Mad Day in March
Night Thoughts over a Sick Child
Lights I Have Seen Before
In a Vacant House
An Abandoned Factory, Detroit
Premonition at Twilight
L'Homme et la Bête
On the Edge
The Distant Winter
Mad Day in March
Beaten like an old hound
Whimpering by the stove,
I complicate the pain
That smarts with promised love.
The oilstove falls, the rain,
Forecast, licks at my wound;
Ice forms, clips the green shoot,
And strikes the wren house mute.
May commoner and king,
The barren bride and nun
Begrudge the season's dues.
May children curse the sun,
Sweet briar and grass refuse
To compromise the spring,
And both sower and seed
Choke on the summer's weed.
Those promises we heard
We heard in ignorance;
The numbered days we named,
And, in our innocence,
Assumed the beast was tamed.
On a bare limb, a bird,
Alone, arrived, with wings
Frozen, holds on and sings.
Night Thoughts over a Sick Child
Numb, stiff, broken by no sleep,
I keep night watch. Looking for
signs to quiet fear, I creep
closer to his bed and hear
his breath come and go, holding
my own as if my own were
all I paid. Nothing I bring,
say, or do has meaning here.
Outside, ice crusts on river
and pond; wild hare come to my
door pacified by torture.
No less ignorant than they
of what grips and why, I am
moved to prayer, the quaint gestures
which ennoble beyond shame
only the mute listener.
No one hears. A dry wind shifts
dry snow, indifferently;
the roof, rotting beneath drifts,
sighs and holds. Terrified by
sleep, the child strives toward
consciousness and the known pain.
If it were mine by one word
I would not save any man,
myself or the universe
at such cost: reality.
Heir to an ancestral curse
though fallen from Judah's tree,
I take up into my arms my hopes,
my son, for what it's worth give
bodily warmth. When he escapes
his heritage, then what have
I left but false remembrance
and the name? Against that day
there is no armor or stance,
only the frail dignity
of surrender, which is all
that can separate me now
or then from the dumb beast's fall,
unseen in the frozen snow.
The Drunkardfrom St. Ambrose
He fears the tiger standing in his way.
The tiger takes its t ime, it smiles and growls.
Like moons, the two blank eyes tug at his bowels.
"God help me now," is all that he can say.
"God help me now, how close I've come to God.
To love and to be loved, I've drunk for love.
Send me the faith of Paul, or send a dove."
The tiger hears and stiffens like a rod.
At last the tiger leaps, and when it hits
A putrid surf breaks in the drunkard's soul.
The tiger, done, returns to its patrol.
The world takes up its trades; the man his wits,
And, bottom up, he mumbles from the deep,
"Life was a dream, Oh, may this death be sleep."
Shake out my pockets! Harken to the call
Of that calm voice that makes no sound at all!
Take of me all you can; my average weight
May make amends for this, my low estate.
But do not shake, Green Thumb, as once you did
My heart and liver, or my prostate bid
Good Morning to -- leave it, the savage gland
Content within the mercy of my hand.
The world was safe in winter, I was spring,
Enslaved and rattling to the slightest thing
That she might give. If planter were my trade
Why was I then not like a planter made:
With veins like rivers, smudge-pots for a soul,
A simple mind geared to a simple goal?
You fashioned me, great headed and obscene
On two weak legs, the weakest thing between.
My blood was bubbling like a ten-day stew;
it kept on telling me the thing to do.
I asked, she acquiesced, and then we fell
To private Edens in the midst of hell.
For forty days temptation was our meal,
The night our guide, and what we could not feel
We could not trust. Later, beneath the bed,
We found you taking notes of all we said.
At last we parted, she to East Moline,
I to the service of the great unseen.
All the way home I watched a circling crow
And read your falling portents in the snow.
I burned my clothes, I moved, I changed my name,
But every night, unstamped her letter came:
"Ominous cramps and pains." I cursed the vows
That cattle make to grass when cattle browse.
