Edwin Honig: Spring Journal: Poems (1968)


The Dead
To Dream
King of Death
Her Hand
Wind to Wind
Returning to the Old House
The Gift
Back to "Tahiti"
For Margot
Birth Song: In the Wing Seat, at Night
Second Son Day
Back to Bodega
Mornings in April and May
Late, Late
November Through a Giant Copper Beech
Bodega, Goodbye
Grand Tour -- Package Deal
Ah Life, This Lowgrade Infection
Cuba in Mind
Polyglot Israel and Back


The Dead

You want to bring them back.
Would they, if they could, return,
after such a heavy crossing?
You try, until the wish, almost
disattached, gnawing, growling,
finally bursts loose to call them.

You look up, and they are there:
alert, much younger, fresher, dancing
in the special fragrance
that becomes them, absorbed
in nothing else but this,
this lilt of theirs, their fullest being!

You rush toward them joyfully
when the cry cuts you (is it
out of you or them or whom?),
and you are nowhere, caught and straining
to the faintest, farthest echo
"Edwin! Edwin!"

To Dream

If the eyes want too much to dream,
if the forehead suddenly hit dirt
and the body slackened, letting go,
to lie there actual as stone,

motionless and self-contained,
as though on entering heart's desire
you'd become, as dead, all one,
beyond recall, yet merely slept

like someone who, past wishing, turns
to polar white and heavy animal,
and only this way grows complete --

so to see yourself, flesh of
your dream, your most and solid self,
would you ever sleep again?

King of Death


December winds knock down a shutter. Bronze
evening roughens, rusting toward the town.
Sprung in darkness, he comes alive to search
the lowdown neighborhood for witnesses.

Stretched bare, the ransacked town turns in at nine.
Fire bells halloo him past
the empty depots -- feints, beckonings
toward surrender, almost try his mind.

He sees a misty soldier on the way,
warring with rocks on window glass,
fall and crash, the swelling sirens
pouring by him featureless.

Run swift, run slow, in shadow safeties click
on dumb revolvers; his long stretch narrows
down to stand their muzzles' hollowness
before they bellow darkness out.

The papers later said no witnesses
appeared, though faces peered all night
behind the blinds, shifting from TV sets
to nonstop hysterical patrol cars.


After all, he had, and possibly
when every gobbet's gathered up,
will still appear to have (maimed
man's king of death and poverty)
extraordinary life.
Death is what can die,
in every man, at last.

Awakenings are naked, tremorous,
a waiting to be taken, murderer
or bride, to heart; pursuer sought,
mistaken, shadowing himself;
feared, a fury silenced,
darting to sacrifice;
forsaken, a presence past.


Toward cockcrow, when the inexhaustible poor
lay down and slept, some paid eyewitnesses,
just for the record, detailed an expiration.

They said the howling ceased, a calm descended.
A groggy soldier rose and walked off stiffly
in a borrowed coat. The hill began to shapen

where the stripped and cornered victim crept,
just as, from his riddled sides, a glory woke
and blazed. It shook, amazing and amazed --

as if enraged, as if it would not die.

Her Hand

She was sleeping an animal sleep
I couldn't make out.
When she woke, the animal sucked,
thinning her face, drowning her mouth.
She drooled and her hand
went at the flecks, vaguely,
purpling the neckskin,
splotched, worn out.
The hand tightening up
went dead on the coverlet.

Dead, but it spoke. It said,
"You will die, you must die."
And I spoke to the hand alone.
"Move," I said. And it moved.
It scurried a bit in the bed,
living a life of its own.
It moved, moving her, not her eyes.
It was hers and not hers.
It was dead, but ordered
by me, it quivered alive.

It didn't want me, it didn't want her.
It had to be what it was without us.
She may not have known it --
squaring herself, almost raising
her shoulders alive,
but the hand, forcing her down,
told her in sleep she would die.
I still follow the end of her sleep:
her animal wide mouth wiped out,
her hand a cinder in the ground.


Can it be?
Looking up from my shoes,
I see her streaming toward me.
The park is empty.
She is in a wide veil, smoky,
in a thin blue veil,

It is she --
floating by me,
lightening into beauty!
In my emptiness
I rise like water,
breathless to catch up,

She turns
a face, not hers,
that balks and crumbles,
What are you thinking?
She is dead!
Wind to Wind

In the wind of whoever you are,
the shape that will vanish to be
a smile or a way of holding your head
in the wind of whoever it was
that hovered nearby you is all
that will be of you as you are
when you were least aware --
finger, shoulder, and hair,
full mouth grimacing, forehead surprised,
eye slanted to fondness and hurt,
oh, the lovely fire and cloud of you
burst, hammered and fluffed
through a mind soon to fade
from a body like yours --
your body, my body, all bodies
gathered and thrown in the wind
that widens and thins to air.

