrel. Here's this head
that moves from horizon to beach, this flesh-dot
that seems to swim away from the end
of an entrapping sentence, re-opening its syntax,
and so, for once, is at work against
premature closure. So I identify
a brother eidolon against the tide's flat reach.


Summer's paradise. Its rhythm. But not
the incessant flights of midges swarming in dark air,
alighting on the body through which hope and pain trickle,
those substantial rivers flowing to the seas.
Will you swat the tic of memory and enter into
ever-present babble of flies? Madness of the words.
Old tropes like brilliance of coral shoals on which
waves break and shipwrecks and glittery cabin lights
are extinguished in the deeps.


To the white sands who will speak a name?
The quiet of dusk comes back. Noiseless flight
of gulls inscribes the air and the world goes down
in a rhythm of deepening colors.
Surely the gods we invent bring out the night's phenomena:
flux into perfection,corollas and auroras, St Elmo's fire
for all those who suffer the agonies of speech.
                                                                        Objects, you
no longer offer up yourselves for ceaseless dictation,
no language anyway, our mouths are on each other.
Some lord of silence rises with stars and planets...

At The Muse's Tomb

After Reading

The long eerie sentences were fates as the savannahs of Georgia
and the Carolinas were endless stanzas in pine and swamp water.

Searches were made among the word-habitats that mattered,
consonances of landscapes and self, half-geographies contoured
from remembrances, shadowed and opaque.

The rest, the unexplained, the transparency, the mirrors and the
dust, were to be talked away as dreaming.

The investigation missed horror.

Yet no one complained, preferring to imagine a pale language,
paler than a linen tablecloth or the desert's unlit night.

Poe's white Baltimore stoop mounting to a door.


Nothing to ennoble the passion for measure and number, for the
hard precincts of form, that uncanny love, surely as indictable
as any great crime or gratuitious enormity.

Yet, with one's attention span, the mind wandered out, a weighted
thing to be pushed forth on a cloud of moistened breath, to soar
and curl itself about a street or a city.

Hungerings occurred amid the silted isobars of hope, in love's
calms and tempests, sloughs of logic gone astray which had left
us open to chance and to a desiring to persist.

The self's tellings were another moon haunting its own sublunary.
It sought itself as a name high over soil it had made, rocks,
cities, isolate worded beings.


O Mother memory, yes!

I had visited in Spain, did my Goya-walk to the nth, but it
barely got me to Lorca.

The duende, mysterious visitor, came and went.

The dead war ravaged among villagers.

And suddenly the muse was no longer a headstone stippled with

The Local

Actually, by accident of birth, I was born to homelessness and

Later I opted for the local, for the 63rd A. D. election district
and its bands of refugees who vanguard at the doors to ATMs.

Also to what the city advertises, gunk or hair-gel, the
stickiness of lost meanings, of signs secured by ripped awnings,
foreclosures on the dark, dry pavings of a night skittish with deaths.

Beyond words' portals, I was always turned back, a bewildered
Orpheus, city gentleman to Eurydice, an Amphion who gathered up
stones into another hell-heap.

And now I feel a bit sickness-haunted, peering at the ineffable
from an alley.

Our Time

Media voices overwash all, blurring the inevitable: Psyche's
credit-card sorting of the selves into collectives.

From the great engarblement, words are lifted out, and, in the
current lexicon, crowd aside columns of pictures, taking one past
new literals for contemplation among metonyms of blank.


I was thinking about memory again, writing its letter home.

Before she died, her face, her favorite objects, etc.

Breakfasts were sweet, even...

On the table, the plunged gold plate of the bell on a silver

Someone left a world in it, a layer of puddled whiteness
resembling a page, viscous, absorbent, richer than the néant
Mallarmé inscribed on.

Never One

Because it is almost sound, it was meant for sharing.

We watched together the sun pour in the window,
motes of light on glass and wood.

Who was home to this homeless light?

Together we dreamt of transports, of residences as glints off
mica-ed rocks, centerless sheens bouncing from the frozen lake.

One felt the very slightness of being, almost validity's dusting

Yet also love, which hid us from the fiction's glare.

Pointless to ask for the addressee of desire.

Or that the mind misspoke its sonic phantoms and conjured the
self which erred and brought us to this place.


And now, the demiurge possesses a lightness, a wet nuzzling of
hope blind to the part played by the geometer's art.

Bleached one, O muse, I think of you, your silences where the
throat catches on emptiness, that free flight into the wordless.

O teacher, the sky's light is fading, and I have sought that one
place, speechless to the moon, an omen blossoming at its own
edge, a bizarre portraiture in the rush of things portentous.

Bleached one, what was strategy?

What was truth?

The plangent lucidity, the glass through which the light flowed.