I will tell you
Where the Devil lived.
He lived in
The padlocked
Iron-wire toolshed
Where everything
Was the color of rust
Which is the color the Devil is.
I was told to Stay Out Of There,
Because it contained
Black widows, scorpions, and wasps.
Though this was true the real
Reason I was not allowed
Inside the shed was because
That’s where the Devil hung his head
To rest it while the pure evil
Of the Daylight Moon did his duties.


At the end of the gravel alley
In the darkness was where
The Devil In Overalls
Kept chickens.  Once one of his roosters
Escaped down the narrow space between
Our garage and his fence, with no way out.
And the Devil offered me fifty cents
(A fortune!) to go in and bring out the rooster
Because, you see, ‘he couldn’t fit.’
I said I certainly would and went in
And when I got a few feet from the rooster
It went insane and as uncatchable
As a ball of flaming razorblades
And I backed out instantly to see
The Devil in his Overalls grinning at me,
Saying, “Well, son, youll never get rich like that,”
And I said, right out loud,
“Not the Devil himself
Could get that rooster,” and the Devil’s eyes
Rolled up slightly so I could see
The whites below and his Overalls
Filled up more with himself
And he said, in an oily drawl,
“It’ll come out or starve,”
And I knew that even
Though he had toyed with my life
The Devil was right.

63rd FLOOR

White moon centered in window, far away,
But near my senses.
Citicorp Building reflecting sunset
Same steel white.
Suddenly, staring at nothing, I see it.
All is gradual.
The Himalayas are gradual.
The long love that ripens, whitens.
For a moment, a moment, I am immortal.
Death looks right through me!
Between Central Park and the Empire State Building,
Innumerable purples.
Moon reaches the pulled-up venetian blinds.
Time must have passed.
Every detail of the twilight scene
Is transfixed in its fictional state
Like airbubbles in ice.  Let this last,
Lord.  Let me
Take from it
A lesson, a method.
The senses are our messengers, our angel.
Why so rarely?
Little crystal helicopters
Crisscross the violet cartoon.
Thank you, thank you!
What did I see?
The focused, frozen tableau of the gradual.
My awe.  Its clarity.  One.
Night comes on.
Moon ‘goes.’
Citicorp Building whitened by floodlights.
If only I could never be the same.


The goons are at the gate again.
Beware my friends,
Lest they be you.
We are in the skeletal stage.
The bloom is still in the wood.
Beware my friends
For the book unwritten
Is the book burned.
Literalists of all stripes
Wipe their knives
On their long skirts
And take back the night.
The devil is always naked.
His pants are always too tight.
He can rape you with a beam of light.
Beware my friends.
They beat the gate
To the same old tune,
For they have seen Satan,
And they mean well,
And they are the goons.


Relaxed as corn tassle
She sits down on the massive couch.
The down pillows
Accept her as effortlessly
As grass blades accept a folding fawn.
Very still she remains, only her huge
Semitic eyes brownly up and down
Acknowledge she is being spoken to,
And she speaks so softly herself
That to hear her you must lean
Almost near enough to be brushed
By her cascade of chocolate brown hair.
By doing as little as one possibly could do
She has completely dominated the living room.
Her passive delicate beauty
Has drawn everyone else toward her
Like doomed lovers in a sonnet sequence.
And it’s 1992, for Christ’s sake.


If I mash my brain against paper
And it leaves an imprint
Bloody and blue as a map
And I find someone from the past
Who has painted this disaster
He is my master.