Returning to the Old House

This is the house where hurt has faded,
though something lingers, a shucked-off way
of feeling, not yet brushed away.
And I've grown taller watching, as though
mounted on a stump that happens
luckily to be there, and happens,
also, to be me; or I am
both the newfound stranger owner
come smiling through the rooms he'll fill
with chairs and tables of his own,
and the former owner, crouching,
unobserved, still propping walls
and corners with all the forms
he owned and wept and thought.

Do I live dying now with all
those nameless owners who have died
here in this house, once as vivid
to themselves as she who died,
whose hurt has barely left it now?
A full sun stabs the window white,
pours in past my lingering shadow
lengthening down the empty floor.

The Gift

Breaking into the locked room,
he finds a stranger with a baby face
sitting naked, smiling, taking him in,
a pool of blood blanketing his feet.

It is and it is not himself.
It is himself as he might be,
past help, free to turn
to anyone who needed him --

no longer anything to himself,
a scab picked off a wound and ground
into the dirt of every thing.

Free! Free! the round voice sings,
mad as a bell swinging with joy,
then stops. Quick! Quick! before eyes

fail against the final wall, let him
know what joy is, in his heart --
the stranger's heart that eagerly
sang out of him, and stopped.

Back to "Tahiti"

You mean back to where the scarce
old hills and bungled farm and caved-
in barns still sit around the windmill
leaning toward the graybeard house
whose pump is on the blink that has
a swinging handle, long and grim
as the thighbone of a mastodon,
and when the deadman farmer yanks it,
shakes the rust that cakes the well.

That's just where you want to be
when wishfully you say "Tahiti":
back to where you've never been,
you'd let the insidious city rot
with all its piles of cornered meat,
licked by sirens and civilian fires;
let darkness crash on what it will --
the sonic boom of manic jets,
all the blood that's drunk to fill
those weird deserted heads running
bodies that are never still.

But when you stop and listen back,
all is magic, wishful true.
The deadman's breath has just been stilled:
breathing the air he breathed, you stoop
and cut the roses from his bush
beneath the darkened window where
you rise into the view that once
completely filled his drifting eyes.


For Margot

Almost fallen asleep
in the song of your face,
I tell myself vaguely
to waken and snatch it
at once, so close to
my hearing, or lose it
forever, be lost.

This music that passes
before words begin
streams through your face,
from the interlocked print
of centipede lashes
to the thinning gold down
ambushing your mouth,

and composes a song
my eyes close to keep
from breathing away.
Should I waken or not?
Enraged by the doubt
I hover, now nearing,
now backing away,

until -- what's this?
Your smile wakens eyes,
skies open wide!
Dazzled, still leaning
to hear, my head
drops into its own
Icarus pratfall,

dizzying down
to cacophonous kisses,
in rapids of your
tongue-glistening mouth,
drowning my "Am I . . .
and is this . . . and what was . . .
the song of your face?"

Birth Song: In the Wing Seat, at Night

(for Daniel, born 1966)


See the pink light,
tiny and blinking,
now on, now off,
on a plane wallowing,
a light
swallowed by darkness,
swallowing darkness.

This is my immersion --
I, a traveller,
someone carried,
carrying his blood,
in darkness,
on a plane between lights,
between night and day
(a deathday, a birthday),
travel cross-country,
wrapped in still air,
knowing only
(through living a dying)
the end will be landing.



The end is so near,
It is beginning,
we are beginning.
A light is blinking,
pink as a doll.

A child is beginning,
nearing zero.
A starlight approaches.

I am he,
the one thinking,
the traveller.

And the child to be born
(already born,
you will say,
it has happened before),
now waiting
at the end of the journey
is almost here by me.

About me, people, like me,
travelling unknowing
(many men, many women),
waiting to die,
to be born.

The pink light
still blinking up on the wing,
doll-like, in sight,
and starlight approaching,
a child being born.


How shall I know who he is,
now so clearly beside me,
I who am living
knowing I'm dying?

Son! Brother! Creature! Being!
Man dying is
being born!

Over the blinking in darkness
a light, an aura
of fondness is widening.

Soon, my love, soon
as the starlight
approaches and brightens,
let this plane down.


Land hurtles to meet us,
bathed wholly
in blood light.

We land in a clatter of darkness.
The blinking is gone.

Son, brother, child,
alight with me now.
We are carried no more.

See, we have passed over,

Second Son Day

(for Margot, mother of us)

On this fleshy pink, too sunny afternoon
I note the riotous control of flowerbeds
in the civil, dogbarking air of Berkeley.

