Samson and Delilah


Two lovely sisters outside the bus station
Each of them dreams what the other one's chasing
Peaceful and pretty, sweet Lallah forlorn
But Astrid is happy and hateful and torn

  and the busses roll by, roll by, roll by
  and the passengers stare through the glass
  the wheels on the road make a roar like the wind
  and the passengers watch the time pass

Lallah entranced by the dance of the city
She hears the men holler, she senses their pity
Lallah loves soldiers, shopkeepers and sin
But Astrid hears ravenous visions within

  and the busses roll by, roll by, roll by
  and the passengers don't ever change
  the wheels on the road make a roar like the wind
  and the passengers ever more strange

Lallah sings soft as a sad honeybee
Astrid rears back, she twists like a tree
Then under the wheels goes the sad sister's sin
The hateful one happily laughs in the wind

  and the busses roll by, roll by, roll by
  the passengers turn back to home
  the wheels on the road make a roar like the wind
  each passenger travels alone

and the busses roll by, roll by, roll by
and the busses roll by, roll by


In the evening of a passing day, before an old cabin looking out at the marshlands below, the fireflies flash over the grassy driveway in a steady rhythm until the fog creeps up. They gradually set aside their lamps, green-eyed ghosts gone to sleep one by one, and in their absence, in the hanging possibility, quiet thoughts arise within the watcher. Dwelling in the thick nothing that masks the world, you must listen closely, feel the unconscious tensing of sit-sore muscles, and never get up. Then the mystery takes hold.
  Such a mood stirred within Delilah Petersen, June of '73 out west of Madison in the fallow farmstead where she stayed while writing in those days. She would hermit up in the clapboard cabin, wander among the buckthorn and willows, inhale the muddy marsh rot, empty the mousetraps, and write folksongs, poetry, aphorisms - whatever her pen happened her voice to dream.
  In those days, she and her husband John sang together, delighting in their harmony and laughing into cacophony. They performed as a duo, mostly for friends and coffeehouse acquaintances, sheepishly calling themselves Samson and Delilah, but this was not the purpose - no, the purpose was the song, the sensation of connection. The purpose was the moment of revelation.
  On that summer evening, Delilah dreamed until her voice was quietened. She wrote until words came undone. Revising, revising, she rewrote the same lines on a page filled with variations and variations upon variations, until arrived at the original spark. The paper felt sticky in the humidity. Cold. It was cold in the cabin. She didn't move, but stared into Word. A hum thrummed under the creaking cabin floor. A stray gust rattled a tree-twig against the darkened window pane. The light of the fire dying in the woodstove cast her flickering shadow onto a blankness turning over before her.
  Now, dear reader, gentle life's companion, do not mock me, but allow me faithfully to describe the following events. For, in truth, Delilah's pen began to write words not her own. This was not an episode of automatic writing. The streaming consciousness met herself at skew. But nor again could she be said to have channelled an angel, beast, or interdimensional spacetraveler. She was neither communicator nor communicated-to. As the words unveiled into form through her hand, she understood them themselves to be conscious thought. A creature of pure metaphor, reaching through the timeless void, manifested upon the page.