H. D.

White-coiffed, white-boned, white-eyed,
This is a strange love.
I am the goatman
To your ice nymph,
You sculptress
Of petals
Of salt.
Yet I am drawn toward you
As the red thread is drawn
Through the eye of the needle.
A drop of sweat
Hangs from that needlepoint.
My sweat,
Goat sweat.
And in that droplet
You are reflected
Like a naked woman
In a distant window
All can see,
And see nothing.
What is all this stuff about “the gods”?
What are they to you,
A modern woman?
Did you escape from the Athens National Museum?
Are you a cave-cricket?
Do you have no tan-lines?
Do you eat only crushed ice?
Do you even listenTo the questions
Of men?
Are they all liars, betrayers, faithless,
Cruel to the fragile, breakers of hymens,
Piercers of beauty?
Do you really have
Their skins on your wall?
If this is possible in the mind
Could it be modern?
I dont know.  I do not.
This is like french-kissing a mummy
Or building a snowman
In a blacksmith’s shop
I ache like testicles
After five hours of necking
When I read your stark
Poems.  Each one a white
Petal veined
With purple, untouchable,
Easily bruised.
And I a proponent
Of the colloquial.
There is no Hell.
There is only separation
And selfish fear, there’s only
Difference, that delicious pull
Of the opposite
For its poisonous prey.
I eat you out.
Yes! blasphemous!  I do it!
The light and ice
Of you that drip
Down my beard
Taste like rosewater
Of kulfi icecream.
You do not move a muscle.
My erection seems suddenly
Animalian and comic.
I seem an inferior being,
Fixed in time,
Prior to ideas.
Gross, violent, pitiable,
I slobber and grunt, a hog,
While you gaze at space
In pain, in the red
Claws of a thought.
Stiff as coral, runny as brie.
White-coiffed, white-boned, white-eyed,


In pitiless sun
The farmer is
Beating his donkey.

Only its brown eyes
Drifting in pain
From side to side



Fear Itself

Inlaid with imagery that merges the oneiric with the everyday, many poems in Rice’s arresting fifth collection (after Singing Yet) are populated with gods and angels bound to the stuff of the real world: “Orifices ordinary / As laundry rooms fill / With deities.”  Rice’s highly extracted, empirical style, carried in short, deeply carved lines, yields poems that read like excerpts form some kind of vision journal; he admits influence by the imagist poet H.D., claiming in a poem to her; “I am the goatman / To your ice nymph...” and, like H.D., he reworks classical symbols and ideals in poems like “The Greek Statues.”At their most trenchant, Rice’s precise, sensuous poems capture fears whose cause may be amorphous and existential, yet whose effect is chillingly pinpointed: “It was years before I became unafraid to be known. / Fear is brighter than sea foam./ The Japanese have bred a chicken with black bones.”  Whether ironic, philosophical or funny (“Isaiah Speaks: Lust”), Rice is continuously moved by concretely delineated, powerful – perhaps fearsome – desire. (Nov.)

FYI: Rice lives in New Orleans and is married to novelist Anne Rice

October 23, 1995   

Fear Itself

“I have gone in/ To bear witness/ And report back:/ Chaos, sir,” says Rice in “The Report” early in this volume.  It is no surprise, then, to find that in his fifth collection of poetry Rice is an expert practitioner of the paranoiac-surreal; he walks the disquieting dreamscape familiar from the work of such poets as Galway Kinnell and Charles Simic.  Despite his occasional insistence on the abrasive and vulgar (a church congregation portrayed as “semen-and blood-spurting sticks” marks the low point of this manner), his true subject is the uneasy equation between horror and beauty, the “liquification of flame” and the “liquid of order.”  He is often capable of delivering the instructive surprises of the best poetry; in one poem, he writes of a “stream, like darjeeling”; in another, an old poet wants to “twist ... like/ Cellophane in flame.” For most poetry collections. –
Library Journal
November 15, 1995

Fear Itself

As Rice’s striking title implies, these are poems about fear, an emotion with a seemingly infinite spectrum of causes, symptoms, and effects.  Rice writes about the fear of death, the sea, himself, violence, anger, the devil.  He is afraid for a masochistic friend and afraid of the power of desire.  “Fear is brighter than sea foam,” Rice writes, and we pause to register this and find ourselves nodding.  Rice takes us in unexpected directions as he catapults out of the ordinary into the philosophical.  He’s staunchly honest, blusteringly erotic (very male), and gruffly amusing.  His efficient poems pivot on mind-seizing images–shadowy milk-white Greek statues, red threads, skeletons, an apelike God, the propulsion of spring–and a keen sense of place.  Helpless in the grip of strong feelings and, at the same time, vaguely resentful, Rice is always hoping for illumination, instruction, escape.  In “New York Twilight from 63rd Floor,” a beautiful metaphysical poem full of longing, he declares, “All is gradual.”  Then, overcoming the fear of change, or perhaps plunging into its very essence, he prays, “If only I could never be the same.”