Heartsick and tired, to you, Green Thumb, I prayed
For her reprieve and that our debt be paid
By my remorse. "Give me a sign," I said,
"Give me my burning bush." You squeaked the bed.
I hid my face like Moses on the hill,
But unlike Moses did not feel my will
Swell with new strength; I put my choice to sleep.
That night we cowered, choice and I, like sheep.
When I awoke I found beneath the door
Only the invoice from the liquor store.
The grape-vine brought the word. I switched to beer:
She had become a civil engineer.
When I went walking birds and children fled.
I took my love, myself, behind the shed;
The shed burned down. I switched to milk and eggs.
At night a dream ran up and down my legs.
I have endured, as Godless Nazarite,
Life like a bone even a dog would slight;
All that the dog would have, I have refused.
May I, of all your subjects, be excused?
The world is yours, Green Thumb; I smell your heat
Licking the winter to a green defeat.
The creatures join, the coupling seasons start;
Leave me, Green Thumb, my solitary part.
In a Vacant House
Someone was calling someone;
now they've stopped. Beyond the glass
the rose vines quiver as in
a light wind, but there is none:
I hear nothing. The moments pass,
or seem to pass, and the sun,
risen above the old birch,
steadies for the downward arch.
It is noon. Privacy is
one thing, but to be alone,
to speak and not to be heard,
to speak again the same word
or another until one
can no longer distinguish
the presence of silence or
what the silence is there for...
No one can begin anew
naming by turn beast, fowl,
and bush with the exact word.
Beyond the fence the sparse wood Yields;
light enters; nighthawk, owl,
and weasel have fled. To know
the complete absence of fear,
not to fear what is not there
becomes the end, the last brute
quiver of instinct. One moves,
or tries to move, among facts,
naming one's self and one's acts
as if they were real. Dead leaves
cling to the branch, and the root
grips to endure, but no cry
questions the illusion of sky.
The doctor fingers my bruise.
"Magnificent," he says, "black
at the edges and purple
cored." Seated, he spies for clues,
gingerly probing the slack
flesh, while I, standing, fazed, pull
for air, losing the battle.
Faced by his aged diploma,
the heavy head of the X-
ray, and the iron saddle,
I grow lonely. He finds my
secrets common and my sex
nor lovely, though he is on
the hunt for significance.
The shelved cutlery twinkles
behind glass, and I am on
the way out, "an instance
of the succumbed through extreme
fantasy." He is alarmed
at last, and would raise me, but
I am floorward in a dream
of lowered trousers, unarmed
and weakly fighting to shut
the window of my drawers.
There are others in the room,
voices of women above
white oxfords; and the old floor,
the friendly linoleum,
departs. I whisper, "my love,"
and am safe, tabled, sniffing
spirits of ammonia
in the land of my fellows.
"Open house!" my openings
sing: pores, nose, anus let go
their charges, a shameless flow
into the outer world;
and the ceiling, equipped with
intelligence, surveys my
produce. The doctor is thrilled
by my display, for he is half
the slave of necessity;
I, enormous in my need,
justify his sciences.
"We have alternatives," he
says, "Removal..." (And my blood
whitens as on their dull trays
the tubes dance. I must study
the dark bellows of the gas
machine, the painless maker.)
"...and learning to live with it."
Oh, but I am learning fast
to live with any pain, ache,
growth to keep myself intact;
and in imagination
I hug my bruise like an old
Pooh Bear, already attuned
to its moods. "Oh, my dark one,
tell of the coming of cold
and of Kings, ancient and ruined."
An Abandoned Factory, Detroit
The gates are chained, the barbed-wire fencing stands,
An iron authority against the snow,
And this grey monument to common sense
Resists the weather. Fears of idle hands,
Of protest, men in league, and of the slow
Corrosion of their minds, still charge this fence.
Beyond, through broken windows one can see
Where the great presses paused between their strokes
And thus remain, in air suspended, caught
In the sure margin of eternity.