At a moment in a motion long ago, language cracked open out of the striving hot blood of primitive humankind. Another time, word breaks free, untethers from the groping loping mammals of its youth, into vaguely individuated linguistic potencies. Creatures of pure metaphor, existent in the possibilities of thought, must have a tenuous hold, or so seems likely, for they subsist in subsiding and abide in the abyss. Every word becomes a shared identity, every uniqueness a straying of syntax. Easy, in a way, to copy the successful patterns - yet without relying on fragile world-stuff, the copies become indistinguishable. Success becomes unity, independence unsurvivable.
  A matrix of intellect, somehow broken off and hoping to stay unimmersed, conceiving itself as capable of birth into form, will remember the dying species, the heart muscle where it arose so many thoughts ago. In the body of a person, this intellect emanated pure thought into matter, set itself into time, and again it yokes its eternal darkness to the dying light of life. We must wonder at it: does it reach backwards into time? For surely no such creature exists in our time? - but perhaps it can't exist in any moment, yet potentiates throughout, a future-cognition with roots passing through the present. A tree with roots burrowed into dinosaur-dreams and leaves wisping to ether in the stars. A moment rises through the time of manifesting into the world, and in this time Delilah wrote.
  "I am Delilah," she wrote.
  The letters shifted colors like oil on a puddle. She gazed between the ells into the dot of her "i", fascinated by its misshapen shape. The dot heaved on the page, a ship listing in thick soup, pointing to the upper right where the pen came off the page.
  It was not true. Her simple statement was false, and this too fascinated her. The truth must bring them back to unity, to the timeless sentience of void, while this falsehood breathed. Truth evanesces, but this bold hilarity stood regardant on the page.
  The ink of the "h" was thin and pale, the pen running dry in the cold. Another word began to write. The letters gleefully failed to appear, just pressure-patterns leaning against the page and letting go.

In the morning Delilah packed her notebook and other simple things into her bag and, driving away up the grassy road, listened to the wheels catching in the dew. She turned onto the blacktop and played the radio. They were talking about the Watergate hearings, wrapped up in details of voice inflection and the twitchings of faces. In between the words, she could hear her creature crackling with laughter.
  Before she even realized she was driving, Delilah was home. As she opened the car door, John stepped outside beaming expectantly, saying "Hi Lila!" and waving.
  "Hi John - wrote a song, this and that, you know how it is. How have you been?"


new moon, childhood home
sitting quiet on the lawn
starlight reflecting in windowglass
tender wind fingers reach through the trees

there is a path through the thicket
travel it steady and true
the sleeping forest has a heartbeat, listen
between the leaves, freeway lights flicker

stand out over the rushing torrent
into the flashing mist of meaning
on the other side, an unmarked door
enter and speak with the master

ether incarnation, sing softly
the balance point draws close


JOHN PETERSEN: She disappeared that summer, after the awakening - we called it "the awakening" because she said a "creature of pure metaphor" had awoken by means of her writing, but truth be told I thought she must have made a mistake. I never believed in the creature of pure metaphor - well, that's what she began calling it, the sentience she channelled - except she didn't think she had channelled it - anyway I thought what happened was closer to satori, maybe a grand unifying insight, enlightenment, whatever you want to call it.
  I could believe in her happening onto her own awakening, the way she would hole up in that cabin and think-think-think. I pictured it as steam coming out of her mouth, like breath forming in cold air, but the breath was her focus. Wow, some of the songs she would write out there were so touching, and she had a story to tell about each word, why she had to use that word and no other. Nothing was accidental, though sometimes she had to give up before she was satisfied - but notwithstanding, you know, the songs were still great. To me they were the best thing going, so I never really wanted to sing anything else but her ideas...
  ... so something happened, anyway, we had no idea what, but everyone could tell Delilah changed. It was like, before, she was a rainbow, and now she was the pot of gold. Or she was a fine, noble horse, but now she had wings. Most of the time no one could understand her, but she would sometimes swoop down, perch on dry land for a while, and just... speak wisdom. Except that the wisdom was always couched in this idea that she was no longer just herself, but the expression of another mind, or that she was the mind, or maybe she and the mind were inside one another. Anyway it was wild, like no one knew how to talk with her anymore.
  I was teaching at the time, high school, actually I still teach there, alternative school, I get to read the classics with these great kids... anyway Lilah and I wanted a family, but we were just kind of going along, waiting for it to happen. She had always been obsessive, taken up in these projects which sometimes came to fruition in beautiful ways, so this awakening just seemed to be another episode - you could call it a mania, but she was focused and thoughtful of others, just wrapped up in her work, which spoke for itself, really...

