Poems by Lee Streiff
In the Time of the May-Flies
Lee Streiff was born in 1932. These poems were written from his late twenties through his mid-forties. They are his “imagist” poems of that period and reflect Ezra Pound’s conception of the Image as the central mode of poetry.
Printed by The Vortex Press, Wichita, 1997
In the slow movement of ascending
The air —
You pause in the midst of rainbows
You pass into a darkness
Of the room.
The mixture of many days
Of sunlight gathering images
Has brought me to this river,
With you here, amidst high grass.
When like miasmic dust I wander
Down to death,
And tarnish black the color of your skin,
With my own and clouded flesh;
Remember that I passed my hands
In kind and gentle ways,
In the moon of midnight,
And the sun-dogs of days.
You sat in a chair
And did not rise as I left
And I saw your picture once again
And that was all.
Childish mysteries of afternoon sunlight
In summer grass;
And phantom sounds
In lastnight rain-sweet air.
I watch her run with bright eyes
Among the fair-haired children;
And she is oblivious of
These same memories of mine.
From falling among the leaves on the south shore
The wind moves outward upon the water
In the waning August sunlight.
With the suddenness of the sail’s sounding
Your rain-sweet lips
To Joan, On Her Changing
Sounds of lutes
Through splashing fountains
And white pavilions’ perfumed air;
Blossoms of marigold and fair columbine
Twining about her hair.
The clear flute, delicate
As the bright amethyst she wears
Laced lightly on her neck,
Spinning antique dreams
From summer’s rare days.
I have been through a winter spell of sleep,
And sleepy-eyed, like the jewel-brained toad,
Awakening to sunlight with the memory
Of white moths and yellow may-flies,
I move slowly still and without grace.
Sloughing successive skins inward,
From toad to Prince
By the hungry slaughter of butterflies,
I have gathered in a clarity of light,
And a star-like sting of nettles
Has strung itself along my nerves.
The changeling in the thistles,
His flesh, prisms of light,
Stalks among the splinter-thin reeds
And the violet spear in the bright air:
The thistle-leaf and flower.
Animated by a ceaseless mechanic
Of sky-held gears,
The flat field’s plowed expanse suspends
On the edge of an endless earth;
The osage hedge makes an arabesque
On the low, orange moon;
Our hands are umber, our lips black;
We are here,
Near burgeoning limbs,
By low sedge and switching thorns,
And all around in the moving night
The cries of endless years
Push us down gently
Into channels of clear light,
That flow to charnel streams of darkness.
The hand, the eye;
Creating out of nothing,
Out of the movement, or the air,
A ritual of you —
To the sound of the tambourine and the bells
You move through a fall of sunlight
And gather empty autumnal blossoms —
With gestures out of time.
Like little hooks on long seeds,
The blending of many planes of light
Catch in the fabric of my memory:
— Your hair, falling around your face,
— Your white hands on mine …
They wait, latent; (coloring)
Till, in a fire-fly evening
We two move in brightly slow descending;
And suddenly, there are flowers, flowers
Someone enjoys both light and shade
Where now she walks,
Distinguishing in dark shadows
An image of herself —
Not knowing the collision
Course she now sets
With my memories.
On the invisible purchase of the air,
Hawks hold the summer wind;
Like them, I live in a gust of time.
Now we go into the silence.
Out of the sunlight’s lightning,
The earth, soft and warm,
Crumbling with ancient wood;
Below the crowns of the grasses —
And the roots of the vines —
Below the eye
Into the silence.
With just a slight fall of wind
among the autumn leaves,
My fingers twist a design
and golden threads of light.
With only a gesture
your design spreads,
like ice on the chill stream;
You smile, your eyes down —
and warm filaments
reach through the air —
And I am —
And you are —
An ancient and fiery mandala
Into the midst of revels slowly ending,
I saw you come, with a gentle smile and bright eyes,
Moving among the images of others.
And to the long, last notes of a sad pavane,
I rose to meet your lips.
The Vision from the Earth and other poems
by Lee Streiff
Lee Streiff was born in 1932. These poems were written from 1958 to 1962 when the author was in his late twenties, and are primarily about mystical and visionary experiences.
Printed by The Vortex Press, Wichita, 1998
The fiery end of winter
Encircles bleak fields
Of mowed wheat.
The sunset ends,
And night begins.
