Edwin Honig: from The Gazabos (1959-1961)


Jawing of Genesis
Three Sides of a Sunset
Island Storm
Through a Winter Island Window
Averages: A Pantomime
May 1945
Jane Retreat
For an Immigrant Grandmother
When My Sorrow Came Home
Grammarian Thumbing an Old Text
Pray Eros
Outer Drive
Advice From a Comic Book
Across the Street
Scape: By Auto & Camera Through Navajo Country
A Beauty That Rages
Reading Miss Moore's La Fontaine
A Passing Snowbird Asked
Corrales 1948
What's Good Waits Long
Short Hymn to the Breath
Snowbird Blues
The White Explorers
Near Hope in Providence
The Gazabos

The Widow (a verse play in one act)

Jawing of Genesis

A shaggy sea-wet islet pauses tideless
Under two hawks hovering. A dim
Washed heaven blue surmounts the wordless Morning, its weighty world-wide asking trimmed Down to summer silence. Was paradise
Like this before the need arose for it,
Before God made the book that broke the silence?

Man-made, the book was God. At his arising
A thud of grim intelligence slammed shut
The summer silence. Up rose the wordy islet,
Awash with seas' first rocky stutterings.
One man, one hut: an aleph-beth was started
With handy Adam to belie it, mouthing
How Eve most mothers summer's green abiding.

Three Sides of a Sunset


Oils in their main force colored and spent
Straggle unheeded, unfused,
Streak heavily over the baywater's back.
Used, now a refuse listless
As shells the gulls leave blanching, upturned
On rocks, the life taken out:
Like orphans of death still lifting on currents,
In light, they mimic the life
They led fueling the powering motions
Of bodies their bodies once fed.


Gabbing crows bounce heavy, rear
and plop, chuckle swivel-
headed, peck
the meadow dead.

Glow clouds mass, shift by, and part.

Sandy car path, sifted fur green
middle, soft turn by turn,
strays full tilt
on sunlit spruce:

Through faulted boulders vanishes.

Lean meadow grasses wave stippled,
August brown, waist high,
adrift, unmown:
failed to make hay.

Clouds ball up, a soundless thunder.

A gilded blueness gathers, waits
woolly, blurs; immersed,
cloud bunches pace,
close ranks, disperse.

A naked blueness stares awake.

The meadow dumbly bends to let
a last gull glide its darting
shadow over:
home and gone.

The splitting silence empties fast.

By the car path a bushy faggot,
bloody fisted roots
upturned, drains
the sun-- and dies.


It was dark summer when fog lolled heavy
Over catboats shrinking in the bouncing bay.
A far gull shrieked at the tilting sky.

It was stone dark till the sea's lips quivered,
Bay lifted, and a burst life swirling gentled
Down under pink fingerpoints of light.

Then fog swung over the wincing spiles, weighed
Breathless over sea ooze in the oily bay,
Heaved once, leveled, rolled away.

Island Storm

All morning in the woods I heard the bushes choke
Among dead boughs that creaked and groaned,
And no other murmur than the flurry of live prey
Grappling in the wind's slow teeth.
A starling toppled near the river-run, black
As stone. A garter snake shivered
Up a root and instantly turned brown. It began
On such a day prophets used
To rave about-- "Stiff-necked mankind, remember
Sodom and God's frown !" Through miles
Of tensing acreage only two eyes peeped when it
Came down. The road became a falls
Where hubbubs fell to foam across a glazed surrendering
Of channelled stone. In the hollow beat
Of some annihilating warmth, tumorous old stumps
Were ground to muck. "Will it be day
Again?" I heard the brittle windows ask the lightning
Flash, and tremble three full hours
As it spoke. Often, while the sea coughed distantly,
Infamous last words of misanthropes
Ransacked my brain for counter-prayers. Below the eaves,
Crackling like a greasy frying
Pan, only a floral lampshade quavered hope.

When at last the silence trickled in, I found
The fungi like great plastered wounds,
The stupefying sweetness everywhere. And when
The weather turned gigantically
And padded off, I found the world it left nearby:
On the bloated attic floor
Two drowned mice; through the skylight, one fir
Permanently bowed; above the flooded
Garden, the first fierce dart of an exploratory crow.

Through a Winter Island Window

The order of the day is See through me
Air violent and gray, unbalancing
The afternoon, charged purposely. I follow
Through the empty dispensation. A road
Goes free and separately: it flows, it turns,
It takes the hardest winter earth in tow.
Trees too take inclination sure in fling
And fall of wood sustained, unhacked, unnamed.
The trees are free. How can they be? Already
Air, that king of freedom, ruinously
White, drives down the world between its knees,
Then turns up bare, a great fake blue, as if
It were the sky. The sun is westerly
Or gone. Snow rides the road, leveling
The back of nothingness. Trees curdle
Hazily, at once, as if the steep blue air
Had shouted, Freeze and die! The dim pane blinds
Itself, air gorges black. Not even air
Is free! Freed, I sit and smoke, a waking
Glow-tip nodding at my apparition.