The cast-iron wheels have stopped; one counts the spokes
Which movement blurred, the struts inertia fought,
And estimates the loss of human power,
Experienced and slow, the loss of years,
The gradual decay of dignity.
Men lived within these foundries, hour by hour;
Nothing they forged outlived the rusted gears
Which might have served to grind their eulogy.
Premonition at Twilight
The magpie in the Joshua tree
Has come to rest. Darkness collects,
And what I cannot hear or see,
Broken limbs, the curious bird,
Become in darkness darkness too.
I had been going when I heard
The sound of something called the night;
I had been going but I stopped
To see the bird restrain his flight.
The bird in place, the shadows dropped
As if they waited in the light
Before I came for centuries
For something I could never see;
And what it was became itself,
And then the bird, and then the tree;
And then the force behind the breeze
Became at last the whole of me.
Earth and water without form,
change, or pause: as if the third
day had not come, this calm norm
of chaos denies the Word.
One sees only a surface
pocked with rushes, the starved clumps
pressed between water and space --
rootless, perennial stumps
fixed in position, entombed
in nothing; it is too late
to bring forth branches, to bloom
or die, only the long wait
lies ahead, a parody
of perfection. Who denies
this is creation, this sea
constant before the stunned eye's
insatiable gaze, shall find
nothing he can comprehend.
Here the mind beholds the mind
as it shall be in the end.
Unknown faces in the street
And winter coming on. I
Stand in the last moments of
The city, no more a child,
Only a man, -- one who has
Looked upon his own nakedness
Without shame, and in defeat
Has seen nothing to bless.
Touched once, like a plum, I turned
Rotten in the meat, or like
The plum blossom I never
Saw, hard at the edges, burned
At the first entrance of life,
And so endured, unreckoned,
Untaken, with nothing to give.
The first Jew was God; the second
Denied him; I am alive.
Sierra Kid"I've been where it hurts." the Kid
I passed Slimgullion, Morgan Mine,He faces his second winter in the Sierra
Camp Seco, and the rotting Lode.
Dark walls of sugar pine --,
And where I left the road
I left myself behind;
Talked to no one, thought
Of nothing. When my luck ran out
Lived on berries, nuts, bleached grass.
Driven by the wind
Through great Sonora pass,
I found an Indian's teeth;
Turned and climbed again
Without direction, compass, path,
Without a way of coming down,
Until I stopped somewhere
And gave the place a name.
I called the forests mine;
Whatever I could hear
I took to be a voice: a man
Was something I would never hear.
A hard brown bug, maybe a beetle,He learns to lose
Packing a ball of sparrow shit --
What shall I call it?
Shit beetle? Why's it pushing here
At this great height in the thin air
With its ridiculous waddle
Up the hard side of Hard Luck Hill?
And the furred thing that frightened me --
Bobcat, coyote, wild dog --
Flat eyes in winter bush, stiff tail
Holding his ground, a rotted log.
Grass snakes that wouldn't die,
And night hawks hanging on the rim
Of what was mine. I know them now;
They have absorbed a mind
Which must endure the freezing snow
They endure and, freezing, find
A clear sustaining stream.
She was afraidCivilization comes to Sierra Kid
The little Digger girl.
Pah Utes had killed
Her older brother
Who may have been her lover
The way she cried
Over his ring --
The heavy brass
On the heavy hand.
She carried it for weeks
Clenched in her fist
As if it might
Keep out the loneliness
Or the plain fact
That he was gone.
When the first snows
Began to fall
She stopped her crying, picked
Berries, sweet grass,
Mended her clothes
And sewed a patchwork shawl.
We slept together
But did not speak.
It may have been
The Pah Utes took
Her off, perhaps her kin.
I came back
To find her gone
With half the winter left
To face alone --
The slow grey dark
The dark tipped grass
Between the numbed pines.
Night after night
For four long months
My face to her dark face
We two had lain
Till the first light.
