Poetry by Michael Masley

Copyright Michael Masley


(& The Kindling Point of Insomnia)

Virtually by definition
Fire dreams
in color
of authority

...or so it seems,
impossible as it is to rationally imagine
a single moment in planetary history
when something
wasn't burning somewhere with
(in crackling point of fact)

unmitigated abandon

a small mountain
crown itself almost volcanically grandiose in cumulus
& ash like snow dirty with lost age & ironic
want of meltwatering spring
here in the dead-dog-daze of August~

but the billowing upper reaches of smoke
choreograph an altitude of subzero silence

and a photo of it all would be a promise of rain soon

what's wrong
with that picture is the speed of its inner reality,
the mesmerizing hurtle
of rise and change

that something loose,
invincibly burgeoning for awhile--
so much larger than us, for awhile,

stings the eyes and lungs of all species,
each in their own way,
pets, humans, wildlife, even birds,

at the underbelly of this Cloud

by the million across LA...

--Artist General

Deeper Cultures 
(`coverpoem' for album `Bells & Shadows')

Deeper cultures called it SPIRIT 
pulled from first breath 
to a hushed pivot of wingspan, a high point  
of recovery over each life, a threshold of faith 
in the heart's final treasure, holding its own truth, 
its own measure of meaning: urgent, vivid as a myth 
or a cave mural: the voice we fell from grace with. . . 
it finally happened then: so much splendor went 
to waste in us that eternity called collect (imagine, 
the richest force in the universe!) 
Who knew what to do or say? a pittance of awe 
to pay attention with, & we still expected change! 
Change came. An age passed, dust settled: 
The first were last; a Bell went off 
and there came to our senses 
only shadows. . . 

-- Michael Masley  

Roses Read: Read as Roses

I am dumb to tell the crooked rose 
how a rose is a rose is a rose. . . 
---Thomas Stein 

Ambered bugeyes agog 
for thirty million years: 
I've seen those, 
I've done that. 
But the rose! 
its morning edition, its alien embassy 
in my own backyard, deeper 
by a far cry than tea leaves 
I see, looking into it like a noise in the night, 
I see suddenly (not as Detective 
Cluederth might, 
for sign of struggle stiff-necked, full of himself, 
touching thorntips 
like braille 
in a tragic passage) I see 
a moment of providence so private 
not even death knows 
how supernatural its embrace, 
how deep it goes. 
And how telling 
from that bond now 
through the bone-dropping faith 
of all those ages 
--comes the rose. 

-- Michael Masley  

Life in the Vast Lane


In time, nothing 
in no time, everything 
alive by the billion darkly: 
we live beyond our means of understanding. . . 
In no time, nothing; 
in time, everything 
aloof, soaring on ceremony 
the magnitude of providence 
holds its peace like breath withdrawn from ours 
life by life, death by death. 
Somewhere in the legend of a map so deep 
that stars are lost in solid light 
do you know what a world expects of itself? 
do you know where the Earth ends tonight? 

-- Michael Masley  

The Tears of Angels

Bleached by the fierce conviction
that the autumn wind is no place for them,
these last frail few,
ignoring the ultimatum of their tree,
have curled into slight fists,
now shaking their own demand
in December's darkening face. . .
But against the brittle knuckle 
of each leaf (bent to heaven, little
as a lifetime)
the snowflakes break softly,
unceasingly. . .

-- Michael Masley  


(From the latest release 'cymbalennium')

---Rhapsody for Cymbalom—
(a modern Hungarian version of the hammered
dulcimer, first appearing in Persia 2500 years ago as the santour)

---for S’Ange Belling—1943—2000—in life & music with us as few ever are,
in silence gone from us as few ever will be—