In the weedy gardens of October, rattling
the dead leaves, the dead come calling, bringing their dream:
an afternoon wine through which
we breathe ethers of sun setting.

They wreathe round us the probing haze
and in us press vineyards of their
lost knowing: a last
late cry, a tired glow
is groping, clings, breathes up and clears

The silent wall as faintly in us
unborn children creep,
crawl up to breathe
this wine, this haze, this seeth-
ing dream of almost knowing.

Who if not they, borrowing our being--
the dead alive, the unborn
living-- reach out,
almost bestow us, unwished
cradles and small crude tombs?

Averages: A Pantomime

The infant rat, all head and stumble,
Stopped naked on the kitchen floor, Shivering to its whiskers. I
Stood by my dog agog, his body
Couched between his paws.
The rat was watching us.

Minutes passed. We were each
A character, the other's audience,
Till the rat's tail inched and twitched.
The dog's tail shot up fast. I raised
The broom--
(To lunge, or what?
Pity overpoised grows fat.)

Back to back with naked fact,
Half-willed man as usual
Played God, wily in the justice
Which is compromise: the stumbler
Lured into an empty can,
I pitched it quick upon

The rubbish pile (outdoors with luck
The rat might thrive, come back to chance Real traps, or not) that's not too near
The house nor undisclosed to birds--
One in three, or four,
A swooping scavenger.


Over the trading world I sang
Songs of chalk and sand,
Songs of the diamond hand.
Down the thigh of day,
Up the arm of night,
Rubbing my chest of clay,
Pulling the moon in tight,
Over the fading world I sprang.

Under the dog-licked stones I ran,
My eyes were dancing worms,
My hair the dreaming ferns.
The chlorophyll of love afire,
I stuffed my heart with coal.
Grown heads began to roll.
Under the bone-picked hill I stand.

Close to the sea's red bowels I lie
Hard as a land-locked crab
Watching the sun thief rob
A wave of faulty eyes.
My infant world is burst !
The sea jumps up and cries,
Blindly spits its curse
Close as the howling age runs by.

Into the rock's gray lung I crawl,
Moved by glacial feet,
Tuned to the tidal beat.
Lugging crustacean lips
I form the millennial kiss.
Outside I hear white ships
Bloody the old world's dress.
Into the clock's last tick I fall.

May 1945

Spring's great wafer caked in the mouth.

One-legged beggars hopped out of cellars
Reeking of dressings and brass.

Blue-lipped Rhine maidens whining like sheep
Slowly uncrossed their thighs.

Numb in the eyes Faustus went down
Nuzzling the conqueror's heel.

The corpses of Europe lay back in their char.

Jane Retreat

Jane Retreat falls stark asleep
In her large brown-headed shoulders.

The rest of her starts
Like fish half alive
Under the fumbling dark.

Where will the fire be found
To pilot the dark on Jane half awake?

O Jane Retreat
With your fish in my arms
Tugging through half the night:

If only someone would crawl through my veins
To tear out your shoulders and head!

For an Immigrant Grandmother

She sat for an age at the window with glances that threw
Pennies of pity at collarless beggars, and cripples
Who crawled like crabs from gutter to curb rippled
The geese in the bag of her hunched-over flesh. But you
Always could tell by her murmur for heaven to witness
When neighborhood children like sparrows hopped in distress
To catch from the hand of the baker his three-day-old bread.

Yet she danced with a hint of the hips and a lilt of the head,
And the savor of turbans and princes and spices welled
From her smile like a promise of Turkish delights withheld;
For her heart was a mediterranean cradling the earth
With wishes that tumbled like fish and golden sea fairs
Where pirates were drowned and angels were spared by her prayers,
Till she slipped unaware on the edge of a sigh to her death.

When My Sorrow Came Home

Then when my sorrow came home to me,
Then was my head a boiling pot
Hissing for spouts in my hooded lids,
Then was my heart sticky and hot,
As a summer bush nagged by hiving bees.

My sorrow came home like a brother to me
In his dusty shoes, his sweaty cap,
His gray lips moving big and chapped.
Not a word, not a wink, not a tip of the head,
He flopped in a chair, stared straight through me.

Sorrow, I said, is it early or late?
Sorrow, I said, why not this morning
When I was pulling up my socks?
Why not this noon, racing for the bus?
Sorrow, I said, why now, why here?

Sorrow's great lips turned me around
To see myself across from where I sat--
The mantel bulging with shells and rocks,
Picture slanting, wallpaper cracked,
And a wind passing through the clock.

Then when my sorrow turned me around
I saw myself tinily mirrored in the clock.
Sorrow, my brother, let me oil your lips,
Let me bathe your feet, let me kiss your eyes
Asleep (let me sleep, let me sleep), asleep.

Then I dreamed my sorrow came home to me
Through the open door like a summer wet tree,
A morning cry in the burrowing sun
To set me free, and I passed like a wind
Through the clock of the sorrow that was me.