They levelled Tater HillMad, dying, Sierra Kid enters the capital
And I was sick.
First sun, and the chain saws
Coming on; blue haze,
Dull blue exhaust
Rising, dust rising, and the smell.
Moving from their thatched huts
The crazed wood rats
By the thousand; grouse, spotted quail
Abandoning the hills
For the sparse trail
On which, exposed, I also packed.
Six weeks. I went back down
Through my own woods
Afraid of what I knew they'd done.
There, there, an A&P,
And not a tree
For Miles, and mammoth hills of goods.
Fat men in uniforms,
Young men in aprons
With one face shouting, "He is mad!"
I answered: "I am Lincoln,
The aging son of Appleseed.
"I am American
And I am cold."
But not a one would hear me out.
Oh God, what have I seen
That was not sold!
They shot an old man in the gut.
What have I changed?
I unwound burdocks from my hair
And scalded stains
Of the black grape
And hid beneath long underwear
The yellowed tape.
Who will they find
In the dark woods of the dark mind
Now I have gone
Into the world?
Across the blazing civic lawn
A shadow's hurled
And I must follow.
Something slides beneath my vest
Like melted tallow,
Thick but thin,
Burning where it comes to rest
On what was skin.
Who will they find?
A man with no eyes in his head?
Or just a mind
Calm and alone?
Or just a mouth, silent, dead,
The lips half gone?
Will they presume
That someone once was half alive
And that the air
Was massive where
The sickening pyracanthus thrive
Staining his tomb?
I came to touch
The great heart of a dying state.
Here is the wound!
It makes no sound.
All that we learn we learn too late,
And it's not much.
Je te frapperai sans colere
Et sans haine, comme un boucher,
Comme Molse le rocher!
In borrowed boots which don't fit
and an old olive greatcoat,
I hunt the corn-fed rabbit,
game fowl, squirrel, starved bobcat,
anything small. I bring down
young deer wandered from the doe's
gaze, and reload, and move on
leaving flesh to inform crows.
At dusk they seem to suspect
me, burrowed in a corn field
verging their stream. The unpecked
stalks call them. Nervous, they yield
to what they must: hunger, thirst,
habit. Closer and closer
comes the scratching which at first
sounds like sheaves clicked together.
I know them better than they
themselves, so I win. At night
the darkness is against me.
I can't see enough to sight
my weapon, which becomes freight
to be endured or at best
a crutch to ease swollen feet
that demand but don't get rest
unless I invade your barn,
which I do. Under my dark
coat, monstrous and vague, I turn
down your lane, float through the yard,
and roost. Or so I appear
to you who call me spirit
or devil, though I'm neither.
What's more, under all, I'm white
and soft, more like yourself than
you ever would have guessed before
you claimed your barn with shot gun,
torch, and hounds. Why am I here?
What do I want? Who am I?
You demand from the blank mask
which amuses the dogs. Leave me!
I do your work so why ask?
The NegativesOn March 1, 1958, four deserters from the French Army of North Africa, August Rein, Henri Bruette, Jack Dauville, & Thomas Delain, robbed a government pay station at Orleansville. Because of the subsequent confession of Dauville the other three were captured or shot. Dauville was given his freedom and returned to the land of his birth, the U.S.A.
I dig in the soft earth allHENRI BRUETTE:
afternoon, spacing the holes
a foot or so from the wall.
Tonight we eat potatoes,
tomorrow rice and carrots.
The earth here is like the earth
nowhere, ancient with wood rot.
How can anything come forth,
I wonder; and the days are
all alike, if there is more
than one day. If there is more
of this I will not endure.
I have grown so used to being
watched I can no longer sleep
without my watcher. The thing
I fought against, the dark cape,
crimsoned with terror that
I so hated comforts me now.
Thomas is dead; insanity,
prison, cowardice, or slow
has found us all, and all men
turn from us, knowing our pain
is not theirs or caused by them.