Five centuries south of Christ
I see Persians hold their own—like herons poised in tidepools, braced to penetrate time
with pitch, as if no gesture had more meaning than the right note, struck now, just so—leaning
centered to a fish-eyed moment’s prayer, then plunging—hands blurred—music airborne
--children suddenly without a word, their shadows over the strings still as Tarot cards
shifting the shade of one hand over another, telling a future deep with lifetimes
bent to the wingspan of their strange new bird, their trapezoid plane—gut strung, heartfelt,
notes hammered over a drone rolling would-be passersby to a halt, pulling spiritual attention
like water into tree rings, into the birth of an instrument on earth for the long haul (first shoot
of bristlecone pine, redwood, sequoia) first public page of thousands in a guestbook signed
by that same struck look empires & ages later, that shared moment of mortal commonwealth,
like bread among strangers whose appetite for giving is suddenly equal to receiving—memory
through memory, face by face, soul to soul, in public squares & private circles, palace gardens
& shade by the river—in love & work, in leisure & death taken in, taken up, now this culture,
now that one. . .in blood, sweat & tears of vanished populations, metabolized. . .passed on.
So two-and-a-half thousand years later they still play out the ginger footwork of certain birds
--the dance before & after love or flight, the stork’s lilting courtship in the indigo lagoon—
the free-skittering flutter of sandpiper now slow, retracing, turning to fly
in the face of the deep, but low—through that everlasting look of New Creation
in salt-blown reaches of the sea, as if any higher might break back from lucid dreaming
to the jealous, nosy reality of the world.
Connected to the history of my instrument I stand reminded how raw talent finds its own tree,
builds its own nest but crossbreeds from a common yet secret aviary—as if a spirit borne
of player & played eventually—very eventually brings to bear its own redefining spin, taking
recombinant liberties & finally overshadowing a wobbly bid for distinction with momentous,
brazen exotics—odd but soulful birds from a deck of sorrows drawn to winning hands down
on a roll—default-line sourcecode, unique to any given moment, or lifetime, of truth in music—
shaken free. Totemix—Swanthrush. . .dovestritch, owlpecker. Crowmingo, hummingcrane,
whoopingbird, heronswallow—bald eaglepiper. Peahawk. . .

II The clock indicates the moment; but what does eternity indicate? ----Walt Whitman

Time was born in fire—there’s been no gap without it since, without fire. Music
is a controlled burn of time, making light of it, particle & wave of it, a heard instinct
grasping & releasing emotional nuances of eternity in the flesh, this side of the grave,
becoming a door, the window opens through a given instrument. How shall we know
the dancer from the dance? Heisenberg had a certain answer. Another possible
is supernatural ambiguity at a rotating third point of providence so focused it divides
zero into one & triangulates the circle squared with an infinity recycled from a universe
no longer in use. In practice theory begs a baited question, re-poses an unconscious
answer like framing—mortally correct—from the right angle—the river’s last bend
before the mouth. . .zoom
longshot while there’s light enough to catch those trees offering heartfelt songbirds
in the veined rustle of midsummer leaves, one by one, or the forest itself, its canopy
sounding like the sea to each moment of grace at the periodic table of the sun.
the dancer from the dance when the circle breaks then, when December leaves join
at last the downward spiral of the rest, curling so dry around whatever love is left
they give sound to snowfall on contact, turning back to earth or soaring for a spell
in a north wind---south. . .for more than obvious reasons instruments are made
from trees, the firewood of history in music, an unsung fact prompting me to follow
into new depths of silence the grainfed drone of cymbalom, rotating its mobius
timbral helix from under into over tone, ringing long & true to all its time on earth,
empowered to renew dimension flattened in a world seduced by worthless burdens. . .
how much remains lost to a shock of spiritual recognition—how much stock
in the Endless Beancount, how much interest vested in the Bittersweet Pennies,
how much water gone now under the crossed bridge of the First Clock
belaboring the measured narrative of mortality. . .but music—of the moment, or the day,
or the age—is renewed like sex & fire, kept like a vow, like a secret, like a distance-
the deeded paradise of fools at bay—you can tell by ear the grainflared hollow
of the right instrument’s hand, its open reach—or at a glance how much by heart
the whorled shell holds the ocean’s treasured call—how sometimes resident frequencies
of the Unknown teach by undoing an expected harmony on contact from within, revoice
a passing chord or suspend a resolution with a different fingerprint of final silence, chilling
spine in dancing so invisibly close to more obvious music. Tree by tree the years ring on
regardless--& the bird gone from hand to bush, now of prey, now of fire, tries a measure
of foothold melting from land to sudden sea—haunting the carried day like an afterlife
ahead of its time, periodic in the element of surprise, in search & rescue of untapped
epiphany, infinite treasure. A blue flamingo. Wading among icebergs.

Michael Masley 5/2000

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In desert playa like a pilot light
to the Burning Manner Borne
Free, yet equally Here, caught on guard,
I made this Face to Wait and See...
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From Inside panel of Cymbalom Solos

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