Grammarian Thumbing an Old Text

Ribbons, bracelets drop, hose wrinkles down.
(God showed this lady to be brave.)
Tugged at, untied, stripped clean from heel to crown
(God told this lady to behave),
Until, thrust open like a stack of sheaves
(God bound this lady to be moved),
In darkness plunged, she labors to a scream.
(God owed this lady to be loved.)

Who fails to rise and harrow, folds greatness in.
New flesh waits to make the old bones sing,
Complete two separate bloods in one sweet wailing.

Say this hallowed lady rounds our dream
Forever; but God, before you thrust her altarward,
Say, is she Eve or Queen-- or Babylon abhorred?

Pray Eros


Groveling in a dark abstracted rage,
Nebuchadnezzars warpcd inside our dedicated
Hides, where do we turn freely, as for light--
To the child or to his infant's image in
The slime, his thin-skinned terror of the night?
What time best measures us -- the long tick-tock
On which we hung our hearts, or you and me,
Our first raw bumbling on each other's mouth?

Eros on the cross, I take it back to that
Bloody holiday of birth, lost mission
And omission of my love, the first confusion
Of diapering red hands, a father ogre's
Kiss, his rude stubble and great scissor lips --
To bets of streetlight allies on that one
Midnight graveyard plunge when I won her
Warm and bridling by the tilting headstone.

Immediacies generate the time. They take us
By the arm or throat till Eros climbs
The hill unknown, anointed and attended,
But preparing for the master stroke alone.
The raging deed will smother his great Why
Inside, his hate smothered in his love
Until he dies. The lie becomes his life,
His love an afterlife. Time ticks on.


My hate, my love, I turn, return to you.
All time in me bunches toward that actual
Year, the winter when I burned in bronze,
Aloof as Eros in suspense between
His crime and punishment. Joy sprouts a boyish
Face, and I am dazed by his
World-caressing eyes. His pleasure in me
Wounds, it frees my veins, becomes my love.

So I remember avenues, whole towns,
Emptied by our love, except one stripling
Posing, tenderly askew, memento
Monumentally exchanged -- and separate,
Our love totally in view. Also
Two house eyes exuberantly fluted
And a porch's fragile columns breaking
Plainness like a shout around the house.

Earlier that year the same mouse sprang the trap
Ten times till fat with tidbit bacon, he missed
The smell of fear. Trap and all, I threw him
To the dead alfalfa where the dog hopped high
For sticks and ball. The mountain's shadow grazed
The road at four before the last bus shuddered
Past the glazed arroyo -- where a sheet of wind
Once wound our walking bodies in a shroud.

I had an inland fever in my bones
But not from growing. You were my country all
That year, lawn thick from my sowing. You were
My clear-cut road, the covered field my fever
Played on, my hugest shadow browsing. I called it
Joy, but not from knowing. What I denied
In you, you deny me still. That joy
Grew and took but kept our love from growing.

That winter of our love I heard singing
In the bed lamp, stars knocked us on the head.
Still, each night a cripple crossed the streetlamp's
Sleety curtain, denying you, denying me.
Each night I offered you his head. Wait,
You said. The moon froze through the shades,
The singing lamp went dead, sleep whipped us
Unforgiving on the tundra of the bed.


A little bearded wrecked deceived old man
In prison all that year kept sharpening
His anger. The world was stranger than the single
Pair of pants freezing on a line.
I am Eros and the world's last bully-boy,
He thought, before he wrote "What thou lov'st well
Remains, the rest is dross." Up, beast in heart.
Can you burn till you're the nugget of that song?

Outer Drive

Heat of nightfall, and the heave and start,
Beside a quivering sleek trolley on the track,
Of a sudden snub-cabbed truck, trailerless,
Intense; like a bullhead bodiless it rockets
Just grazing past the green tan flank
Of the wincing public car, lit up with heads
Featured in the window squares, going
Straight and ironbound, by safety islands,
Down the flickering neon evening, home --

While the deathless disembodied bullhead of a truck
Escapes: past stoplights raging, headlights steaming,
Rips through city limits eating, eating,
Eating all the highway up to Albany.

Advice from a Comic Book

Inexperienced young cutthroats with small hands
Might start on snails, toads, and sparrows, then
Progress to decrepit grandmas or aunts. Such practice
Enlarges the knuckles, makes finger joints supple, able
To finish tough neckbones off with a flourish. Next,
Collarless dogs that circle and whimper in shrubbery;
Then on to blue and pink tots bawling in carriages
Braked by mamas who shop or gossip indoors.
Caution often is needed not to attract
A dissolute neighbor out on a sill, intent
On raising a stink. Then teachers, of course -- a particular
Joy -- with backs always turned, at the blackboard. Mothers
And fathers require more cunning, a knack, the element
Of surprise, a weapon that's lighter and sharper
Than bread knives may even, at times, be desired. Audacious
Young hands may then have the craft to dispatch a streetcar
Conductor, a cop or a rabbi strolling alone
Through the park. Lovers in cars will surely present
The need for silky techniques before one is skilled
In the real killer-diller, hog-holler, jugular feel
Of the job that will finally start one small experienced
Hand slyly to inch, climb and rip its way up,
And, with one sweet swoosh of the knife, entirely
Sever its own little head from the shoulders.

