The Patient is Rallying

Difficult to recall an emotion that is dead,
Particularly so among these unbelieved fanfares
And admonitions from a camouflaged sky.

I should have remained burdened with destinations
Perhaps, or stayed quite drunk, or obeyed
The undertaker, who was fairly charming, after all.

Or was there a room like that one, worn
With our whispers, and a great tree blossoming
Outside blue windows, warm rain blowing in the night?

There seems to be some doubt. No doubt, however,
Of the chilled and empty tissues of the mind
—Cold, cold, a great gray winter entering—
Like spines of air, frozen in an icecube.

The Street Has Changed

I
In the city that ruled me
The heads turn to another head.
I am forgotten like a year.
Was I good? was I happy?
Who is there to care?
I was a dream, a dream, the dream of the dead.
II
Had you sucked no more sense than I
From that undifferentiating misery
The new beast draws home
Old to his old blood: to blood brackish, not with tears
But with the salt of that first hopeful sea
That saw commence as one and new
The old and separate you and me?
III
What were you? It is too late to learn
And it does not matter. I thought you
Mine, that was not true, I thought you
All that I had, all that I could ever
Wish to have or have, and that was true.
And that does not matter either. What were you?
What does it matter? I love you
And who knows now, who would care if he knew?

Pool Room in the Lions’ Club

I’m sure it must be still the same,
Year after year, the faded room
Upstairs out of the afternoon,
The spidery hands, stalking and cautious
Round and round the airless light,
The few words like the dust settling
Across the quiet, the shadows waiting
Intent and still around the table
For the ivory click, the sleeves stirring,
Swirling the smoke, the hats circling
Remote and hazy above the light,
The board creaking, then hushed again.
Trains from the sea-board rattle past,
And from St. Louis and points west,
But nothing changes their concern,
Hurries or calls them. They must think
The whole world is nothing more
Than their gainless harmless pastime
Of utter patience protectively
Absorbed around one smooth table
Safe in its ring of dusty light
Where the real dark can never come.

Fairy Tale with Ex-Wife

After thirty suspect miles, I called,
a rusty PURE sign creaking overhead,
and we were right: we were wrong.
The sign had been a sign, we sighed sourly,
as the storm we were trying to beat
beat down on us. By the time we slid, white-faced,
into the gravel drive of the fix-it shop,
the icy trees burned with horizontal light
amplified over fields of sleet.

The used TV couldn’t get a signal
out here, the woman said, but it worked fine,
and we could always bring it back. All night
we huddled in our coats on the shop’s gold shag
and shivered underneath a brown plaid blanket.
At eight she handed us a pot of watery lentils,
spiked with small twigs, maybe rosemary—
we didn’t know. You looked at me and said,
“Hansel.” “Gretel,” I chuckled drowsily.

At dawn we skittered to the interstate,
and at a Waffle House split a scrambled egg
till the road cleared or we thought it had.
and drank, for almost an hour, our bottomless cup.

On the Waterfront

-Know thyself

Flashlight in hand, I stand just inside the door
in my starched white shirt, red jacket nailed shut
by six gold buttons, and a plastic black bow tie,
a sort of smaller movie screen reflecting back
the larger one. Is that really you? says Mrs. Pierce,
my Latin teacher, as I lead her to her seat
between the Neiderlands, our neighbors, and Mickey Breen,
who owns the liquor store. Walking back, I see
their faces bright and childlike in the mirrored glare
of a hard winter New York sky. I know them all,
these small-town worried faces, these natives of the known,
the real, a highway and brown fields; and New York
is a foreign land-the waterfront, unions, priests,
the tugboat’s moan–exotic as Siam or Casablanca.
I have seen this movie seven times, memorized the lines:
Edie, raised by nuns, pleading-praying really­
Isn’t everyone a part of everybody else?
and Terry, angry, stunned with guilt, Quit worrying
about the truth. Worry about yourself, while I,
in this one-movie Kansas town where everyone
is a part of everybody else, am waiting darkly
for a self to worry over, a name, a place,
New York, on 52nd Street between the Five Spot
and Jimmy Ryan’s where bebop and blue neon lights
would fill my room, and I would wear a porkpie hat and
play tenor saxophone like Lester Young, but now, however,
I am lost, and Edie, too, and Charlie,
Father Barry, Pop, even Terry because he worried more
about the truth than he did about himself,
and I scan the little mounds of bodies now lost even to
themselves as the movie rushes to its end,
car lights winging down an alley, quick shadows
fluttering across this East River of familiar faces
like storm clouds cluttering a wheat field or geese
in autumn plowing through the sun, that honking,
that moan of a boat in fog. I walk outside
to cop a smoke, I could have been a contender,
I could have been somebody instead of who I am, and
look across the street at the Army-Navy store where
we would try on gas masks, and Elmer Fox would let
us hold the Purple Hearts, but it’s over now, and they
are leaving, Goodnight, Mr. Neiderland,
Goodnight, Mrs. Neiderland, Goodnight, Mick, Goodnight,
Mrs. Pierce, as she, a woman who has lived alone
for forty years and for two of those has suffered through
my botched translations from the Latin tongue, smiles,
Nosce te ipsum, and I have no idea what she means.