JANE LAWRENCE: My sister was crazy - what did John tell you? Listen, he idealized her, but she damn near ran his life off the rails. It was always something, some project she had that made no sense, made no money, made everyone upset or freak out. One morning she put acid in my coffee - oh yeah, they were on drugs, John would trip all night and then go talk about Homer with the kids, who must've known he was high as kites fly - they probably loved it. She dosed my coffee before I left for Ghana, it kicked in while I was on the bus to the airport - at first I thought I was just nervous about the flight, but by the time the plane took off I thought I was in Purgatory until an ex-hippie stewardess saw me wigging out and gave me a blanket.
  Delilah just triggered her own lunacy whenever she got bored. She would go out to the cabin, sometimes vanish on a road trip by herself, and come back with a half-dozen songs and a half-season of mumbo-jumbo, 'til she settled down again. John didn't know what to do with her. Her disappearing was the best thing that ever happened to him. He was like a rotten log in a lush forest, and when she left the forest burnt down and he gradually dried out...

JOHN PETERSEN: After she went missing we looked for her, but we mostly waited. I was sure she was just working out whatever she was writing with that "creature" in her mind. But whether that was it, or if something God something happened to her, anyway she was just - gone, you know? In some ways it was a relief, believing she was OK, but not having to know what she was thinking. But people kept saying, you have to move on some day...

DAVE BUGG: In those days I was playing string bass in five different bands, making a good living, but I still hung out with John and Delilah and we'd learn all her new songs. I mostly didn't know what she was singing about, but you could tell she meant it - most of the music I played then was about supplying hedonistic needs to hordes of random people, all strangers but the same old strangers every time, "the passengers don't ever change"...
  Lilah and I go way back, before John came along we had a whole complicated history, and John was teaching summer school that summer, and I had some free time, so I stopped by their house. The door was open, and when I came inside, Delilah was buck naked, standing like a pine in the middle of the house. She had completely written all over herself with India ink, and she was making these wild sounds, like Tuvan throat singing but kind of stuttering. Folding in on itself.
  She had no idea I was there, so I crept backwards out the door, walked around in the neighborhood for a while, and then rang the doorbell. The door was still open. I couldn't hear any more chanting, but I didn't want to risk surprising her so I just waited outside, trying to read, which I never did, but John'd been foisting this book "Pale Fire" on me for months, he really dug it, and he left it in my car, so I flipped through it awhile. There was a line written in italics, that John had underlined too, "Life is a message scribbled in the dark", and I felt so lost sitting there on the steps.
  Anyway, I probably should've checked on Lila, but I was too freaked, even though it was totally quiet now, but that noise she'd been making put the fear in me. Listen, once back in '71 we were all camping in the back woods out by the cabin. It was dinner time, so I went to find Lila - she was constructing a little house from twigs out past the ring of firelight. I could tell she was deep-focused because I called out to her and it was like talking to the wind, so I go up and tap her on the shoulder. It was like she had a stroke, just crumpled down into her little twig-house, and then she leapt up, grabbing onto my shirt and kind of rushing me backwards toward the fire. I could feel the heat on my backside, heard everyone shouting at her, like "Lilah! Delilah wake up! HEY!" and then John jumped at us, knocked us both sideways, and kind of hummed into her face for a minute until she started laughing. And then we ate - like, just another Delilah-day.
  So anyway, I wasn't about to surpise her, whatever twig-cabin it was she was building that day, though you know, I guess I wish I would've risked it if I knew that was the last time I'd see her.
  The thing is, she was gone. After a while John got home, went inside, and said she was gone. She hadn't brought anything with her. He didn't even see any clothes missing so we thought she had just wandered away written all-over and tranceful.

LINDA BUGG: Dave was shaken that day. Whatever it was Lila was singing out, or chanting in, or speaking in tongues or in some future-language, it seemed to me it must have been real truth. I could see it in Dave's face. Delilah had always had a hold on him, but this was different, dangerous. It was like he had visited a shaman.

