on Transformations

from Double Helix (a long poem in parts)


The properties of molecules
have them moving,
snapping into Indonesian peat forests,
locking them into machinery of dragonflies
in a gnat’s eyes, one with another,
one joining the next, one life to the next
one life. They never stop swimming

out on their fins, going off on hyena hunts,
grains pouring, dunes roiling at the foot
of water, sloping carbons through overhead
vocabularies that turn into western rain,

mineral infinitesimal dusts that pepper the lips
and working tongues, drawn as inclination is
to centers of solidity, of something over nothing.

As fir trees in their up-roar from the origin
donate all they’ve been to the present,
roots send up their green flames
as cells stretch, shaping reach in the compound
complex instant, symbiotic cells deciding
in flux, buffering adrenaline spikes
and ontological stews.
                        They appear unable to stop
reaching out in organic symmetry, letting mind emerge
not from an exact location in the brain,
but through spontaneous overflow of all parts.

Continually out of compass core, biochemical
matter’s vibratory and concentrated,
tended by transpolar circulation of oceans,
warmed by transmutations, the cells

carrying us and sharing these eyes
where we’re taking them in the world.


The way birth left us modern
in this era, raw, dead-center,
breathing and long into a story

of health, with unities and divides
as matters are ending
in the current before the study
could be finished, as rain reaches

cells and roots sink as the sky
flies over torch-lit laboratories
of the unconscious, simple as coal.

Enough clear-cut extraction has
been growing here, restless
and inverse as nudity before Earth is
mapped in parts that keep breaking
through topsoil, into stallion,

antennae, trunks showing only
a specialized fraction of the whole.

How smooth the rain can be before
a storm or hours preceding shifts
in species, that strengthen
red-brown in a feather for one
of the hawks, or hawk

for many luminous feathers.
Steadying these bearings
would be the mammoth

past, when they painted themselves
through energy down a man’s arm

onto the rock in a cave,
before ending
part of the savannah.


Before the church became a sanctuary,
the people involved may have felt trembling
through the building’s stone walls,
when those not with them had finally
gotten off the clock and were trying out
a little ancestral pulse, perhaps knocking
and thumping on a single-skin drum
to a few strings or singing at the tavern
or in the Druid hills.
                  The fathers, brothers,
and sisters may have sought strength by chanting
the invisible closer, hoping to know more deeply
how the inexplicable light was forever
and forever sound, as sound as living out
days and nights in mystery they’d personalized
to keep it more clearly in mind, when so much
was anonymous already and so much unexplained.

Apparently they intuited calling the invisible
their origin and home was a powerful way
to govern the psyche, as well as a kind of solution
for the problem of death ending life, or for splits
that separated one from the whole, given the depth
the invisible seemed to possess in the power
of human imagination, when it isn’t simple
make-believe but capable of offering protection,
even healing.
                  When the unconscious wrote
to those who tried to be good, maybe some
pronounced it an intervention of what’s greater.

As the sky has been forever in the night, holding
what’s familiar with what we’re unsure about
or can’t make out in view of the eyes,
the mind has populated it with entities
reminiscent of people, and received,
in turn, night songs and sleep.


The moon’s unfinished orbiting arcs over
contiguous coasts of light and shade,
whereas in the red-brown gaseous flux,

floodlit as it is and flooded with downtown
architecture, maybe it’s nowhere
to be found, the moon, without corporate
lawyers serving their global divorce papers
to the atmosphere.
      A mammoth spear hurled
in an ancient century never stops plunging
into common neural pathways
that harbor mercurial risks.
            As fire season
in forests begins over a month earlier
and lasts a month longer, the dark burn
in the body sinks low down in the plexus,
in the trunk going hollow from a slow punch
to the gut out of fear for the future of people.

The crescent moon appears to be sailing over
mostly forgotten generations of individuals
and passed-over transcendence.
the longer right action stalls, the deeper the punch
reaches, until the skeleton’s roaring with wind
feeding flames the last light in high plains fields

with fast night hawks swooping and diving
through thermals for insects, down the road
from unthinkable works of international art,

the solid yellows of Morris Graves corridors
or extradimensional nighthawk sweeps
of paints over spontaneous drops off the brush
of aerial Pollock inscribing a tropical rain forest

where charismatic and tiniest
co-evolved beings hold up, as being
grows in the direction
of future spiral fractals.


In the planetary blizzard
of people, how much
of the present is already past?

After 5 p.m., hundreds of millions
if uncountable pulses may
be passing through the lit
or dark sky. Parts of the psyche

can have people feeling lost,
or that already they’ve witnessed
more than expected, or they’ve done more
than anyone unlike them would know.

Electrochemical cellular pulses connect,
as if many could suddenly remember
the same hour, when how many are sitting
here this day, picturing an old calendar

with times penciled in next to the unknown
names carried in by cells. As open doors
shut in opposites with principles they oppose,

arguing works up or down alive, in people
at work or home with this moment
of woven less-conscious hungers,

some too young to sell or sitting
at a table without enough to eat,

where shoulder-to-shoulder
antiquity ascends, descends,
into the human body.


James Grabill

About James Grabill

James Grabill’s poems have appeared in numerous periodicals such as The Oxonian Review (UK), Stand (UK), Magma (UK), Toronto Quarterly (CAN), Harvard Review (US), Terrain (US), Seneca Review (US), Urthona (UK), kayak (US), Plumwood Mountain (AUS), Caliban (US), Spittoon (US), Weber: The Contemporary West (US), The Common Review (US), and Buddhist Poetry Review (US). His books include Poem Rising Out of the James Grabill’s recent work is online at the Buddhist Poetry Review, Harvard Review, Terrain, Urthona (UK), Shenandoah, The Oxonian Review (UK), Stand (UK), East West Journal, The Common Review, Toronto Quarterly, Elohi Gadugi, Oxonian Review (UK), Plumwood Mountain (AUS), Caliban, Spittoon, Weber: The Contemporary West, and many others. His books include Poem Rising Out of the Earth (1994) and An Indigo Scent after the Rain (2003), both from Lynx House Press. Wordcraft of Oregon has published his new project of environmental prose poems, Sea-Level Nerve: Book One, 2014 (available online -http://www.0s-1s.com/poetry-shelves/sea-level-nerve), Book Two, 2015 (now available). A long-time Oregon resident, he teaches 'systems thinking' and global issues relative to sustainability.
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