November 15, 1995   

“Facing Down Fear and Trembling
Fear Itself

With a second volume of poems published by Alfred A. Knopf, Dallas native Stan Rice attests that not only is he “Singing Yet,” as the title of his earlier collection affirmed, but also that he is doing so as movingly and artfully as ever.  Appearing in 1995, three years after Singing Yet: New and Selected Poems, Rice’s Fear Itself, like his previous book, features on the dust jacket a striking four color reproduction of one of the poet’s own paintings – in this case yellow-eyed fish swimming against a red background laced with green aquatic plants.  Just as the painting on Singing Yet alluded to the death of the innocent—a theme developed throughout that volume—the painting on Fear Itself would seem an oblique reference to Churchill’s famous “All we have to fear is fear itself” by way of the idea of isolationism versus being part of “the fishfry,” a phrase found in section 12 of a sequence of poems entitled “Deadletters” sounds many of this new book’s primary motifs: fear, anger, and memory without art—all related, as was much of Singing Yet, to the poet’s daughter, who died of leukemia and who is described in Deadletter 1 as a marble statue “the color / Of a glass of milk / On which the shadow / Of the head of the drinker / Has fallen.”

Rice repeats his image of a falling shadow in Deadletter 6 in order to question the ability of art to deal with loss—a theme carried over from Singing Yet that still accounts in large measure for the poignant power of this poet’s finest writing.

It is not an art at all,
Watching the shadow of the building
Fall on the roses.  Not an art to note
Color crumble from wall
Scarlet in inches to orange.
Crickets chirk in the dark.
They, also, are not art.
I have tasted the sweetness of the mental sugar
And ruined it by coughing thereon.
Clogged the colander of stars.  Yuk.
Soon the whole courtyard will be in shadow
Like the roses, as before,
And I will go home to more
Of these irrational songs.

Appended to “Deadletters” is an epigraph furnished by poet Louis Zukofsky: “What more happy song than one’s lot?”  Obviously aware of the irony of this statement in the context of his own poem, Rice both mocks his fearfulness and accepts it and the event that created it as the fundamental sources of his sadly joyful music.  Likewise, even while Rice denies that his observations are art, they nonetheless take on a complex of meanings by their choice and arrangement in settings that communicate emotional, psychological, intellectual, and aesthetic dimensions.  As he acknowledges in “The Interruption,” a poem with an image of “bugeyed goldfish” rising to eat,

Water plunges always downward.
Chocolate cake ablaze with candles.
This is more proof than Dread can handle
That what matters is what we make.

He goes on to assert that “The oil paint in the tube isnt the same / As the oil paint of the oilpaint rose.”  At the same time that this piece addresses the issue of making or not making art, it also alludes to Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan,” a dream-poem cut short by “a person on business from Porlock.”  Rice’s own poem ends after the phrase “oilpaint rose,” quoted above, with the line: “—poem fatally interrupted by phone call.”  Such references in Fear Itself to poems, paintings, and sculptures all bear in one way or another on Rice’s basic theme of a need for the transforming force of art to counter debilitating fear and dread.  Ultimately, such allusions all seem to derive from the fact of his daughter’s death; and even observations in poems apparently unrelated to this event can suddenly evoke the poet’s never-forgotten loved one, as in a line from “Not in New York”: “The yellow cabs move like cancer cells in a bloodstream.”  Consistently, then, Rice’s artistry is inspired by his own efforts to confront his fears and to go on with his life and art even in the face of tragic loss.

