A Poet's Chrestomathy
by W. Mahlon Purdin

This is a series of selected poems from all of my books, in chronilogical order,
over more than five decades and more than forty years.
The system of selection is indecipherable.

PART ONE: from "First Poems"
PART TWO: from "No Place To Wash Our Hands"

PART THREE: from "The Ballad Of Hayden Brown"
PART FOUR: "And Is Mine One?"
PART FIVE: from "Go Forth Companionless"
PART SIX: from "July Poems"
PART SEVEN: from "Self Poems"
PART EIGHT: from "Touch & Eddy"
PART NINE: from "Forty Days, Forty Nights"
PART TEN: from "Untitled Poems"
PART ELEVEN: from "Pencil Poems, Fading Poems"
PART TWELVE: from "Untitled Poems II"
PART THIRTEEN: from "Songs"
PART FOURTEEN: from "Spoondifting"
PART FIFTEEN: from "Working Poems"
PART SIXTEEN: from "Welkin Blush"

PART ONE: from "First Poems" (1967 to 1974) 42 pages


From afar I absently love you,
Dreamily, as poets do;
As if time and space, a demon pair,
Were quite as empty of
Restraint as my shuffled share
Is of returning love.

It's a troubled feeling, that I,
A troubled sort to start,
Enjoy to think of on the sly,
As if some unparceled part
The censors let slip by:
You are a dream of my poet's heart....


Time has slip-shod placed
Me upon this isthumus waste,
And if this trek I must complete
Then somewhere here I might just meet
My dreaming, drifting destiny face-to-face,
And if not here, certainly some similar place:
Frenzied, frazzled, flipping with life
Beneath a heavy-handed scaler's knife
That strips away the color, the mystery,
And leaves the fading form miserably
Deepening into a stupor,
An endless pause of fervor,
Which is neither death nor brief:
A middle world of silent suspended grief.


I came to like the warmth of blood
That after battle bathed my hands;
As in the traveller's booted tread there's mud
From walking on forbidden lands.

Oh, Shakespeare's lady of intrigue
And the spot that would not, "Out!"
Are of the same and deadly deed,
But to mine are whispers to a shout.

Am I damned for all time?
Am I damned for all time?

The trouble here is not so easy
As to simply slip away.
No gentle friend nor field breezy
Can its subtle suture shoo away.

It's my soul the trouble's in.
I know, I put it there.
The line of life though short and thin,
Must be more than their stingy share.


You are gone now, lost and unseen.
You were struck down straight and clean.
Time was your enemy, ambition, it's aide;
Together they slew you limply
And gracefull you fell.

Take comfort, you were not the first,
Nor will you be the last.
The evil-doers still march on
Inticing dreams in silve cast.

Quietly you transpire.
Upward now your days swiftly pursue.
As inwardly congeals your desire;
All in union pressing forth with you.

Death is strengthening the weaker you grow:
A silent pursuer who you never know.



Jesus, I'm tired
Of those memories
I fired.

It seems so long ago,
But it was only then, you know.
Then, now, when:
Yesterday, tomorrow, and again.

Success soothes
The war that wooes,
all is forgotten, those two by two's.

Time ago, time ago,
Time to go, time to go,
Over and over and over and then:
Yesterday, tomorrow, and again.


Gather in a freedom place
That moves at a slower pace.
Make your bonds of love,
Never thinking of
Ways to improve the human face.


Springtime is the lover's season,
Winter is the warming time,
Summer's when lovers're teasin',
And Autumn flaps its wings in pantomime.


It's not the solitude
When I'm alone
That soothes me,
It's more like the sea
Or a thankless eagle blown
On wing suddenly
(And I dare not intrude.)


A gentle whisper in my ear
Dispels all worries and all fear.
A simple touch upon my brow
Makes me thankful for the here and now.

Religion for me is a simple life,
Away from the banker's dollar and the butcher's knife:
Away from embattled mankind,
Into the warm of a loving mind.


Gently I touch
More with mind than hand
Gently I kiss you
Softly on the lips

For a moment you are mine,
For a moment you are mine.

With care it is I hold
And with love it is for me
That gently I embrace
Softly with my heart

For a moment you are mine,
For a moment you are mine.