Two Poems

I.  THE PERFECT FORMS
Here is Socrates, born under Pisces,
Smiling, complacent as a phallus,
Or Buddha, whose one thought fills immensity:

Visage of Priapus: the undying tail-swinging
Stupidity of the donkey
That carries Christ. How carefully he nurses

This six-day abortion of the Absolute­
No better for the fosterings
Of fish, reptile and tree-leaper throughout

Their ages of God-forsaken darkness­
This monstrous-headed difficult child!
Of such is the kingdom of heaven.

II.  FIRE-EATER
Those stars are the fleshed forbears
Of these dark hills, bowed like laborers,

And of my blood.

The death of a gnat is a star’s mouth: its skin,
Like Mary’s or Semele’s, thin

As the skin of fire:
A star fell on her, a sun devoured her.

Self

Will you, considering the life I have borne,
the nights twisting cold strings of panic,
other nights (and whole days) the heart racing

and stalling with terror, fury, and desire,
will you, I said, at this point in a life I’ve
cursed and thought to throw away, a life

I have hushed in darkness as my own error
and devising, will you now in a last chastening,
a humbling like humiliation, require me to come

up to the hills of openness and announce my
life yours, as given by you and to be given back
to you by me, my gratitude at last for what is

not my own spoken forth, said into the place that
hears and cares to hear nothing because it is
sound’s own source: my god, my redemption: here

is the dark breakage I have held, not knowing you
made it dumb for speech, not knowing its mix and
constitution just: take this final pride away.

Sovereign Secrets

Marriage of Many Years
Most of what happens happens beyond words.
The lexicon of lip and fingertip
defies translation into common speech. I
recognize the musk of your dark hair.
It always thrills me, though I can’t describe it.
My finger on your thigh does not touch skin— it
touches your skin warming to my touch.
You are a language I have learned by heart.

This intimate patois will vanish with us, its
only native speakers. Does it matter?
Our tribal chants, our dances round the fire
performed the sorcery we most required.
They bound us in a spell time could not break.
Let the young vaunt their ecstasy. We keep
our tribe of two in sovereign secrecy.
What must be lost was never lost on us.

 

Sea Pebbles: An Elegy
My love, how time makes hardness shine.
They come in every color, pure or mixed,
gray-green of basalt, blood-soaked jasper, quartz,
granite and feldspar, even bits of glass,
smoothed by the patient jeweler of the tides.

Volcano-born, earthquake-quarried,
shaven by glaciers, wind-carved, heat-cracked,
stratified, speckled, bright in the wet surf—
no two alike, all torn from the dry land
tossed up in millions on this empty shore.

How small death seems among the rocks. It drifts
light as a splintered bone the tide uncovers.
It glints among the shattered oyster shells,
gutted by gulls, bleached by salt and sun—
the broken crockery of living things.

Cormorants glide across the quiet bay.
A falcon watches from the ridge, indifferent
to the burdens I have carried here.
No point in walking further, so I sit,
hollow as driftwood, dead as any stone.

 

Vultures Mating
On the branch of a large dead tree
a vulture sits, stinking of carrion.
She is ripe with the perfume of her fertility.
Half a dozen males circle above her,
slowly gliding on the thermals.

One by one, the huge birds settle
stiffly beside her on the limb,
stretching their wings, inflating their chests,
holding their red scabrous heads erect.
Their nostrils dilate with desire.

The ritual goes on for hours.
These bald scavengers pay court politely—
like overdressed princes in an old romance—
circling, stretching, yearning,
waiting for her to choose.

The stink and splendor of fertility
arouses the world. The rotting log
flowers with green moss. The fallen chestnut
splits and drives its root into the soil.
The golden air pours down its pollen.

Desire brings all things back to earth,
charging them to circle, stretch, and preen—
the buzzard or the princess, the scorpion, the rose—
each damp and fecund bud yearning to burst,
to burn, to blossom, to begin.

Colloquy in Black Rock Connecticut

Here the jack-hammer jabs into the ocean; / My heart, you race and stagger and demand, / More blood-gangs for your nigger-brass percussions, / Till I, the stunned machine of your devotion, / Clanging upon this cymbal of a hand, / Am rattled screw and footloose.

Seven Poems from the Latin of John Owen

Now when the Lion, sated, leaves the feast,
The Jackal and Hyena come a-gnawin’;
With such apology, O Regal Beast,
I offer these translations of John Owen.