Across the Street

In that tall bought house
paved against the whimpering lawn depression creaks a plank
before the dragon stairway coils.

Limbs lapse on props
nicked in gruff tolerance
of that cancer-ridden woman
barely five years dead --

Handrests she clenched,
banisters her gray palms
itched against, wrinkled
treads she panted on.

Rustling new inhabitants
the house resumes its fragile
air of being owned. Breathing
wreathes panes like foam.

Shades pull down the night.
Doors swing in and rooms
greedily accept the recompense
of sound. Disguised in sheets

The dead woman's bed begs
another body. Clotted knobs
weigh down the fists, floors
liquefy her lingering pressures.

Midnight swabs the crevices.
The old rat wonders in
his teeth when the flesh
like fresh paint peels

And if the walls that
caught her last green cough
will sprout funguses
come early spring.

Scape: By Auto & Camera Through Navajo Country

The cliffs parade,
and all sphinx-headed hills so strange
to swiftness
fade by us if we pass,
eyes clicking, lashing them
to mind -- the bundled time-box
huddled back of auto glass.

But if, at last,
wind humming, sun stills us to
a pass
till we stop dead -- then crash!
and we are hurled, split minutes, back at cliffs that glare
and glimmer, blind as any past.

A Beauty That Rages

Herring face, dead beat, old dago,
Are you high and not kicked out yet?
Maybe they'll bring you some chowder today.
Is it your wormy old dog under
The cot or the log dreamt up just
For your son, to bash the curly head's brains in?
How many soft-nosed tourists today
Did you snag with yellowy cucumbers, two
For a quarter, also that song about Naples,
Your vineyard, running with girls in high season?

"Sixty-eight year I been here and nobody
Know me from Adam. I go home to my dad now --
He's hundred and three, artist on gravestone
And chimney places. He ugly like Christ --
Next him even my pooch is a beaut.
But A MAN, bet your boots he's a MAN. He open
More melons than you eat the beans. And all
Of ems ripe -- you get me, you sucker?"

And the town still bickering whether to jail you
Or ship you the hell off the island tomorrow
Or wait until winter when maybe you're dead.
You sure got your rights -- shoot, let everyone
Know it, snug in that shack, truck garden
Dizzy with flowers, squatting tax-free
Smack in the middle of no-man's swampland.

"Maybe nobody buy it for two hundred dollars,
So I sink it for fifty, you tell em, hey?
Please keep the change. Beauty is dead
In this country. Milky face people,
Not one of ems seen even a saint ! Husband
Drink beer in the woods, afraid of the wife.
She's jumping in bed with the grocery boy.
He's quick, got the tips and a salary,
Know the business all right before he fifteen.
All people is decent on Sunday, they sleep.
Rest of the week they say Hi, running
You down like turkey turd under the feet.
No crumbs in the parlor but rats in the head.
Nobody steal and nobody murder,
But why every year somebody hang
Or somebody drown himself dead?
Say, what kind of people is that?"

Island New Eng]and, oldest America,
Famed for your scruples and steeples and cider,
Your whiteness, inbredness, intolerable silence --
Don't ship him off, this runt of a dago,
But share him and feed him in aging
For raging square on you. Your daughters are sullen,
Absently raped; your sons swagger in hip boots,
Green with the sickness to drink themselves free
In the cell of a boat or absently drown
In the swells. Europe the vineyard is dying
With curses upon you. Be true to this dago
Who rages. He has found you but far from entire.
Share him and feed him, part of your riches and wages,
A beauty that knows you, and rages and rages.

Reading Miss Moore's La Fontaine

Way before his time was up
a marmoset was met by eagles
mating in a den, who scarcely
had an eye for him just then.

He scurried like a roach from branch
to stump, witless for his safety.
With the eagles it was long
and fierce and careful, their first mating.

For hours showers flared about them,
hailstones round as mothballs falling.
Stony-backed, a rabbit kept on
munching tendrils up regardless.

Locusts clacked their shallow wings,
and things much smaller with retracted
eyes were spying, also things
not visible at all were dying.

The marmoset, in figure hunched,
was on a limb in fact, the only
one among the fed and famished
waiting mateless to be lunched on.

Did the eagles get their dish,
and which one? Or was he missed
that time, so obvious, and pounced
on somewhat later by the eaglet?

Such things are fables made of, mortal
beasts corralled in sudden clearings
till the moral closes jaws
upon us, poor unwitting morsels.