All one's innerness draped everywhere
in punishing detail, externalizing memory
in a climate too favorable for nostalgia.

I close my eyelids from the glare and think
only what I want to think -- nothing
unpleasant, nothing too spectacular.

I am forty-seven and the just-made father
of a second son, downy Jeremy, asleep in the portico.
I doze to older Daniel spitting in a rage.

And dream I am the older son who gangs up
on his minute brother, slapping him awake:
"How could you intrude on us, we happy three?

You'll never be the darling I am to them.
I'll see to that. I'll nail you to a tree!"
My eyes jerk open, head pounded by a sneeze.

(A tent of gossamer, striped rainbow or pale bass,
invades the lemon tree, teems down on periwinkle.
Are they bands of feeding butterflies or bees?

Then something like a donkey's half-eaten head,
sunken at the feet of peonies, gets swamped by them,
trickling light like honey from a trough.

Do eyes deceive, focused only on the stuff
one wishes to believe? Well, what of it!
Eyes are the fine beginnings of ideas.

Ideas that may not please. So praise the bees,
if that is what they are, and light, if that's it.
I have mine and they have theirs to feed.)

Bless me, Margot, Daniel, just-born Jeremy!


Toward the child came starlight,
the light of his world and mine,
the light of the world he'd yet
to perceive and divine.

Birds, fishes, and men
drew breath with the child,
as if born again,
the dead moving toward starlight.

"Man is King of this life,"
sang the starlight.
"The hunger for death must die.
Man is divine."

Now birds, fishes, and I
hear our blood sing reply
in the newborn child,
opening the eyes of the child.


I look at you and tremble, smiling.
What are you thinking?
Am I the king your husband?
Some dead fish? Anyone at all?
Do I know you? Say I do.
Do I content you? Often, mostly.
Do you contain me? If not you,
who else would, could or should?

The day jams up with clouds,
far white sails striving
in the bay that sweeps them
out to the dark-mouthed sea.
Coolly in a brown light they will return,
one by one, toward sunset, glistening.
When they return, they will not return.
They will not be the same.

As I love you leaning down on you,
I feel the load I am you feel is me.
So the night blows. September passes.
The bay narrows by an inch of silt,
invisible to passing tenders night or day.
Debris goes by, waste hardens, fishes die.
The scene turns bare and freezes --
loses heart and changes.

Only we two stay the same in loving
what we bear, what we contain.

Back to Bodega

In the downrushing sun
winds endlessly fluent
gigantically crinkle
a spun blond field,
crack leathery strips
off a high eucalyptus,
ride lichen-green barns
over failure of fences
creaking and fallen,
shrink to a whirlwind
past carcass of rabbit,
dismembered sheep
in a darkening grove,
while above and beyond
rides totally clear of cloud
the triumphing sky's
appendage of hawks,
drifting controlled
in the ultimate blue.

Mornings in April and May

In the winegiver's gift freeing sunlight restored
in a ripeness begun with the longer days' light,
in the juice of his tongue-tanging, throat-thrumming fire,
are pulse beats recalling the slower first rounds
of the broad light's wheeling through coolness and heat,
of night & day riding with all the bright kindling
& dwindling of lovers, and moons in their white-
to-blue waning & waxing, of palefire-arching
and blood-falling suns through upstarting bushes
& branches, vineyards and orchards, all quietly
urgent in blooming & greening, and in
their sure aiming, unknowing of fruiting & dying.



The moon full,
swimming plain and mottled
on the western rim,
the sun clear,
raw lime-yellow,
coming up in the east,
the sky red-violet,
turning blue,
turning pearl,
and the sense
of weight in both spheres
at opposite ends
giving the feel
of a momentarily
balanced world,
a starless artifice,


In the last snow
two deer appeared
in the dumb meadow,
sharply, at once,
standing as if
they'd always been there,
still as death,
twitching their ears.


It was night and the rain dropped
in wide spaces
and puddles ran on rocks
and the wind took on a shape
with the water,
like a body rushing

over low pillows,
something to be touched,
as if in a dream, a strange
familiar somebody, warm,
and craving love!

Late, Late

In the palehaired fields of August
sunlight gravely brushes
poppies, blackeyed daisies,

rusted roses gallivanting
up an old abandoned cellarway
into the open sky.

A peach tree, hunched and mossy,
hard fruit speckled, stiff,
grows near the absent barn.

Red chevrons flashing,
blackbird gangs swell by.
The titmouse follows idly.

Is it their passing darkens
wild mustard, carrot, parsley?
Is it daylight shadows falling?

A first nightstar trembles.
The sickle moon advances
with a special cunning.

