Project Description

Variations on Sane

Invisible traumas
Surface visibly
In black of night

Wounds, recurrences,
Transmitted materially
One psyche to the next.

A successful revolution
Might yet happen tomorrow
So it’s important to imagine

The donning of masks:
At its root the real is both genders,
Wanting the female above all else.

It is also true every amorous system is enemy
To the desiring grain of the senses
As when deep snow melts

And you can see the impact
Winter made on the supporting ground.
No one can live without such complexity

Yet chance is the original form of communication
And sometimes provides one with a condor’s quill.
Wonders wander into the range of the possible…


What cries out in whistling anguish
From the twigs
Deepens now in the roar of logs.

Routed any moment now

Though all
Remains quite orderly
On the surface.

Or an eagle’s wing
Tumbling from
Its bedraggled corpse.

I pick up the wing—
And struggle to carry it

From the body for
The rest of the course.
I am a woman

Following a man
Into a mostly
Darkened cave…


Everyday life
Is a place
Beyond prayer

Non-brain, non-God
Somehow making its way
Into ecstatic phonemes.

The blood on a pear
Attests to the simplest havoc:
The violent omnipresent.

Were those large raptors
Or Chinese kites way up there
In the city’s cauterizing smog,

On the verge of kissing?
The way up and the way down
May well be one

But only the caws
Of crows
Penetrate my present window.

I don’t want to go
Away! But rain washes
Everything into the distance.


Writing from the darkness
Frogs in chorus creak
And are some guidance.

Elk antlers
Gleam in a puddle,
Reminders of a former age.

Firs, ferns, amanitas,
A thousand-and-one mosses
Conquer highways

In a matter of days,
Return us to that older era.
OK with me

Since speech itself
Is dependent upon moisture
Sprung from woodland panic.

Elation fades as the imagined message
Subsides into the absence of
Any message at all…

Were I not so down tonight
I would have the moon
To myself.


The heart is fascist
When stonewalled by
The object of its love

And a flame advancing
Along the meridian
Is the true berserker

Claiming all
The highways and their traffic,
Until the madness seems to burn out.

Some crow, seething, stares at me
From the side of a country road:
I have interrupted him in the act

Of killing
A garter snake,
Intervening instinctively

On the side of the snake.
The snake leaps at me, harmless.
The crow’s beak has left a hole in its head.

The shadow of the ocean
Only becomes visible to the visitor
Who approaches it from a certain angle.


The moon is in my beverage.
Or, in not burning my tongue,
Some flame just as subtle.

The moon, even at its coolest
Suggests some encounter just down
The road (another crow-and-snake?)

But no, in this drama
The moon is a white van
Parked on the sidelines of what happens.

Because in this drama there is a woman
Who can no longer make out the trees
From the blizzard of her trauma.

Heartbroken in neck
Heartbroken in knees
Heartbroken in sensorium:

Hot springs sprung
From a giantess’s tears

Snowy Lake unfrozen,
Fresh and clear
As the marten drinks.


What if the brain is a bone
And the mind is the meat on the bone
Or rather the flesh that joins to other flesh

Ardor, seeking, suckle of
Milk, when philosophy
Stops arguing and becomes song.

The lyric is the part of the argument
That is oblivious to being part of anything.
Its modality, so slim, lights up

The contradiction. Then through the dazzle
To glimpse another’s pain but only to
Want to shield the self from it

And the lyric dissolves:
Impossible to protect against
Another person’s unconscious.

In this drama a woman
No longer can make out the trees
From the blizzard of her trauma.

Her rape repeats itself
And repeats itself
In gusts of fear and rage

As if Sleep’s deepest thought
Is always this excruciating violation,
Its ingrown wrath.

And upon waking each flashback
Necessitates a trip to the hospital
Where they bring out the kit

And, senile, past seventy, she swears her nightmare
Is true…
Each time they test for it

Each time,
For her, it is true.

Approaching a broken branch,
Its posture on the ground

Practically fetal. At my desk
The tinkle of incoming
E-mail messages, some of them insane…


Hiding out
In the position
All things are appearances.

A truck is said to jack-knife.
After that, flocks of ibis vanish
As well as all other signs of life.

Like a tree that loses every branch
And ends up a trunk, crashing
In angry surf against others of its kind.

An obscurity from which
Clarity begins to wriggle free
A clarity that glows from within

Darkest burning coal
A tractor crashing through a fence
Running over a bonsai tree

The master had accidentally
Left out there,
In the open.

Vague friendship with a seemingly
Happy couple, nodding and gesturing
To one another in the web of the familiar.

A giant raises the beach to his lips.
It is the sea he is after,
Not the sand, not the people…


Not to reify the very collectivity of the living
The practice of thought is supposed to emancipate
But aren’t we all non-self-identical?

No alienating mechanism can ensure
Intellectual audacity
But it can help us stop making objects

Folks will fear and worship.
However there really is a whirlpool
In these parts. Grasping claws

Along Scylla’s channel and
The ridge with the sheer drop
Ensures we will experience

Parts of our body as not there—
The heart, for example,
And the brain.

Make-believe is
Desire feral

And the dead
Are the majority.
But they don’t

Have smart phones,
Only rarely
Respond to letters or cards.


Infinity, interrupted
By a blossom-drenched breeze
That must have been

The true infinite, no?
A delirium that leaves
No trace but interruption.

You hand me
An apricot-sized fruit
That is most likely an apricot.

The amorous world makes contact
With the conservative world
And is killed by it, makes contact

With the liberal, and is killed again.
In its next rebirth the amorous seeks
No world but itself—and dies, forever.

Leonard Schwartz

Leonard Schwartz is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, most recently, Salamander: A Bestiary (Chax Press, 2017), IF (Talisman, 2012), At Element (Talisman, 2010), A Message Back and Other Furors (Chax Press, 2007), The Library of Seven Readings (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2007), Language as Responsibility (Tinfish Editions, 2006), and The Tower of Diverse Shores, Ear and Ethos, and Words Before the Articulate, all from Talisman House. In addition, he is the host of the widely acclaimed radio program, Cross-Cultural Poetics (CXP). His book The New Babel: Towards a Poetics of the Mid-East Crises (University of Arkansas, 2016) includes poetry, essays and interviews from the radio program.