 

I.  Expansive Poetry
Can I express how much I cherish you
In just one line? Not possible. Take two.

 

II.  To a Reluctant Donor
Nothing you give me, but this—I’m in your will.
—That’s less than nothing, for you aren’t ill!
A gift that is swiftly given doubly pleases:
My gift for you? The swiftest of fatal diseases.

 

III.  On Epigrams
“’What ‘art of brevity’?  It’s Art diminished!”
—Yet trust me, it’s not easy to be brief,
To give, from lengthy dullness, some relief—
This poem may be boring—but it’s finished.

 

IV.  Ars Amatoria
The young read Ovid for his tender art,
But what he knows of Love is no great matter,
For Nature teaches matters of the heart
Through our eyes, not through some poet’s chatter.

 

V.  On “The Lives of the Saints”
Merely to read of virtue is in vain?
Not if their virtue is to entertain.

 

VI.  The Courtier’s Ladder
A courtier by many small steps rises,
Yet, for a single misstep, his demise is.
or
A courtier by many small steps rises—
Yet, for his fall, one misstep suffices.

 

VII. Marital Colloquy
“Cuckolds,” says Pontius, “should be ducked in ponds—”
“Learn how to swim then,” his Pontia responds

Winter Remembered

Two evils, monstrous either one apart, / Possessed me, and were long and loath at going: / A cry of Absence, Absence, in the heart, / And in the wood the furious winter blowing.

Farewell to Miles

We are to tell one man tonight goodbye.
Therefore in little glasses Scotch, therefore
Inane talk on the chaise lounge by the door,
Therefore the loud man, the man small and shy
Who squats, the hostess as she has a nut
Laughing like ancestor.  Hard, hard to find
In thirteen bodies one appropriate mind,
It is hard to find a knife that we can cut.

 

The dog is wandering among the men
And wander may: who knows where who will be,
Under what master, in what company,
When what we hope has not come again
For the last time? Schedules, nerves will crack
In the distortion of that ultimate loss;
Sad eyes at frenzied eyes will look across,
Blink, be resigned.  The men then will come back.

 

How many of these are destined there? Not one
But may be there, staring, but some may trick
By attack or by some prodigy of luck
The sly dog.  McPherson in the Chinese sun
May achieve the annihilation of his will;
The urbane and bitter Miles at Harvard may
Discover in time an acid holiday
And let the long wound of his birth lie still.

 

Possibilities, dreams, in a crowded room.
Fantasy for the academic man,
Release, distinction.  Let the man who can,
Does any peace know, now arise and come
Out of the highballs, past the dog, forward.
(I hope you will be happier where you go
Than you or we were here, and learn to know
What satisfactions there are.)  No one heard.

Townie

Your fear of corruption is a fear of thought, / Therefore you would be thoughtless. Think again.

Poetry

I, too, like it / more than many other things. // The way it enters / without knocking and is there.

Clearing

It was when I walked lost/ in the burn and rust/ of late October that I turned/ near dusk toward the leaf-screened/ light of a green clearing in the trees.

Moishe's Horse

How could a poor man salvage / From Castle Privilege // Orts and scraps of excess / With a dead horse in harness?

Danzig 1932

All I have of the last visit to Germany, / my father keen to show his New World bride, / is this photo: a sleek lad and his father…

The Loon's Cry

The red, the blue, the argent queen. If not, / What subtlety would apparition have? / In flat appearance we should be and be, / Except for delicate clinkings not explained.

The Riddle

You contemplate the package but don't open it. / You aren't frightened. You are simply postponing / the pleasure of opening it.

The Return

The deed took all my heart. / I did not think of you, / Not till the thing was done. / I put my sword away, / And then no more the cold / And perfect fury ran / Along my narrow bones…

A Sentimental Delusion

When our hands touched, my darling, suddenly I heard / the ticking of tinny tales, and the only words \ left in the room were ours. I looked, and the hard \ lights of twelve new machines turned on me and stared.

Listening to the Earth

We’d heard the prophets speak, / knew well their eloquent thunder, the split stone / and urgent whirlwind of their voice and word…

The Catch

I, in my chair, make shift to say / Some bright, discerning thing, and fail, / Proving once more the blindness of the male. / Annoyed, she stalks away

Departure of the Ghost

At this joint between two worlds and two entirely / Incompatible modes of time, the raw material / Of our meat-and-potato thoughts assumes the nimbus / Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs.

Description Without Place

The red, the blue, the argent queen. If not, / What subtlety would apparition have? / In flat appearance we should be and be, / Except for delicate clinkings not explained.

The Legend of the One-Eyed Man

Like Oedipus I am losing my sight. / Like Judas I have done my wrong. / Their punishment is over; / the shame and disgrace of it / are all used up. / But as for me, / look into my face / and you will know that crimes dropped upon me . . .

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