Clayton Eshleman

Four new poems from ‘Penetralia’

A Half Hour with Basquiat


Skull trash staring through wall splash.

Face skillet with sunny-side-up red eyeballs.

Black heel sprouting splayed white fingers.

We have no Hades,    only fetus graffiti!


Halo in a state of wire-barbed garble.

Words a pickup-sticks melee,    a Styx of bloated

   Charon heads,   out of “syncopation” staggers

      sin  cop  nation,   the hero din of heroin wind.

“O war within my members!”

Pit bull in a wedding dress trailing bloodied brail.


Is Basquiat’s angel aware of its incarnation in ashes,

its wholeness in spit-swiped absence?

Its arrows, spirals, half-effaced, misspelled words?

Its word-antlered

        ant hives of

     mutant lewd



Ours, the Aeon of the Child, “Crowned & Conquering.”


The only sin is self-restriction. Detritus as the nullity soul of vision.


Skull as a dream meal, including knives, forks & bone cake chewings.


                                  [Gagosian Gallery, NYC, 3 April 2013]



The Lavender Fathers


I am one of the lavender fathers.


We want to find that Stone of Division

set as a corner in the human wall.

Our shoulders placed against it would set in motion

the transformation of temporality into great time.


Who you may ask are the lavender fathers?


We are the why & pale of anti-know.

We move inside the word wards of an original wetness,

measure veils stretched over bones.


Each word, a riddle of corridors,

is a capstone capping sunyata.


We once lived in the glyph balloons inhabiting Maya imagination.

Now we play, as if it were a cello, the Grunewald Isenheim Altarpiece,

drawing out its mole tones, its Sadean larvae …


Alas, we fathers are a mess. We’ve lost, out of our penises,

so much blood. Our ladies, from doing the thorn-pull,

speak to us only in shred-tongue, & while we are under all that occurs

we are weakened by non-existence.

We have lost our cohesive zap as sidereal gremlins,

we now only act up in metaphor …


And what does it mean to be lavender & not,   

to be something emanating from an ancient moose,

the antler motion of a father, neck pouch as a bell,

an image of existence prior to being,

slicing lakes of light burgeoning into green hives, shadowed armatures,

hydromedusae sutra-stroking through world mind evolving.



Tree Roots and Trunks   

                                            [Auvers, July, 1890]


And Persephone took Vincent’s brush hand,

drawing him down to confront the fusion,

never achieved in painting, of the life of the world

& the inertia of the materials employed.


Her clitoris, when he dared to touch, felt triggerish.

If he could just release it as they tunneled & crawled,

would his mind let go of its descriptive miasma?

And form, of all the connective tissue with which it was stuffed?


Is this the eternity of finality, he wondered,

or the monadic demise of the moon?

Are these blue rootlets frisking about like snapped legs,

the motion within immobility?


A blue corm with three lidless eyes was staring at him,

a face now masked with twigs.

Is this my fix, Vincent puzzled, fumbling for that clitoral trigger …

am I just like a planet, or a paralyzed star?


The daily doldrums of only seeing what he knew,

only doing what he thought, having no right to do evil,

nearly always being alone, seemed to have paused …


As he continued to filibuster,

he realized that his eyes were filling with ants.

“The Great Transparent Ones,” he thought

“communicate entirely through waves & odors …

The Great Transparent Ones …   undying ebb & flow …

the form the wind assumes in a cyclone,

the rays emitting light inside a bulb …


pillow of this dunghill …”


Vaginal blast of the son shot back.


                                          [For James Heller Levinson]



At Eighty-One


I just awoke from a dream of being in Vienna with Caryl & Wilhelm Reich.
We were at an institute & Reich, late at night, asked me to go out and get him a cigar.
I walked out to the river! Autumn evening light, the river glistening,
beautiful beyond language — or was the river language?

Think of this page as a lighthouse beam on night’s cornucopian density
thousand-wired to the boles & excrescences that have inspired me:

          Bud Powell’s midnight fulgurations on “Tea for Two”
          Cesar Vallejo imprisoning me in global life
          The centroversion of Lascaux
          Hieronymus Bosch vibrating wizard-cruciform insight

Side by side with Caryl in that liminal zone between home &
poetry’s jaguar mouth. I stared for 25 years into a cave womb
where a bison-headed Cro-Magnon hunter danced after an equally hybrid herd.
In the Les Trois Freres engraving I spotted a long-haired young woman
seated inside the hunter’s lower body & noted:
“the hybrid is the engine of anima display”




Why don’t you risk weather-roping a raft to the stain of being eighty-one?
The pattern guide is oblivion spell, words no longer safe from sleep’s connect
     to being gone —
I’m wondering how Pollock would have “dripped” 3:19 AM
when & if the spell of vanish had lifted the octopus out of modes of knowing —
to write now in the flow of no, use “no”
scratch your “are” as if in Combarelles,    be first as you last,
bolster, game the maze of no longer knowing what from whether,
is it not time to forget the broken pylons of your strife gain,
now the problem of saying is moles gnawing through each word
since no word instills a savior path.




The mesh of now & the life-force we undermined in Eden:
a crucible clouded with the frailty of forever …

Beautiful river also an open skull emitting Trump & nebular gas …

Let’s go shop, feel the sunny autumn breeze
in the randomness of fixture as a tuned spar.

All adds in as nothing floods out
& nothing
adds up
as all.

                                                [November, 2016]


[Note: All of these poems are from a new manuscript called Penetralia that will be published by Black Widow Press in the spring of 2017. In August of 2017, Wesleyan University Press will publish Eshleman’s cotranslation with A. James Arnold of The Complete Poetry of Aimé Césaire, a bilingual 950-page collection. Eshleman’s most recent book publications include Clayton Eshleman: The Essential Poetry 1960–2015 (Black Widow Press) and A Sulfur Anthology (based on the forty-six issues of Sulfur magazine that he edited between 1982 and 2000) from Wesleyan University Press. There are also several chapbooks from BlazeVOX that can be accessed by emailing the editors at]