Thoughts To A Dreamer (No. 2)

A skinly crease upon her thigh,
A silent look within her eye:

A book is in her hands,
Who knows what,
Perhaps it's Lewis Carroll,
Or maybe "Camelot."

Beneath tinted glass looks closely
A very sensitive face,
Upon the Jabberwock, or a palace
Of some Arthurian place.

Smoothly waves like strands
Upon her shoulder lie,
And darkly shade her figure
Softly to the eye.


The world is a pear I bit as a boy,
Halfing a wily worm's worldly ploy;
And did a slippery, slimy, slink destroy
As, unknowing, chewed it up with joy.

PART TWO: from "No Place To Wash Our Hands" (1975) 157 pages



On my way to unknown things
Sorry about the things behind
Wording new phrases to please
New faces
Fading out slowly, I'm leaving.


Love me with your head and your heart
Join me in a journey to nowhere
Hold my hand when we get there
And help me to make a new start.

Gather to your soul your hope and hold
It there for a dark night of fear
Or something we can't see from here
Be brave, be fearless, be bold.



After a day at the war
I once returned to barracks
And drifting near my bunk
I saw another.
He opened his locker door,
And I saw
A great Hawaiian wave
Sliding surfer ashore
Within the handsome face
Of Whiskey-Echo-November-Tango-Zebra
Who tomorrow
Was dead.


Two vacuous, glassy eyes
Stare from a darkened room.
Then a cat
Leaps to light.


The times are dry.
Each breath puckers,
And sucks the sky.


My sorrow sears its way
Through tears,
Through anguish,
Through desperate thoughts
To laughter.


Shadowprints that dance in the moonlight
Grip a darkened house,
The souls within,
A world that turns,
And everything that moves....


What I am?
Or is it, what am I?
And if I am, then am I?
Or, am I if I am?



A blister on your heart.
Forced entry,
Signs of a struggle,
Are they missing?
It must be love.


Between a daisy and a smile
I see pathways strewn recklessly
Mile by Mile...
Life is a mystic,
River of experience,
And we are all swimmers
Of great impetuousness:
Comics and the poets,
Workers and those intellects,
Teachers and the liars,
Students and the clowns;
We are all the same,
We are all the same:
Bidders for attention,
Getting very little,
Lost in a maze
Of strewn pathways.



Don't worry
About everything.
Things are working
Themselves out
At a pace
We cannot effect.
Be careful,
Be patient,
Be kind,
And live for love.
All will pass.
All will come again.
All will finally cease.
You are real.
I am real.
We are matters of fact.



The dog-star, Sirius,
Is hovering over me.
There's a pause in time.
Are things regenerating?
Are they declining?
A restless sense of changing things
Skirts the treetops
And taps on the window here
Like a child playing hide-and-seek,
Or an old man;s gasping breath
Rushing up, then gone.


Through the spokes
Of my ten-speed
I watched my cat
Lick an egg-yolk
From a dish
'Til it shined
As though
It were washed
In spring water.



From my mother's window
I watched the trash-man
Pick through our barrels.
He found the tubing
My father used
To breathe before he died.
The nostril fittings,
The mouth pieces
were stuffed in ragged
And the plastic coils
Twisted in a ball;
And all
Was possess,
And all
Was carried away.
Strange how things turn out
And stranger still
The scavengers of the earth.



She is holding a can of beer and a cat
Swinging in our hammock
Strung between two cherry trees
Staring at me.
Now she looks up
To see a small bird eating
And even smaller cherry.
She swings her head from side to side
Then gazes straight ahead,
Straight-ahead as though transfixed
Somewhere in a dream of dazzling days
And better times with ... with what?
And now she's back,
Staring straight at me.



I watched her place her head
Softly on a pillow
The girl in an oranghe stripped
A pillow with Robert Redford's face
Printed on it.
They were
Cheek-to-cheek for hours
That day on the train.
I'd have jumped to take his place
To rest her head
On my shoulder.
If I'd made the swtich
Real quick
I don't think
She'd have even noticed.



I'm deep,
Pressed, if you can,
Into a small container
That hugs
'N hides me.