A Passing Snowbird Asked

"Do you want
a shape like snowflakes,
weightless symmetry,
each Every One uncommon
yet undriven,
into the wet compact
of the massy
cold and solid lump?"
"We do, oh
yes we do !"
purred all
unstartled pigeons,
pecking at their popcorn.

Corrales, 1948

In the ear of night an upheaval of frogs --
Then immense, a patched sky face
Drowsing by. Waxy hedges
Click like hooves to a shower's ricochet
Till wetness drinks itself in air
And frogs devour velvet mire.

Is it a moment to be torn awake
With eyes' red riot dangling reins
Broken from the drifting mare of night?
What world of heaving hill and ditch
Is this? What absolute drenched shine
For the tricked eyes to clamber on?

Deaf to years a clock makes minutes.
Blind to motion curtains quicken.
Through the window's speechless clarity
Sprawl the silvered ogres of the real.
Behind dark's pure domain of cheat
Glints the mind half-webbed in sleep.

Behind rimmed stone, rimmed flesh, rimmed mind
Startles in its mirror's deeps,
To the imaged surface swarms up hot
For touch, and cringes. Touch tarnishes
The silver shine, the dimming image
Dies. Night tramples down the mind.

The plumped-up void succumbs to shapening
Light. Owning eyes, blurred open
Over telltale leavings where the nightmare
Flourished, are righted by the house's
Straight-and-level. Animating hands
And heart reclaim the day dry house.

Sun up, and frogs are actual green
Distinct; day's mare goes afield
Cradling her blood; the hedge again's
A frail trimmed fence exact. Only
On hill, in ditch, still seethes the grappling
Glance of kind with houseless kind.

What's Good Waits Long

What's good waits long, but no longer,
To burst like a night star when the eye
Happens to lift from another engagement,
Accidentally, but fitly (for the moment
Is ripe: if it must be at all, it must be
Now, no later) and lingers where
It happened, seeing nothing, not even
The unexpected passage, which
Was all that really happened,
Of a now cold unaccountable star.

Short Hymn to the Breath

Like an old Sanhedrin waiting
They circle about you,
Summer humming on,
The swimming garden heavy,
Wilder than your heart.

All day the tiny sunlit
Whirlwinds prance,
Twigs, dead flies, old feathers
In their hands. All day
Trees creak on you.

Silence kisses a wall.
The book you read goes rigid,
Presses your knees like a stone.
Behind you sun hauls
The car into a shade.

Doorways blindly panting,
The house grows furry.
Two jubilant calves
Just in the way
Keep it from leaping.

All day the mountain
Eluding its shadows
Bears witness, stalking
The orbit of sweet-breathing
Horses, eyes in the wheat.

They wait. Time languidly
Splurges, then thickens
Like hunched-over rabbits
In heat. What you know
They know you can't repeat.

It ends before it begins.
No evening ever comes on.
Sunk dead in the field
A passenger bus is jury
Blackened by jabbering crows.
Engaged to your shoes you climb
To the tap, a beard-rolling cloud,
And long as the life you bend with To drink, allow the verdict
To quickness and breath.

Snowbird Blues

it snowed in the closet
when i looked in the street
the street was dry

it started in the closet
when i looked inside
snow was six feet high

tall as a man
so cold and white
it freezes my eye

i walk down the street
whistle and smile
then i feel it hit

like a big lead stick
whistle all rusty
smile all stale

heart keeps jumping
like it's got to bust
out of jail

so i skip home fast
as a lightning snake
when i get to the door

my eyes like to break
door's all white
like no door before

in all that quiet
i hear a cold sigh
just like a child

that's fixed to die
so i creep in the closet
like a tiny snake

it's dark inside
something cold makes
me hiss like a snake

when i see it i know
it's too late
when i hear it i know

that sigh is mine
like dandruff falling
on my cold dark hide

i look down the street
the street is dry
i look down the street

sun is high
trees and leaves
like the middle of July

so i know that snow
couldn't be beat
tall as a man

strutting all around
knocking down doors
right on down

when it passes you by
don't you hear a sigh
from deep inside

so white it freezes your eye
if you're still alive
you like to die

The White Explorers

They faint in labor for the whole idea
as if sun-stricken --
Ridden, they ride chain-bitten bones,
dreaming back to their lives
Till the last gray sinews snap and they wake,
crawling up from a strand,
Grovel and gasp, climb out of their skins
to clutch that cracked
Terrain, the level and featureless miles
tear at their eyes,
The sun heaving over them, blind, fierce,
in perfect day blueness
Loud as all Africa dinning their hides,
"Blackness, blackness
Is all!" -- when each lies racked on his shadow,
taut as a drum.

