I am the many-headed man;
Beware my reach. I span
The globe, or at least
My own round beast.
I plug the ground,
My monster bound,
My gargoyles lit.
Devils wake me
With their breeze;
I dream of snakes
To your crises,
Cars, and knights:
My looping hair,
Rain and fire;
My limbo air,
My hell desire.
Of scarecrow hoses
On me fit.
Within my cysts
The myth of blame:
My cobra twists
Inside the flame.
Between the nodes
Where Gorgons writhe,
Scream and scythe;
From left to right
They whip and bless,
Fiends whose appetite
Lusts no less.
Inside my skull
The human husk,
The sunken hull,
The squirming dusk:
I crave your shells,
Your reptile coils,
To coat my hells
With godlike oils.
Who am I, to plug
And mar a day like this?
I am the tar that ogres
Dug so luminous:
Wind of water,
Wand of fire,
Vein of oceans, ocean’s vent,
Mound of Hades, Hades bent,
The planet’s soul, the passion’s beak,
The body’s drain, and nature’s freak.
Fire hydrants were named, by people who knew what they
were up to, after a cave-dwelling mythologic monster, the
Hydra, best described by Robert Graves in The Complete
The acts of gods are euhemeristic, that is, coded histories
of humanity, a euphemism for unpalatable deeds
better left to fiction. Hamlet’s Mill (1969), by Hertha von
Dechend, assembled by Giorgio de Santillana, describes
how the play Hamnet, on which Shakespeare based his
drama, was an early Da Vinci Code, that is, a veiled astrological
manual for Stonehenge.
Like a hydrant, the Hydra was a water snake with many
heads. Heracles killed it by fusing its wounds with its
opposite, fire, so it would not, chameleon-like, grow more
The myth, Graves notes, was a rephrasing of the ongoing
slaughter of the priestesses of Demeter. Like the
springs in the delta of Lerna, the more you bottled them
up, the more there were. Searing the land helped dry up
the springs, while simultaneously destroying the orgies,
an example of a certain instinct that would rather blow up
discos than dance in them.
So the mind of a Hydra would be that of a party girl,
horrified by light, and yet drawn to flames. Now that the
poem is finished, I can clarify meanings which would have
blocked the poem had they become obvious during its
I started with the first stanza, which I wrote down on
July 7th, 2003, on the top floor of a Marriott in La Jolla,
where I had just written Terminus. See its note as well.
This stanza’s draft is on the cover of the first volume. The
idea was that modern multitasking man believes himself
to be a god, when in fact he is not even in control of his
weight. He thinks he wears as many caps as the Hydra has
The initial inspiration was over when we checked out of
the hotel. I remember writing the first stanza as our bags
left the room. For almost two years, I had no idea what
came next. I read up on the monster, looking for clues,
which only led to pompous messes. Finally, on April 11th,
2005, at dinner alone in Paris, at Montparnasse 25, a line
popped into my head. What I wrote that night, under the
influence of a seductive Volnay, was somewhat florid, but
the emotion had returned, and the next day I spent eight
hours finishing the poem.
When I lost my memory from Lyme Disease, no matter
how hard I practiced at the piano, I couldn’t understand
how one note came after another, or how to hold such a
mystery in my head. I retaught myself harmony, whose links
moved too slowly, however, to jog the fingers. Eventually I
recovered. But for a while I had the same sense of futility as
I do in trying to force poetry out of ideas: it comes out like
a tourist brochure. Poetry in my case comes from nothing
rational or structured. Learning its alphabet is not enough.
The Mysteries of Demeter I believe to be in fact the
alphabet. Writing was closely guarded by its inventors,
who scrambled the alphabet and passed it around in a fraternal
initiation ceremony. Ironically the Cadmean coded
order is what has come down to us. So the Mysteries are in
fact whatever you hold in your hand, reading.
The Gorgon mask of Medusa’s face which Hermes wears
scares outsiders away from the secret of the Mysteries,
which he carries with him.
The sword Heracles used to kill the Hydra was the
golden falchion, the new-moon sickle, or scythe.
Lerna, where the Hydra lived, was where Persephone
returned from hell, bearing the spring. So there is redemption
in the neighborhood.
Graves mentions that one must never mention the
Furies by name. It is they who dog the insolent.
Like Shrinkydink, in volume ten, this is a picture of
how someone might see poets as outdated monstrosities,
if dates had anything to do with worth. Freud said we see
ourselves as others see us. I would say that mirrors seem to
be mostly in the hands of witches.
Vast expanse around the head, the way the sleeping mind
invents a world between the eyes, continents between the
lobes, hallucinatory months of travel between the deserts
of the body’s hemisphere at night, memory winding down
the cheek to rest at last on the lips, pace Nabokov.