Pierposts like tombstones
To the ocean stand,
Twixt life in the sea
And life on the land.
The busy bustle of people,
And flighty fashion trends
Held to bay before the brine
That never ends.

Houses like fortresses
Built for a fight,
Line shores and beaches
'Neath the seagull's flight,
Nearer the edge than
Old trees dare root,
That know the seawater's
No good for their fruit;

And there's man,
With his boats, astride,
White water, calm water,
The ebb of the tide;
So fearless, so mighty,
Unable to rest,
Pressing forth, going on,
Still riding his crest.


Orators and poets,
Sages, saints and heroes,
Infants, cripples, and maniacs
Lament the orthodoxy of the dead.
Aeluros-cats gaze through enchanted glass
In the house of bondage with Felicitas,
The goddess of Good Fortune and Good Luck.
Encourages by their agreement,
Disquieted by their dissent,
They are locked together.


Poems that flow
Like fresh air,
Or fly like a sea-bird
That doesn't care,
Efface the ticking
Of the time machine,
And rush through minds
Again agleam.
It's a way of life
I cannot shed:
Life is a poem
From born 'til dead.

PART THREE: from "The Ballad Of Hayden Brown" (Late 1975) 61 pages


So polite and dull
Wild and exhausting
And still parties
And I prefer the
Softness of a quiet room
Where thoughts come and go
And attention wanders
Without direction
Naturally tracing a path
Like silver moonlight
Down a street lamp to a tree.



The snow is drifting all right
Beside trees and bushes
Creating irresdescent light
As the Moon passes through another phase.

And she's sleeping
With breathing deep
My tormentor, my hypocrite;
She's resting, she's asleep.

The wind is listless
The flakes are faultless
As they stack up one by one
Like grains of sand in an hourglass
Outside the door.


People compliment me,
I wonder why.
I've never been accused
Of being a nice guy
And when they're sweet to me
It worries me and I wander
Down avenues of thought
To desires and demons
And look into speaking eyes
That scintillate like ocean skies
And search them like a puppy
Sniffing and tasting a scattered
Palm of popcorm on a shag carpet.


Thoughts rush
And dodge
And badger.

Thoughts whisper
And whimper
And daze.

Thougths offer
And promise
And pontificate.

Thoughts shutter
And shake
And chill.

Thoughts, thoughts
And more thoughts still ....



Uneasy on the dance floor
I've lost my youth will
To please and perform
And drink again, and drink again.

The beat's not right anymore
I'm slowing down I guess
My feet are leaden and mislead
It's harder to say, "yes."

Oh, I'm troubled like troubador
That knows one song too well
From singing it he's fading
So lightly he can't tell.

The end of things is changing
And tomorrow is a blur;
Like a lover who is leaving
But tonight's too cold for her.



Mysterious melodies
Surround us
In the wind and snow
And sun
There's seraphic singers
Humming in the night.
The warbles are like whiskey
And the whiskey's rough to take
And the night is singing
Then the dawn's too soon.
Oblivion of the bedroom
Grows to kitchen and the kids
The subtle singing
Oscillates and flitters
Filters and fills
The little rills and seas
Of gentle urgings
In mysterious melodies.



Pleasantly, even happily;
Bumping on rock, in rut,
Splashing as we go,
Hidee high, hidee low.
Somewhere waits the blade
Thumping and splashing
But where? When?
Now here's a smooth stretch of 'pike,
The wheels move easily again.



It occurs
That I sometimes
Catch up with myself.
All my reading,
All my note taking,
All my current plans complete.
Then I just am,
Standing at a junction
Free to act in any way
To go in any direction.
It's wonderful
Just standing here
Watching thoughts
Come and go.



There it is the new moon now
Settled in for a new cycle.
Craters shadowed in sunlight
Motionless, drifting,
Facing Earth like an eye
That never blinks but winks
Slowly half-shut, just a slit,
Then gone...
Then wide open again
Like a light at the end of things:
Another full moon,
Another lover's dream.



She is so fateful,
Tied to life,
She is so ineffably sensual,
Lying on a bed of soft pillows
She seems mysterious,
A spot of opacity,
Drifting, shimmering before
Thirsty eyes.
Offering meaning,
And ruin,
She is a surrendering master
That leads, following.