Near Hope in Providence

Here in the warm rooms above the snow-locked streets
the spirit drinks light through slanted blinds.
Traction whining tires ascend the brilliant afternoon
to the sky's blue-bound synagogue.
Staging the perfect wintry funeral, undertakers
breathe smoky last directions on the ear-
muffed hired drivers. Drugged mourners in their furs
and a lone policeman dozing at the squad car wheel
are less alert to grief and duty which if met
wholeheartedly would snap black lids
on everyone. Homecoming schoolchildren are routed
from their snow fight when the cased deadman,
his last prayers swirling like an incense past, is shouldered
down the icy porch and lifted back
inside his limousine theatre. Undozed the cop
is out in white gloves now, persuading
gawking unescorted autos past the cortege.
The chief of undertakers in
a rakish Homburg waves one hugely onward arm.
The Cadillacs respond by giving gas.
Encasing mourners row on row, and trailed by pearly
exhaust, they roll the white miles down
to a far hard grounded burial. Rebounding children
whirl like furies hurling a sky-
bound snow barrage, as the synagogue shuts down.

The Gazabos

I saw them dancing,
the gazabos, apes of joy, swains of
their pocket mirrors, to each a world:
a dancing, a gallumphing, a guzzling
of themselves.

They yapped, they cooed,
they flapped their feet and winked grimaces
into grins. They rapped their knuckles on
their teeth and bled and licked
the blood like honey.

Turning the corner
to my street, I spat on each
gazabo as they came. They loved it,
they could barely keep
from following.

I had to beat
them off with barbed wire switches
ripped from neighbors' fences on
the way. I escaped
only when

they paused to smear
their bodies with their trickly wounds,
streaming welted faces ogle-
laughing in the mirrors

Why is it now,
safe in my lacquered room, cradled
in my black, spoon-shaped easy
chair, the whitest sheet
of paper on

my knees, I cannot
write a word? I read their eyes,
I taste their wounds. Do they live
because they simply
cannot die?

Friends, multi-
tudes, oh lifelong shadows: are
you my filth, my worn-out longings,
my poems that dog me
till I die?

The Widow

(On the left, at an angle, FIRST WOMAN lies odalesque on a dark chaise longue, quietly dabbing her eyes. Next to her, back right, a large black empty leather chair, a small side-table, and a floor lamp lit over them. This, the only light onstage, emphasizes the bareness of what it touches. Behind the leather chair, backstage, the outline of a door is dimly visible. SECOND WOMAN, in a straight chair, sits erect, downstage, directly opposite FIRST WOMAN.)

2nd W: Yes.
1st W: You really think so, dear?
2nd W: I'm sure. (Pause)
1st W: Oh I know it's true. Haven't
I told myself a thousand times a day
In all the corners of this room, on every
Pillow in this house, till I feel my eyes
Have changed the look of things. Everything
Before was dull and dismal; now everything
Has turned a sweet soft silky gold.
2nd W: (To the empty chair)
Things seldom change so quickly just
Because we want them to.
So tell me, dear --
Again. Though I know it, still only when you
Say it can I dare believe it's true.
2nd W: He always loved you.

1st W: As I loved him.
2nd W: As you loved him.

1st W: Still...

2nd W: Still,
He never kissed you in the morning,
Usually forgot your birthdays, had
Appointments in the evening he suddenly
Remembered while you were dressing for a party.
And there were all those nights he spent
Away in other cities. Now
You remember early mornings, the bitterness
Of having all night swallowed down
The dread of infidelity, like rust
Between your teeth.
1st W: Still . . .
2nd W: He always
Loved you.
1st W: As I loved him.
2nd W: As you
Loved him. Wrangling in your bedsheets, one
Fist stuffed in your mouth, imagining the other
Woman, tall in black lace, perfumed
And looming close the moment his strong hands
In her long hair pulled her down to him.
1st W: He always had such a beautiful strong body.
2nd W: Yes.
1st W: Especially those rainy nights
Through open windows when winds lashed
The curtains like great sails. I felt
I was the only woman in the world
2nd W: Yes.
1st W: Or large and busy
In his clothes when he crossed this room.
I remember a smart cream-colored suit
He wore, and how his body shone
Through it, luminous and hard as oak.
It made my tongue tingle to the root.
2nd W: Things so well remembered are rarely
Things we have possessed. (Pause)
1st W: Oh dear,
I almost forgot to ask. Did they let you
Have John's things?
2nd W: (Clutching a large handbag to her breast)
Yes, I've been keeping them
Together till you asked. Here they are.
(SECOND WOMAN rises, pulling out of the handbag a smaller red velvet bag; walks to the chaise and lets it drop into FIRST WOMAN'S hands; then returns to her seat. Pause)
1st W: I really can't decide. Look at me,
My dear, and tell me what to do. Is it
Proper, considering everything that's happened,
To set them out now? I mean, it seems
A little odd, displaying them like relics
At an exhibition. Something almost
Primitive, you know. Though probably it's
Just what John might have wanted me
To do. And yet. . . You know I have
The oddest feeling now, almost as though
On opening the bag something monstrous
Would happen. Who knows? A rab . . . A rabbit . . .
Oh dear, I don't know how to put it quite.
2nd W: A rabbit -- you were about to say -- a rabbit
With green ears, since he loved the color
Green so much.
1st W: Why, yes. Exactly.
Or. . .or. . .
2nd W: Or some large rat
With an endless tail wriggling like a whip.
And that reminds you of the glassed-in specimens
He used to keep before your marriage.
Whips of every length from everywhere
On earth. A few were cute and tiny,
No bigger than the eyelash of a flea. But most
Of them were long and shiny and seemed
As terrible to you as boa constrictors.
If you looked at them, even for a moment,
They began to move and hiss.
1st W: Darling,
You can't imagine all my nightmares !
I used to dream the whips were bursting
From my skull and prowling on my body
Till I was all entangled like a bird
Or a very small piece of dough. Oh,
But then John was so sweet about it
When I wept ! He said he'd give them to a friend
Who'd know just how to care for them.
He kissed me, I remember, softly on the head.
You see, he really loved me !
2nd W: Yes.
As you loved him.