Dear Suzanne: this letter willJACK DAUVILLE:
not reach you because I can't
write it; I have no pencil,
no paper, only the blunt
end of my anger. My dear,
if I had words how could I
report the imperfect failure
for which I began to die?
I might begin by saying
that it was for clarity,
though I did not find it in
entered each act, unsure
of who I was and what I
did, touching my face for fear
I was another inside
my head I played back pictures
of my childhood, of my wife
even, for it was in her
I found myself beaten, safe,
and furthest from the present.
It is her face I see now
though all I say is meant
for you, her face in the slow
agony of sexual
release. I cannot see you.
The dark wall ribbed with spittle
on which I play my childhood
brings me to this bed, mastered
by what I was, betrayed by
those I trusted. The one word
my mouth must open to is why.
From Orleansville we droveTHOMAS DELAIN:
south until we reached the hills,
then east until
the road stopped. I was nervous
and couldn't eat. Thomas took
over, told us when to think
and when to shit.
We turned north and reached Blida
by first dawn and the City
by morning, having dumped our
weapons beside an empty
road. We were free.
We parted, and to this hour
I haven't seen them, except
in photographs: the black hair
and torn features
of Thomas Delain captured
a moment before his death
on the pages of the world,
smeared in the act. I tortured
myself with their
betrayal: alone I hurled
them into freedom, inner
freedom which I can't find
nor ever will
until they are dead. In my mind
Delain stands against the wall
precise in detail, steadied
for the betrayal. "La France
C'Est Moi," he cried,
but the irony was lost. Since
I returned to the U.S.
nothing goes well. I stay up
too late, don't sleep,
and am losing weight. Thomas,
I say, is dead, but what use
telling myself what I won't
believe. The hotel quiets
early at night,
the aged brace themselves for
another sleep, and offshore
the sea quickens its pace. I
old, caught in a strange country
for which no man would die.
At night wakened by the freight
trains boring through the suburbs
of Lyon, I watched first light
corrode the darkness, disturb
what little wildlife was left
in the alleys: birds moved from
branch to branch, and the dogs leapt
at the garbage. Winter numbed
even the hearts of the young
who had only their hearts. We
heard the war coming; the long
wait was over, and we moved
along the crowded roads south
not looking for what lost loves
fell by the roadsides. To flee
at all cost, that was my youth.
Here in the African night
wakened by what I do not
know and shivering in the heat,
listen as the men fight
with sleep. Loosed from their weapons
they cry out, frightened and young,
who have never been children.
Once merely to be strong,
to live, was moral. Within
these uniforms we accept
the evil we were chosen
to deliver, and no act
human or benign can free
us from ourselves. Wait, sleep, blind
soldiers of a blind will, and
listen for that old command
dreaming of authority.
GangreneVous êtes sorti sain et sauf des basses
One was kicked in the stomach
until he vomited, then
made to put back
into his mouth what they had
brought forth; when he tried to drown
in his own stew
he was recovered. "You are
worse than a nigger or Jew,"
the helmeted one said. "You
are an intellectal.
I hate your brown
skin; it makes me sick." The tall
intense one, his penis wired,
was shocked out of
his senses in three seconds.
Weakened, he watched them install
another battery in
the crude electric device.
of a third were beaten with
a short wooden ruler: "Reach
for your black balls.
I'll show you how to make love."
When two of the beaten passed
in the hall they did not know
each other. "His face had turned
into a wound:
the nose was gone, the eyes ground
so far back into the face
they too seemed gone,
the lips, puffed pieces of cracked
blood." None of them was asked
anything. The clerks, the police,
the booted ones, seemed content
to inflict pain,
to make, they said, each instant
memorable and exquisite,
reform the brain
through the senses. "Kiss my boot
and learn the taste of French shit."
Reader, does the heart demand
that you bend to the live wound
as you would bend
to the familiar body
of your beloved, to kiss
the green flower
which blooms always from the ground
human and ripe with terror,
to face with love what we have
made of hatred? We must live
with what we are,
you say, is enough. I
taste death. I am among you
and I accuse
you where, secretly thrilled by
the circus of excrement,
you study my strophes or
yawn into the evening air,
tired, not amused.