She told me,
"I can use the same
Principles of interpretation
For D.H. Lawrence's poetry
And for yours."
I said, curious,
"Principles of interpretation?
I wonder what those are?"
She said,
"I can't express it."


When death knocks on my door
I think he'll sigh real low
Like a woman in labor
Or a man working hard.

When death knocks on my door
I hope he'll find me
Surrounded by my dreams
Stroking a dog in my lap.

When death knocks on my door
I know he'll be welcome
As all things in their time,
As all things in their time....


The moment of victory
Is like vacancy
In the eyes of the winner.
His mouth hangs open,
His eyes disbelieve,
For a moment he is an idiot
With delight.


What if everything turned to wine
And all the clouds
Rained the fragrant juice
The tides rose and fell
With a bouquet of grapes
The fishes all were drunk
And seagulls warbled in flight
Clams kept shut tight
Oysters holding red pearls
Mountains in pink peaks
And polar glaciers of essence
On which penguins staggered
And seals slid, smiling
The coffee was so sweet
And the tea, a delight
Firemen fought with muscatel
And the dripping, flowing, fluids
Extinguished the fires of hell?


Crack the sky
Shake the sea
Flatten a mountain's peak.

Crumple a plain
Straighten a coast
Drain a lake.

Sink a continent
Burn a jungle
Drink a river.

Love a woman....

PART FOUR: from "And Is Mine One?" (1976) 126 pages



Completely shaken
Leaves flutter no more
Just rest on colding earth
Wait for changes
And the soil once again.
Around, grasses brown
And sun diminishes
Insects freeze
And birds are gone.


Everywhere people are smiling
And mouthing party-lines
Saying things that hurt themselves
Dancing to a tune with no music
Lead by an unknown --
Malevolent --
Arm the persuades and
They are bored, but busy,
Restless and chained
To a hury-gurdy
Holding a tin cup
Hopping and bouncing
To the "tnk, tink, tink."


Is crying a sign of health?
If men never cried
What would be lost
But the feeling of tears
Washing a whiskered cheek?

PART FIVE: from "Go Forth Companiones" (early 1976) 128 pages

PART SIX: from "July Poems" (late 1976) 105 pages



Pit it all aside
And without you
I'm alone.

Send it all away
And without you
I'm alone.

Sleep it all away
And alone
I'm without you.

Live it all away
And we're together.



There it was
Unexpectedly as the walls
Faded, and floors rose
There it was
A strange constriction
Tounted me
And relaxed me.
The moment passes
The thought remains
The sense of tautness
And time holding on.



Shyness is
Like highness:
Full of forgetfulness
And disorientation,
But you never


If a breeze touches you
Let it brush
And soothe

If a leaf falls before you
Watch it fall
And rest

If a bird flies over you
Follow it
As it soars

If a love embraces you
Let it caress you
And lead you.


Sometimes I write
To a missing person
Who floats around
Watching me

Sometimes I write
To my Mother
To explain and love

Sometimes I write
With my fingers crossed
And a pounding heart
To you.


A leaf upon the ground
Rests moistly to the earth
Like a morning mist
Or a lover who's been kissed.


the breeze
through trees



There are two
Little owls standing
Beside a toaster
And a big one
In a bread bowl.
He peeks over at me
And says,



Walking out to their cars
After work I see
Tired women
Worn out
They look at me
With scrutinizing eyes
That say, Get out of my way."
They sit, one after the other,
Behind the wheel
Back up, and
Gear towards home
I'm worried about all these tired women:
Who hugs them
Who holds them
Who says, "It's all right?"


Some words we say
Effect us with the
Saying of them
More than the
Hearing of them.
"I hate you."
"I love you."
These two phrases
Illustrate the
Truth here.
Once you've said it
You can't convince
You didn't mean it,
That it wasn't true
At all.


Not to get away
But to get alone
And to think
About you
And about myself
Before it
All fades out
In a splash of red.


Do you really mind
If for the last few
Days I am listless?
Do you really?
can't you see
That it hurts me,
And raises questions
Long hid away?
Don't be too sure
You really know
What you're doing.