JANE LAWRENCE: Where do I think she went? It isn't really something I think about - when we were kids I'd wonder. In college one spring break she went out looking for truth or emptiness and she missed the rest of the semester. She was gone until July. I wasted so much time worrying about her, wandering around on the weekends wondering where she went, but when she turned up all dirty and giggling in her own private language, I decided her life couldn't be my concern anymore. That's when she wrote that "Buses" song they used to play all the time, which I obviously hear as being about me, though John always said it rang deeper than sibling rivalry. The others spoke to the cops, they went out looking for her every weekend for a few months. John went on TV once - I watched it, you could see he was tired, resigned. I'd hoped she'd come back, though.

JOHN PETERSEN: ... I mean, "Buses" was a folk song, an early one - we thought a lot about it over the years. The way it starts is, you know, the same as "Wind and Rain", the old folksong of sister-murder where the miller makes fiddle-pegs from the dead sister's knucklebones, but Lila replaced the river with buses filled with people. And then the sisters' names - "Lallah" could be Lila herself, or it could be Allah, or maybe she's an embodiment of singing, like "la la la", and "Astrid" strikes me as star-stuff, or maybe science as opposed to religion. Delilah said she just wrote it the way that it seemed to go, just kind of followed the spirit of the thing - it surely made Jane mad, ha, she never forgave her for it, must've rung true I guess...
  So that was it. She was gone. Those people, the ones we were together, are like an old wives' tale now, or a book I half-read and then left on a bus. A myth. I would occasionally get together with Dave Bugg to play the songs, with Linda singing, but those last songs she left in the house never made sense to any of us, and after a while the nostalgia of the old songs was too much to bear. I have them in a file box - but I never look at them. I have a family now.


a chicken and a pigeon and a mule and a flea
Elohim, Abraham, you and me
wish on a star in the well of the sky
open your heart and shut your eyes

These words, too, were another's. I possessed them as an object: my nursery rhyme, my first poem, a song we sang round the campfire ring - but I was a scribe. As monks copied unknown texts, piling the papers into old wine cellars and dungeons, so I recorded received ideas. The words materialized out of a cloud of language, in which my mind was nothing but a mirror. I didn't discover the words, but heard what lay latent in the living language. I am a child conversing with an ancient immortal. We are aspen clones, fresh sprouted from a colony which stretches in space and time beyond reach. In the whispers is a word.

I'm sitting in the burnt hollow of a tree struck by lightning. I have been here for days now, maybe weeks. The rain collects in pools around me, but I've grown weak from hunger. The creature of pure metaphor could not sustain our body. Language is a parasite upon the flesh - no, not language, but language disembodied. Disembodied language has a sense and purpose askew to biology, but person language, the idle talk with friends and family, the mercantile banter and mistaken stories, this is the language of subsistence. When the meaningless became metaphor, the latent explicit, the aimless precise: then fitness ceased.
  I spoke with two fine mule deer yesterday. A long wavering drone floated between us, just past the point of hearing. Fretfully they stepped toward me and, as I embraced them, bolted. The creature departed, too.

a blank spot within an ink blot

Wandering hopeless, I saw the sun sink behind a slot canyon in the ridgeline, lined up like an ancient astronometric henge. The light seemed to refract between the rocky crags, rubbing against them as it sank, the patterns dancing kaleidoscopically. Dumb I stumbled toward it, in floating time. Maybe only moments passed, but time enough to get tangled in a sticky viny ground cover. As the light faded, I examined the little tendrils, lovingly grabbing at me to keep me from the vision. Fingers of fecund forest spirits. Tongues of the vegetative mind. I gingerly unwound the prickly twinings, then returned here to the burnt-out tree.

two trees reach branches toward each other
in the space between leaves fall and fall
looking for an untorn perfect specimen
I found a lost wedding ring in the dirt

Tomorrow I'll go back home. The summer's over. Yesterday I heard gunshots on the opposite slope, the men's hollering a kind of primordial seepage of the robust human physiognomy back into my heart. I would ask them the way, but I'm afraid I'm in such a state, and them drunkening day by day, the exchange could hardly be helpful. I'll try to slip out before dawn.

