Poetry by Joseph Donahue

The Secret History of Secrets

You would like to feel
a dreaming mind makes
all this, and, you’re part of it,
you are a dream, and shot
through with deep joy
knowing that all you see,
hear, taste, touch and smell
passes through you, floods
the greater mind, that
dreams all, a mind
curious about all that is
each moment coming to be,
as if this were the first time
the world could be truly
seen, as a stream flowing
both ways at once, though
appearing so still none
could say for sure
it moved at all. Perhaps
all is always rushing
the same way, and at the
same rate, the rocks, sand,
banks, trees on the banks,
the days, months, years,
cascading, one into another,
taking up and dropping forms,
the way a favorite actress
goes from role to role. Once
she was a fighter pilot
in a space opera.
Later, a detective
amid a murder spree.
But you remember how,
stranded on a planet, once,
she looked up lost into
the deep of sky.


Touch each of your open
eyes with a forefinger, now,
feel a breeze sweeping
across a glacier; afterwards
you will begin to truly see
exactly what you’ve been
awaiting your whole life:
an upside down Christmas!
Trees hang root end up
from the rafters; slowly turning
as bodies weave through the tops,
gongs ring out, a weird music
wells from beyond a sheet
the smell of the pine
is delightful and eerie, in
this tribute to whoever lay
beneath the last pine lid
ever sanded smooth in this
abandoned car garage
once a coffin factory;
a dangling, Cabbalistic
wilderness, each branch
is a stage in the arc of
divine energy pouring
down in deep seeps in this
apparent art-space
where a woman’s voice
elaborates a single syllable
that wraps around and
through the trees …


… a film is playing: a dividing
line on a highway races by;
yellow stripes disappear
under the front of the
questing car. Headlights
flash across briars and
a spit of winter grass like
a wind that exalts our spirits
at the merging of the high
branches with the stones
on the stream’s bottom and
the clouds, the drifting leaves,
the shadow of the one who
is filming, caught in the flow,
as if we are always a split second
ahead of our own thought,
so that the past is right “there,”
lived again in the ripple.
An early morning, long ago,
a corral, a man walks the horse
towards you, you have never
seen a real horse, the man
says the horse is old
and gentle; to you, he is
huge and magnificent. The
horse is breathing steam.
You reach up and touch the
bristle and quiver of his neck.
The sun has barely come up.
You feel him seeing you.
Then you are lifted up,
set in the saddle, the
shudder of the hoofs
rises up through you,
smell of leather and hay; the
dawn is chilly, but your pulse
kept your blood rushing.
Warmth flows into you
from the sun, from the
great beast that bears you,
and fear, and delight, as
the head dips, and grazes.
In the stillness the fields
rush out and away.


Maybe a novel will come in
the mail, a good read, a small
pleasure, a modest sublimity
that has moved many more
than once, that holds a truth
only shown those who suffer
to such a degree, those whose
mania will not let them sleep,
whose anxieties keep them
apart, constantly sick from
medication. Say what will
distract that man from the dark
roadside abyss he stands by.
The day has been delayed.
That great surge of light is
falling, must be, on some
other planet today, what
a surprise, don’t you think,
for those craters of ice or lava
or gravel from meteors, all
that lifeless matter that spins
around with us, whatever
turns around us as we
turn around, each of us
in our resurrection bodies,
or blindfolded in a room,
headphones full of white noise
heads picking up images sent
a considerable distance by
someone concentrating
on a picture, scientifically
proving us gifted “receivers.”

An emerald-colored hot tub.

A hotel in Vienna.

The whirls look delightful.

Those in the hot tub say

a child has been born; his
name is something like “Sigil.”


There’s no real way,
an authority assures me
to locate an event in time
or in space. There is only
before and after, only here
and there, there is only
a point when, wide awake,
its like you came home
after many years and found,
much to your delight, the old
kinship system had kept
a classification for you, like
that tangle of bare branches
that is a horizon with light
flying across it towards
the kind of defeat rarely
ever heard of, because it is
followed by so great a joy.


It could be: to follow
is to foretell, to bring
about the return of what
nonetheless has never yet
been, which means,  un-
derstanding is now open,
has been pried wide, by
an interrelated run of
thoughts that might
otherwise compose
an experimental film, but
in this instance, is simply
the denial of life, real life,
the one about which you’ve
never written, regarding
which are no witnesses,
concerning which, no
direct utterance has
ever been pronounced,
from which no sensation
arises, about which,
all memories mislead,
for which, love is elusive,
the life behind or within
or that enfolds the life said
to be known, that betrays
its presence so that the
empirical is unreal. What
seemed baseless is now
the foundation of all that is.


You have touched the sun
and found it to be cool. You
took it down from the sky,
the light hung there. On
a winter field you spread
the sun before you like it was
no more than a ground-cloth of
celestial origin, and you
lay on it, and felt warmth
from within the winter earth itself.
Without closing your eyes
you began dreaming.



from Terra Lucida


           for Fred Moten

Say more, astro-physicist,
about where all is

will be, will be
until the sun

bursts forth in its final
shape: a cat’s eye,

loops of grey

and violet, newer
stars still intact,

far off, aghast.


Until then, only
the sweep of sound

comes close, just there,
past the drizzle of the infinite.


Until then, may we not lack what Jesus
says the poor have,

their wealth, their abundance
which refutes what the

call “bare life.”

The beatitude commands
us to ask what it is

the poor

and to be,
following them,

“poor in


The road, the houses, will
come back, they will

return from their journey
as the sky lightens.


Else all’s just a chemical stain in the brain,
above and behind the ear …


Else only the state is divine,
the state that bequeaths

all selfhood, and can
withhold or rescind it

in brute displays of its
fathomless nature.


Else generations
later you find you

are a Jew, and not, as
was believed, a Lutheran.


A Jew, but in a place with no
more predators

in the ecosystem, where
one can safely drift

across a field and attend
a bonfire in the forest at night.


(Else I seem as I truly am,
a chanteuse in need of a CAT scan.)


Like a wet tree
that turns an unruly

red above low,
violet leaves

and the trunk
turns darker than

the earth from
which it erupts.