Fear Itself opens with a tourist poem—“Two Weeks in Haiti”—in which the speaker confesses he was forever afraid: “I was the only white man / I’d see for days / And I didn’t like it. / I had done nothing wrong / But felt constantly guilty.”  In the end, he discovers that the change of scenery was not “wasted,” for he found that he “was the nigger.”  Rice’s poems often place the poet in a position that causes him to see life from a radically new perspective, and despite his fear of experience, as he says in Deadletter 2, he exhorts himself to

Eliminate fear that experience is dangerous.
Lock stork in the dark.
Undergo Woolworths.
Vomit the skeleton and feel lighter, wiser.

He also tells himself that the “Piano peels lid to its harp. / Each tension, tenderness, offered.”  For as the poet declares in “April Again,” he is “truly / In admiration of being / Human,” and goes on to ask, “Who can gather / And adequately praise / The details?”  Rice himself shows that he at least can make the attempt, as when he describes how

Facing down
   The newly
Leafed crape myrtle
Softly shivers. Almost
Instantly the frost-burnt
Banana leaves unfurl
New leaves from
Their stumps.

Unlike T.S. Eliot, Rice welcomes this “cruelest month,” saying of the gods who are in league through “The greenery, the dustmotes / In the sunbeams” that in order for him to be “Blinded by variety” he will “bend to their needles. / This won’t hurt a bit.”

Just as the poet identified with the fear and cruelty suffered by the Haitians in 1978, he also can empathize and even draw strength from the homeless in New York.  “The Religious Life” may allude to Milton’s sonnet with its closing line, “Those also serve who only stand and wait,” for Rice’s poem observes that “The beggar, also, works. / Though some sit slumped like Rodins.”  The persistent theme of doing versus not doing is underscored especially in a poem entitled “Censorship,” where Rice reminds his friends to beware of “Self-censorship / For the book unwritten / Is the book burned.”  The poet remarks that censors may have seen Satan and may “mean well,” but “They beat the gate / To the same old tune ... And they are the goons.” In a poem entitled “A Boy’s Satan,” Rice recounts a tale of his fear of a rooster that the Devil offered him fifty cents to bring out of a “narrow space between / Our garage and his fence, with no way out.”  In the end, the boy sees the rooster   “as uncatchable / As a ball of flaming razorblades,” but the Devil tells him” ‘It’ll come out or starve; / And I knew that even / Though he had toyed with my life / The Devil was right.”  Throughout Fear Itself the poet learns and in turn teaches such memorable lessons, but above all he reveals how, in spite of fear, self-pity, anger, and guilt, he will, as he states in Deadletter 4, “walk back to the fire,” acknowledging that even the Devil may be right when it comes to the choices for those who are “truly / In admiration of being / Human.”

While Fear Itself is largely unified around the volume’s title theme, there are many poems that seem to stand apart from this central motif.  “Isaiah Speaks: Lust” is a remarkable analogy developed between lust and yard care, and “The Jewish Virgin” is an intriguing depiction of a young woman who “By doing as little as one possibly could do / . . . has completely dominated the living room.”  But more typical of the way nearly every poem in Rice’s book reflects on its focal motif of fear is the humorous “Former Life,” with its western “horror of horses”; “Sheer Fears,” with its off rhymes and its tight, fully-packed lines, such as “Dread red thread, erect. / Nakedness urges aside / Edible delicate shreds;/ Unless dress rise”; “The Sea and I,” with its view that the poet’s dread of the sea does not keep him inland; and, most impressively, “H.D.,” a marvelous piece on a poet to whom Rice admits being irresistingly drawn as a “goatman” to an “ice nymph” and in which he announces that

There is no Hell.
There is only separation
And selfish fear, there’s only
Difference, that delicious pull
Of the opposite
For its poisonous prey.

Finally, there is “The Proud One,” an autobiographical sketch that closes Rice’s attractive and highly original volume.  In this poem, based on the Greek myth of Pentheus, which is employed as an analogue for the poet’s own life in San Francisco and Berkeley, Rice openly blames the loss of his daughter on his own arrogance.  Even though this allusive–yet very direct–self-indictment is unusual in Rice’s new collection, it has been fully prepared for, and the effect is, while devastating, both cathartic and totally in keeping with the poet’s unblinking vision and its expression through his unflinching artistry. 

Texas Books in Review
Fall / Winter 1996