If you knew the rainy days
We've had when wind
Shook the leaves out;
Water dripped
Four days once
While you were gone.

PART TEN: from "Untitled Poems" (1987) 149 pages

Completed 1987, 149 pages


Day comes up and
Day goes down
We get lost in our love
And need to be found.



I sometimes think a professional writer
Is a lot like a professional lover.



Crowded, yet warm
A fall morning
With leaves blowing
Disguised with hues
Of telling tones
To winter.
Altogether, jostling
And discussing
Rustling during
Rush hour amid
The energy;
All piled together
In purpose.
The day awaits.



We were fighting
And working
I was shouting
You were pointing
Things were getting done,
And undone,
Things were left to tomorrow
And finished yesterday
The emotions were of the brink
We needed time to think
But instead
W e plowed ahead.
The early evening was all wrong
But the night
Feels just right.



Hey, Dad
You still live in me,
I remember the little
Things you said
And the little things
You did.
The other things that
Other people remember
Mean little to me.
As I age you grow
Younger and I
Love you more and more.
Hey, Dad,
You still live in me.



I see you.
I hold you.
In my thoughts, securely.
I love you.

You are a future
I never dreamed of.

In my limited
And too-near vision
I never thought
Of something so clean,
So wonderful,
So new.

You must have been
A silent wish, a prayer,
I never voiced,
But always held so
Close like a hope
So dear that it
Was way, way inside.

Now, you are on solid ground.
We are waiting, and
I know you already,
In the many thoughts
And in faith fo so
Many lonely years.

You are my daughter.
You are my blithe spirit
Coming home again.

(Written January 16, 1982, 20 days before she was born.)



My daughter, Blythe,
Was born yesterday.
Although she's now
Only 3 and a half hours old.
It's strange to love
Two women now and
Not have to hide.
I love Blythe and Joy,
My daughter and
My wife.

(Written February 6, 1982, 12:30 a.m.)



You take your chance in love
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows.

Somedays everything's all right.
Somedays everyone's uptight.
Sometimes all you do is love and kiss.
Sometimes all you do is wonder what you've missed.

You take your chance in love
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows.

Some people will tell you to kiss and run,
For some people it's just a game, have some fun.
But, somewhere there's a perfect love waitin' for you.
You just have to watch what you say, and watch what you do.

You take your chance in love
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows,
As everyone knows.



It isn't easy.
It takes imagination, courage and
Great inventiveness.
It takes poetic insight,
Historical perspective, intelligence,
Strategic balance, mental
Agility, flexibility, and guile;
It takes a crooked streak and
Cajolling, jokes by the dozen, and even
A trick or tow; it takes planning
and purpose, it takes hope
And faith; it takes persistence
And perspicacity. It takes bribery
And salesmanship, threats,
And swindles by the hundreds.
It takes everything I've got and
Then a whole lot more.
Keeping you up past 9:30 is
The hardest thing I've ever done.
And, someday I'm going to do it.



We were like invaders from outer space
As we roared through the little rivers
Capsizing sampans
Spraying churches
Playing the radios
Going full boar
Towards withdrawal
Leaving sampans capsizing in
Our wakes.
I walked among them.
My bootprints are there.
All I can do is lie about it
The truth is too complex
Too confusing. Most people
Can't deal with it. In fact,
I've never found anyone who really could.
You had to be there.



Sometimes my view of
Things is so distorted
By selfish misinterpretations
And lack of patience
That -- to me -- I am all
Alone, fighting the battles
Of justice and righteousness,
For order and peace,
And everyone else is
Opposing these lofty goals.
In fact, they are all working
Subtly to undermine these
Greatly-to-be-desired outcomes.
Other times, I know I've blacked
Out reality, crawled into a
Box of my own creation, and I'm in
There playing "Name that tune"
With myself.



It doesn't seem to
Want to go away.
It just keeps coming up:
Vietnam. The smell
Of the river hit me last
Night. I was lyin' in
Bed wondering about it.
What is that smell?
The way the people looked
At me. At us.
It just doesn't seem to
Want to go away.


What if it had been
Anyone else but me.
But, no. It was me.
And it's still me.
That's something that
Will never change.

A listing of the complete fiction and poetic works.