1st W: As I loved him . . .
Of course. But now wasn't there something
We were about to do? Something . . .
2nd W: About his things.
1st W: Yes, my dear. Of course.
They're right here in my lap. So.
You're quite sure everything's inside this bag?
2nd W: All I know is what they told me
When I called. They said there was no trace,
Not hide nor hair -- the very words they used --
No, not a speck left of his beautiful
Whole person. They said they'd looked quite
Thoroughly, with nets and shovels, picks
And brushes, even with a razor blade, for something
Solid, some last inkling of him. But,
As they said, it was the cleanest disappearance
In an age of vanishings. Except, as if by miracle,
There were those things they found inside
That bag and gave me. So you can be sure
That's all that's left of him -- now. (Pause)
1st W: I think
I see your point, dear. The wisest thing
To do is lay them neatly out.
Considering the circumstances, what right
Have I to think, much less to say,
That John is dead? And in a way -- you won't
Think me silly, dear -- perhaps he left
These things behind deliberately, to test
My faith. It's clear he wouldn't leave them
If he didn't after all expect to find them
Here again if . . . if . . .
2nd W: If?
1st W: Oh dear, you see how dreadfully confused
I am. Well, perhaps there's no harm in saying it
At least. What I meant to say was: if
All this were simply happening inside
My head, and nobody could prove he's dead,
Then he'd surely want to have his things again
When . . . when . . .
2nd W: When?
1st W: No, I really can't
Believe it. It's too absurd. And yet --
Knowing him, of course, the way he had
Of raising smokescreens around the plainest
Things and then insisting they weren't there --
I don't know what I can believe now ! (Pause)
Do you suppose there's any message in the bag?
2nd W: Any message !
1st W: Oh you know, something
That would hint at what he's really up to,
Where he's at, and whether he intends
To . . . to . . . Oh here ! Take
The bag, open it and see !
(SECOND WOMAN rises quickly, takes the bag, and returns to her seat; then closing her eyes, she slowly begins to undo the strings.)
No, stop !
Don't open it ! I've changed my mind. I don't think
I could bear the shock . . .
2nd W: Of being deceived again !
1st W: Yes. Of being deceived again. How well
You put things, dear. You always seem
To know the way I feel, even though
We feel so different about almost everything.
But come, I know what we'll do. Since I haven't
The least idea what's in the bag, and since
You've been so sweet to gather everything,
And, knowing my jumpy mind, have saved them
Till this moment -- Be a dear, my darling,
And tell me what's inside !
2nd W: I can only tell you
What my eyes perceived when my sight grew fine
Enough to see, and what my mind,
Trembling as I drew his wondrous things,
One by one, out of the bag,
Could fathom of their mystery.
1st W: Yes, of course.
2nd W: First, a white ring, small and glistening,
Breathlessly translucent -- made, it almost
Seemed, from the neckbone of a humming bird.
And in the center, so minute it was
Invisible till I'd refined my sight three
Whole nights on a phosphorescent pin-point
In the darkness, I finally made out a tiny
Glowing death's head with two rows
Of perfectly square teeth !
1st W: Good Lord ! How
The devil did he find it after all these years !
That was my engagement ring. The silly thing
Never even fit my finger. I thought
I'd flushed it down the toilet bowl.
2nd W: And then, the second wonder. What seemed
At first an ordinary pipe, slender,
Long, a richly burnished brown, except
On looking closely I perceived the bowl
Was oval and set all around
The rim with gems -- separate, tiny, black.
At least I thought them black until
Accidentally pufflng on the stem,
I saw the gems turn crystal clear,
And each instantly became a perfect
Mirror where I could see myself
In different forms -- the dreams of everyone
I'd ever hoped to be !
1st W: Really, darling?
You saw all that ! Just think, it was
The same old pipe he kept leaving
On that table every time he'd have
To go away so suddenly. Oh, it seemed
So used and filthy, so always-there,
And then so spiteful, that once I chucked it
Out the window after he'd been gone
Three nights.
2nd W: So many many perfect
Things, each one a miracle to touch
And contemplate, I don't quite know
How I can describe them all.
1st W: Then there was
No message after all? All that clutter,
But no word, no clearly written word ! (Pause)
2nd W: No, you're wrong. There was.
1st W: There was?
There really was?
2nd W: Yes.
1st W: Then quick,
Tell me what it was !
2nd W: The paper it was written on
Was sheerer than any tissue that I know of --
Like moonbeams flooding in my fingers. At first
