I am the many-headed man;
Beware my reach. I span
The globe, or at least
My own round beast.

I plug the ground,
Medusa’s pit,
My monster bound,
My gargoyles lit.

Devils wake me
With their breeze;
I dream of snakes
And mysteries.

Sweating, squat,
And badly cast,
Homesick, hot,
I have to ask:

Humidifier,
Single, Pisces,
Looks to hire
All your crises.

I fear heroes,
Cars, and lights,
Like all lachrymose,
Sad troglodytes.

Rain my hair,
And wet my fire;
I limbo air,
I douse desire.

Diagnosis:
Conduit
Of scarecrow hoses
That on me fit.

Within my cysts
The myth of blame:
My cobra twists
Inside the flame.

Between the nodes
Where Gorgons writhe,
Demon codes
Scream and scythe;

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 stop a day like this?
I am the hole God dug
So luminous:

Wind of water,
Water’s gust,
Wand of fire,
Fire’s dust;

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.

Explanation

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 Greek Myths.
The acts of gods are euhemeristic; that is, coded histories of what really happened. Myths therefore are 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 heads.
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.
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 writing.
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 the poem “Terminus” (see its note as well). This stanza’s draft is on the cover of Volume 1 of my Uncollected Poems. 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 a hydrant.
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 Hydra monster, looking for clues, which only led to excessive notes. 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.
Here are a few words and what they mean in context.
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. The cyphers of Cadmus became our own code, the alphabet. So the Mysteries of Demeter are in fact the book you hold in your hand.
The Gorgon mask of Medusa’s face, which Hermes wears, scares outsiders away from the secret of the Mysteries, which he carries.
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 10, 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.
Hydrants have immense foreheads, a vast trunk in which the nodes of branches grow, spigots like cave entrances, multiple eyes and multiple ideas, the way the sleeping mind invents a world between the eyes, continents between the lobes, hallucinatory months of travel around the seven deserts of the body’s nocturnal hemisphere, secret doors that open in the morning to erase the wild fires of the night.