Stars, and nimbus air
With a white moon,
(The pillars of fire)
This purging of flower and milkweed,
And seed blossom —
High red cinders on the engraved clarity
Of black sky,
By its violence, destroying:
Then this spring,
Deception of the earth,
Burned you into flowers;
Your face, your hands,
Lips and hair —
These hooked seeds are exploding blossoms.
Ancient voices, prophetic dreams,
Visions of the dry earth
Bind me. Auguries of black birds
Come slanting against the sun
In gathering darkness,
Leash-slipt lean dogs,
Alive in cold menacing iron,
Their eyes gleaming in the moonlight
Red and hungry;
Stalk the warmth of my passage)
In hungry dreaming, I,
A stranger, search
Prefigured time in old streets,
(the harmony of realization
struck before fear)
Vengeful huntress of bright virgins,
Moon-bright, you assert
Dominion over blood
But in this flood of waning moonlight
I hear the padding of wandering dogs;
Narrowing their search through gleaming streets;
I hear thunder and see
And ancient eyes —
I am that dog
That heels by your side
And slips the leash
When the arrow screams;
That dream that devours
In the midst of its own bright blood.
from A Cornice of Angels
The North Wall
Scything Angel — you fling out handfuls
Of fiery visions on the wind;
I see them burn
Into crashing ashes
High as clouds at dusk.
Fair Angel, I have bent light
Into fastnesses of poppy and mandragora —
And I have not seen in any reach,
The favor of your face.
Nor the color of your hair.
Pagan Angel, in dreaming dust
The saintly people I have known,
Play out again a dream of me;
And, stirring in their bleak effusion,
Send breathless voices to my loins.
In rubric or illumination —
The shattering of the blaze of noon;
The star whose threads pale memory.
Is it the moist, grave corrupting flesh,
Or joyful aspiration of breath,
Which sings of angels and trumpets,
Whose listening reverberations
Stretch against colliding galaxies?
If it is true
That we are on the last turn of time
And that wrath daily descends in absolute silence;
If it is true
That each dawning prepares other graves
Then it is time that possesses us, not faith,
And the wild time of structure
Creates and destroys, even
As the pavement passes under us on a
Great road of concrete —
I do not flatter you,
To think of you as a summer field
Spilled full to overflowing
With the subtle movement
Of bee to flower — flower to wind
And wind to meadowlark,
In which nothing moves
But that moves again another part
The Season of Fire
Some there are whose minds
Like rustling grass
The quick-flowing wind,
The sunlight of those days.
When they are dead their days
Shall be as ancient as those of Babylon.
The plowed fields are rich
Where the vanished towns once stood.
And the day and night burning of fields
Runs fire among old rocks;
Where bursting thistles
Clash like tambourines.
and golden fields —
The towering sunlight arches
and the clouds like mountains of snow —
the mysteries of earth;
I walk through sunlight —
through the gardens of light
The blooming of vines
Attends the course of the sun,
As autumn’s yellow light spreads pastures
Wide in decay;
And the ripening pods and armed thistles
Bake many-colored in the sun.
In these descending days
The brilliant cry of the meadowlark
And the sound of your voice
Are shards of silver light
Loosed in the air;
Passing in a moment.
The melon ripens
The Dark Blossom
The meaning of form is dark
In the muscles of the mirrors
Which throw back upon the eyes,
What they have seen.
The incongruity of hail;
Stone wrens, lost in the air;
The enchanted dream
You are not dappled;
Black and knotted
With a moon behind you.
Racing against ten thousand
Through the darkness
Along rivers in the Bluestem country.
And above us, tumbling end over end,
The silenced Keeper,
The Watchman in the night of stars.
The Wakarusa Bridge,
The Admire interchange,
And El Dorado
Ahead of us two hours in the night.
Where is your vision, cloud?
Where in your snake-headed angel wings
Do you clasp my vision
Of Gold and Silver?
What shower and crown of stars
Proclaims your dragon-feathered wings
The Vision from the Earth
The grave in the sacred clearing by the river,
in its aerial serpent loop,
Was a matter of knowing but not seeing.
Clutched in a bony matrix
awaiting only my searching hand —
His ring of grey hair
encircling the skull —
And his topaz and turquoise eyes
staring up at me,
An articulated finger crooked
in a long forgotten gesture
That a shaman sculpted in his dead flesh.
The translucent luminous window in the earth,
Through which the half-turned face looks
up at me,
and a hand, bracing against
it from some unseen posture —
And filigrees of light tracing out designs
In the dark grass
The whorls of high grass
Pull me downward
Toward the vortex —
I move up-ground away
© Lee Streiff