Remember what you have said
when from your pacific dream
at last, deafened by the scream
of your own stench. You are dead.
The Distant Winterfrom an officer's diary during the last war
The sour daylight cracks through my sleep-caked lids.
"Stephan! Stephan!" The rattling orderly
Comes on a trot, the cold tray in his hands:
Toast whitening with oleo, brown tea,
Yesterday's napkins, and an opened letter.
"Your asthma's bad, old man." He doesn't answer,
And turns to the grey windows and the weather.
"Don't worry, Stephan, the lungs will go to cancer."
I speak, "the enemy's exhausted, victory
Is almost ours..." These twenty new recruits,
Conscripted for the battles lost already,
Were once the young, exchanging bitter winks,
And shuffling when I rose to eloquence,
Determined not to die and not to show
The fear that held them in their careless stance,
And yet they died, how many wars ago?
Or came back cream puffs, 45, and fat.
I know that I am touched for my eyes brim
With tears I had forgotten. Death is not
For these car salesmen whose only dream
Is of a small percentage of the take.
Oh my eternal smilers, weep for death
Whose harvest withers with your aged aches
And cannot make the grave for lack of breath.
Did you wet? Oh no, he had not wet.
How could he say it, it was hard to say
Because he did not understand it yet.
It had to do, maybe, with being away,
With being here where nothing seemed to matter.
It will be better, you will see tomorrow,
I told him, in a while it will be better,
And all the while staring from the mirror
I saw those eyes, my eyes devouring me.
I cannot fire my rifle, I'm aftaid
Even to aim at what I cannot see.
This was his voice, or was it mine I heard?
How do I know that in this foul latrine
I calmed a soldier, infantile, manic?
Could he be real with such eyes pinched between
The immense floating shoulders of his tunic?
Around the table where the map is spread
The officers gather. Now the colonel leans
Into the blinkered light from overhead
And with a penknife improvises plans
For our departure. Plans delivered by
An old staff courier on his bicycle.
One looks at him and wonders does he say,
I lean out and I let my shadow fall
Shouldering the picture that we call the world
And there is darkness? Does he say such things?
Or is there merely silence in his head?
Or other voices which the silence rings?
Such a fine skull and forehead, broad and flat,
The eyes opaque and slightly animal.
I can come closer to a starving cat,
I can read hunger in its eyes and feel
In the irregular motions of its tail
A need that I could feel. He slips his knife
Into the terminal where we entrain
And something seems to issue from my life.
In the mice-sawed potato fields dusk waits.
My dull ones march by fours on the playground,
Kicking up dust; The column hesitates
As though in answer to the rising wind,
To darkness and the coldness it must enter.
Listen, my heroes, my half frozen men,
The corporal calls us to that distant winter
Where we will merge the nothingness within.
And they salute as one and stand at peace.
Keeping an arm's distance from everything,
I answer them, knowing they see no face
Between my helmet and my helmet thong.
But three more days and we'll be moving out.
The cupboard of the state is bare, no one,
Not God himself, can raise another recruit.
Drinking my hot tea, listening to the rain,
I sit while Stephan packs, grumbling a bit.
He breaks the china that my mother sent,
Her own first china, as a wedding gift.
"Now that your wife is dead, Captain, why can't
The two of us really make love together?"
I cannot answer. When I lift a plate
It seems I almost hear my long-dead mother
Saying, Watch out, the glass is underfoot.
Stephan is touching me. "Captain, why not?
Three days from now and this will all be gone.
It no longer is!" Son, you don't shout,
In the long run it doesn't help the pain.
I gather the brittle bits and cut my finger
On the chipped rim of my wife's favorite glass,
And cannot make the simple bleeding linger.
"Captain, Captain, there's no one watching us."