November Through a Giant Copper Beech

This almost bare tree is racing
taut in the wind, leaves flaring,
jet fire fed by a hurrying
keen whistling bird, against

hundred-limbed elephant branches,
steadied in wrinkled gray molten
antediluvian skin,
wrapped tight to stay where it is.

Think of sheer endlessness, beauty
patient in form, forever
uncrumbled between time's nickering
teeth -- oh brutal necessity!

Think of the still and the flowing --
Heraclitus's everything passes,
the one-eyed conviction against
the rockheaded everything dozes.

On this bleary white afternoon,
are there fires lip up in heaven
against such faking of quickness
and light, such windy discoursing?

While November numbly collapses,
this beech tree, heavy as death
on the lawn, braces for throat-
cutting ice, bandaging snow.

Bodega, Goodbye

The wind is not right today.
It mocks the ancientness of beams
upholding this loose porch
that has shaded us all summer.
It makes the old porch shudder
and the termite dirt
leak down, down-down.

The wind fusses and blows wrong.
It makes the baby cranky
who should be sleeping in mild air
out of sun's reach on the crooked porch
by the half-gone wooden railing
where a smoked-out hornet's nest
lines the eaves like false teeth.

Night, and the wind still heaves
and gulps, and flaps the shades.
A nightbird cries as though
nothing had ever lain so still
as boulders in the moonlit field.
I turn over in my sleep
like a basket of broken bones.


Grand Tour -- Package Deal

You're feeling free and living abroad
near topaz lakes where legendary poets
swam and drowned, your eyes flitting up
mountain paths, saluted by breezy
ephemeralities, tail flickerings of squirrels
resuming the chase, one after another,
like stripes up a barber pole, going swiftly
past the waxy drippings of the pine gums.

Or you're feeling brusque, knifing into weather,
like a gunboat in a fog, off course, dangerous,
controlled, lit up and witless with concern,
in the dank black night going
nowhere, circling, but steaming on!

Or crunching in snow, looking down at your shoes
that look slow-minded back, stained
at the rims, you kick them -- since you must --
as if not belonging to you but to someone
who like you is now returning, puffing home
from this all-day tramp, voyage, flight,
and fall, when your eyes, finally, just
as they hit the pillow, slip quietly out
of their sockets like two used-up flash bulbs.

Ah Life, This Lowgrade Infection

(for Dick Dennes)

Puts fever in my mouth,
running sore and spittle swallower,
my disposall;
brings the highgrade doctor
on a nighttime call
in a black cape bouncing up my stairs,
his glinting Lincoln
purring by the curb.

Pearly spats perfectly akimbo
he sits kibbitzing,
With all that fat it'll take you years
to waste away (say ahh); just swill
your mouth with salt water.

Ahhh shut that juicy trap,
and damn those frozen smiling teeth
that don't bite off your tongue,
and the front gate clanking shut
for not slicing you in two,
because your limousine won't accidentally
smear you on the ground,
because your wife won't shoot you
pointblank between the eyes
as you sprint into the house drooling,
Wait till I tell you
about this windy prof
dreaming himself up a fever.

Poor me,
the infection worsens;
we're inseparable.
It speaks to me:
Ah chum, don't fret,
the doc's all wet --
fat or not,
I'll never leave you.

How can I be ungrateful?

Everywhere the lights are going out;
fog on all the windows with its tears.
Everywhere marriages are failing --
only mine alone is happy true.

So darling, come, let's kiss.
A little lowgrade fever mouth to mouth
shouldn't harm a bit --
it goes a long long way;
but don't let that get you down,
because life...
ah wife, I love you,
I've got it so good it hurts

(say ahhh) forever.

Cuba in Mind

You think, "I've never lived there.
I could never live there."
Anywhere you live
freedom builds within
or breaks your bones.
You have lived there.
You live there now.
Cuba is home.

Polyglot Israel and Back

August, late aout, days of the dog.
The papers say it's snowing in Schweitz.
But the whole Mediterranean rim
bakes and leaks like a jelly.

Mad in Yeroosholayem, hangdogging at noon,
my tongue's on a leash.
Tourists crack Yiddish
like sunflower seeds.

Dry fountain. Dead kitzel park.
An Arab curled up like last year's leaf.

Like a woman who bursts into tears,
I burst through my skin in a lasting sweat.

"How can you be a Jew in that country?"
"When will you come back here to live?"

Weep for me not, o daughters of Zion:
I go home tomorrow, my birthday
(forty-five years of the wars and the deaths),
to Amerikanismus depraved.
Strapped in and dozing,
I'm slapped awake by a drink and a steak.
I stick to my oar
like a galley slave
flying El Al to golos U.S.A.

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