The Tower Journal

Michael Sandler



There’s vog today drifting in
from Kilauea and it boggles
why scrim obscures the scene

Guy the weatherman explains
what I can’t see for myself
lows of a thermal inversion

Something here is upside down
what should rise like a plover
fricassees in this cauldron

The elements mimic elements
within and the pressure of words
also portends disturbance

This larynx to which I listen
never quite my own though its cast
merges with all I hear within

as if I might confuse
its pulse with my own beat
or feel the two in phase

or be lost among wavelets
bellied out from distant towers
ripe and authoritative

Must pundits speak in puns
when I want to get it straight
Sanskrits of circumlocution

stranding me with their daedal
response more maze than answer
catechism of the nil

Speaker of all what hurricane
will blow through me what truth
will clear haze of this depression


Train the mind, says the how-to manual
as if for an inner spaniel that barks si
de acuerdo
to besettings of what it sees,
takes and consumes—in bacchanals of bone.

Or provide a counterweight, a tethering
myth, one supple but high-tensile belief
anchoring corsairs of my disbelief
(as if mere craft could pirate off a psyche).

Who unwinds the windlass, feeds the rope?
The dead but still conversing mother or father
speak the old myths, the ones that told who sired
the sun, the remotest reach—ghosted shambles.

I could write a program. It might appear
as new code, until its sequence redirects
to another site. It would have me resurrect
passions, sufferings of work or of art,

of others, of the planet, measuring out
what some hope to call immeasurable. I pray
for this, for a bequest that would be cy-près
to sudden spikes on a tired heart’s flatline

or like a flare within and from afar,
of both me and some otherworldly other.
But today I try to ignore it is another
who speaks—in blogs, screeds, a five-day forecast.


Lana’i’s silhouette emerges through sulfur.
Vulcan must be out of breath.
The Konas subside. Even the waves
lag as on a torpid lake.
Our kayak barely yaws
when a giant turtle breasts through cyan-green.
It passes underneath and we become
spectators, flotsam and wake.
How it flows through sea and sea
through it and, as if a voice of the depths,
it is the sensual and sounding of its place.
Above we make alternating currents
of twin-bladed paddles,
one end dipped in the sea
the other lost in empty air
its emptiness unmoored, longing
to secure a catch and pull
of actuating water,
until it too is immersed at a cost
of the other blade untethered.
Each presence holds apartness
receding from every deliberate approach,
gliding outward beyond the shallows.
Each yearning sequesters another.
Who then articulates
wisdom, carapace and leathered skin
of years, an authentic speech?


It exhausts, vastness of ocean, the conditions humid
and still. A languid case of seaside lassitude

or topical malaise—I suppose I think better
in boreal casts of mind, in sleet, the brace of weather—

for here, although alone, I feel worn by pointlessness
of pulling my words apart from theirs. Is there wholeness

in knowing my beliefs are not my own, a calming
acceptance in the amplitude of embracing palms?

Beach is repetition but displays repeating change,
sand spewed from sea is soon swallowed at the fringe

of loquacious surf, fricatives and plosives registered
in a prattle of shells flipping, clattering in the breakers.

Then a breeze comes from nowhere, a silica whisk to scour
and contour the shore. Behind me the volcano towers

in apparent stasis, but I’m told its peak has been eroding.
If I close my eyes, my face apprehends swaying shade

of a sea grape tree, how it unpatterns flecks of sun
peeking from among thickly lobed arms. Assimilation

permeates like salt air through the bleached plywood shack
where ancestral canoes are kept, and when I look

there’s one bobbing on the horizon—it is at one
with water and reflected light, seductive motion

that says it is part, not separate. Yet at core
of what I am of it and it of me, a censure,

a protruding nub thirsting for another lexicon
to give it worth, to carve and sculpt demarcation.

How do I explain the self if what that augurs must
evade until a voice is taken in on trust,

discourse so insistent I treat it as my own,
an outrigger of intellect to stow within?

The sea now dark. I believe I hear it, how it explains
sudden shift of winds and probability of rain

if not what coming days will bring, a forecast and plot
so sure and credible I can almost repeat it.


No sone or resonance
conformed my breath
to being in a room
whiteout before dawn
save the personal hiss
I suppose molecules compressed
to walls of my conched skull
like bristles pumicing teeth
or whisked in a close shave

which is to say temporary
meaning it was brief enough to be
dismissed as ephemeron
a ghost fly but lasting enough so
I can replay it as story
whenever I hear
acquaintances recount loss
of memory replaced knees cataracts
in a river of privation I never fill in

with respites conferred by its shroud
(must I relive them)

I read the morning paper isled
from a lover’s claims
unmoved by a bell tolling
of scouts collecting at the door
I overlook without overhearing
the panhandler’s beat
for bread against a tympanum
and circuses of cause
resounding without effect

though in a way I hear
no less than what I once listened for
an A4’s quiet ride
or ticker of quotes crawling beneath
refugees on the morning news
faces fretted bellies bloated
yes the volume is muted
my remote keeping distant
its vial of sound

even so I test my voice
muffled by the oreiller
of these unresponsive flaps and ruffles
it makes me try to talk louder
but the hammer and strike
of what I mean gives off
aureoles of silence
my antennae listing
in the cochlear deep

and I ache to be heard
beggar for attention’s meat
with lugholes lapped
at bay if not sheltered
behind this safety glass
my mouthing the contortions of
a bad mime who irks the audience
ok a misnomer one with a stem
I conjugate audis audit

when I wake it’s the dawn
after my treatment
the room bright and in closing my eyes
I try to tap a better self
the one I routinely
believe in but then notice
a sounding has returned
rather tinny as if underwater
what the brain takes for a song

Copyright © 2014 Michael Sandler

Michael SandlerMichael Sandler’s poems have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous journals, most recently in Willow Review, Caveat Lector, Poetica, Off the Coast, The Puritan, Fourteen Hills, Forge, Peregrine, and Fogged Clarity. He lives near Seattle where he also works as an arbitrator."

The Tower Journal
Fall/Winter 2014