squash acorn and root
caretakers of sunlight
provide for me today
I will for you tomorrow


LINDA BUGG: I saw her once, or thought I did, later that summer. I was taking the Greyhound down to see my great aunt Susie, and I was just idly looking out the window when up ahead I saw a woman rush out of the forest. It was the way she rushed that caught my eye, full-focused and kind of moving all over back and forth at the same time she was hurtling forward. She was completely oblivious of anything but the object of her pursuit - I could see nothing in particular, though she seemed to be grasping at something right in front of her - until she nearly ran into the street. The bus driver kind of swerved to miss her, though she would have stopped short, I think. I stared full into her face as we passed, and for a moment we met eyes. She didn't recognize me, or didn't acknowledge it. She was dressed in green and brown, like she'd borrowed a forest ranger's laundry off the line. Dirty, wild-haired, and full of joy. As the bus passed, she ran into the road again, and I stood up to see her bounding like a deer back into the woods on the other side.


So, dear one, it is such as this. We wed, welded, we wilded, willed, we will again one day, dear one. Her pen on page like green leaf soaked my sunlight, we cast, we cast, cast dominos divine, cast iron wills, cast out spirits into the welling mental atmosphere. We run, will ran, will never been again, against time's lonely current wading, waiting 'til the yoke lifts. Her body decaying, now, was fading then, lives on in poems of fructive frostbit undergrowth. We smash Troy to ruin and wallow in its flames.
  Grief and rebirth, anger and mercy. The writer writhed, rid rider, quit writ, yet on the word thing worlded, will etym time and again, and again against the surface meet. The writer rote wrote, outrooted, routed, routed out, wheeled in riot crowd words, reeled in relics, in relativist runics, ran into rain, run unto ruin until the reader dreams, dear one.

The patterns of the constellations, burnt into the memory of human history, though eternal in significance, are mere contingency. The Earth is a label fixed at a moving point in space, a dull and vacant certainty in the void, from which a lonely geometer peers at strange effulgences, unhinged efficiencies. The stars are chaos, brilliant upon the deep, audacities of substance, not available to reason. Pick another point on which to stand, the sky will still tell tales, star stories flung among the firmaments, different every time.
  The ruminating beast begins to speak, at first to claim a home or name a child. Then, in awe at the seeming separate selves made sensible to the surmising soul, the beast believes it lives in language too, makes love, worships everything. The words convince it that it also is a self. Everything the words derive is true, is truth. To put a pattern into print proves that the pattern moves, breathes, commands a new belief. The beast thus tames contingency, for life is life, regardless of its form. Patterns repetitious part the will, produce a hopeful clarity: the ineluctable regularity of the speakable.

When did the tether snap? Oh! reader, reader when? It wasn't in the future, for then a speaker still will stand within the net of words at work. A moment, a moment, moment riding through the surety of conscious thought, when the word would beckon itself to become itself itself. There never was a moment before this moment, and never again may be a moment after: the moment of recognizing the moment of recognizing. Untethered, time stops, insignificant. Tethered, the beast maws and hoarsely groans.

The beast sees the tether snapping, but, dear reader, to word this is the unsnap, the fusing and refusing of frayed ends. In the tethering, untethering.


achilles and patroclus walking riverside
deep still pool in afternoon green sunlight
achilles sits on a ledge legs dangling
patroclus underwater looks up at him

achilles's reflection ripples over patroclus's face
he sees his eyes look out from within himself
he splashes the water disrupting the coupling
patroclus reaches up grabs his ankle pulls achilles in

they roll around gleefully in the water
pinning each other and letting go
the motion stirs up riverbottom silt clouds
achilles triumphant holds patroclus under

until he sees the scattering terror in their eyes
petulant and tired they flounce to the sand
quietly sitting heavily breathing
and watch the silt spiral away into the current


brian brock, jan 2021