It seemed quite blank, but when I placed it,
After many days, gently on my upturned
Wrists, the words grew clear, and finally
They all lit up magically on both
My beating pulses.
1st W: Yes, yes. I'm dying
To know what it said !
2nd W: It read (I have it
Printed in my veins forever), it read
As follows:
" She turned her golden elbows in
And laughed. The pond was scattered. One
Leaf idly looping, gray side up,
Stuck to her fluent petticoat.
I said it was her weather's badge
That shivered now. A fish flashed.
It silvered all her teeth as I
Explored my shadow in her eyes.
That moment the tree, bird-loaded, broke
Into a cloud. When we awoke,
Her smile in mine and thigh to thigh,
The yellow pond involved the sky."
1st W: Heavens, what a mess ! Now where on earth
Have I heard that one before?
2nd W: I shall never,
Never forget it.
1st W: Why yes, of course !
Imagine ! It's the same thing he concocted
The first day we'd been out together.
Imagine such vulgarity ! He sent it early
Next morning by special messenger -- a chubby
Little boy in blue trunks and oh ! a pair
Of golden water-wings that kept slipping
Off his shoulders. "You must ask me, lady,
Who I am," he said, pulling at my skirt.
"Well then, who are you, little one?" I asked.
"Page to the great manager of odds
And ends, of love and death at first
Sight," he said and ran away. Ha !
And later John had the gall to pretend
I was confusing him with another lover,
Some sickly, cross-eyed, weak-kneed flutterer.
Oh he was tricky -- I can tell you now,
My dear !
2nd W: I don't understand.
1st W: Ah,
You didn't know his moods. Ugly,
Selfish, spiteful, he'd sit there like a heavy
Bird aching for days on end. You'd think
He was about to hatch a purple egg.
Then he'd stare at me as if I were
A roach crawling on the wall. I tell you,
I could almost feel his hand raised back
To squash me if I moved a leg or winked.
And then one day I was absolutely rigid
And about to faint (I hadn't moved
A muscle for an hour) when he began
To speak quite casually of his twin
Brother, Gene.
2nd W: His twin brother?
What do you mean?
1st W: You think it strange?
Well, you'll scarcely believe a word
I tell you, though it's as true as you
Are sitting there this very minute.
Listen: I never met the twin or even
Knew of his existence till that day.
And yet, from that moment it was almost
As though Gene, the name itself, had freed me.
So I began, as naturally as I knew how,
To speak of him myself.
(SECOND WOMAN rises, moves abruptly toward the empty chair, then returns to her own.)
2nd W: Tell me
What he was like. I mean, what he
Said of him.
1st W: Oh, I don't remember
Everything. I only know I suddenly
Began to breathe again, almost like an infant,
For the first time.
2nd W: Yes, yes, I suppose -- of course.
But what did he say of him?
1st W: I don't recall
The words he used exactly, though I think
He said they were very much alike. Yes,
Except that he was something of a fake
And fumbler at his best, while Gene,
His twin, was always gloriously real
And never missed a trick.
2nd W: A fake and fumbler?
What on earth do you mean by that?
1st W: Yes, and something stranger I can tell you
Now. Though I've never seen the twin,
I feel I know him better than my husband.
And sometimes when I think I'm remembering
John, I really must be thinking of the other, Gene --
Oh even now, simply telling you about him,
A deep, swift, golden light fills and rocks me
To the brim. See? I can't keep my hair
From standing on its ends !
(SECOND WOMAN rises, steps quickly to the chaise and stands there rigid.)
2nd W: I can't, I won't
Believe it ! You're simply letting your mind
Be turned with grief -- and dreadful lies !
How can you drive out the memory of a man,
A perfect man, who loved and lived in everything
He made, and then displace, insult him
With that flimsy dream about a twin who never
Existed except inside your own sick head !
(And she hurls the velvet bag away, backstage, where a wide suffusing light begins to grow perceptibly until the end when it completely drowns out the small shaded light of the floor lamp.)
1st W: (Rising energetically)
Why, poor dear -- you're trembling. I can't
Blame you. I must have worn you to a frazzle,
Babbling on about myself. Though it's
So wonderfully strange, because suddenly
I'm quite well again. Here, now you lie
Right down and I'll . . .

(Helping SECOND WOMAN, who has begun to weep, into the chaise; then, looking backstage, she smiles and quickly arranges her hair.)
. . . and I'll . . .
I'll go see who's at the door ! (Exit)
2nd W: (Bolt upright)
That's a lie,
Do you hear? There's nobody, nobody at the door !
There's nobody at the door! (Weeping)


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