A Portrait of the artist as a Freemason
Letter from the country, where I live
P.S. Phi Beta Kappa address
Old worlds for new
Penelope's suitors in hell
Sauve qui peut
The abominable snowman
No face for Janus
On forgetting to set my alarm clock
My Grandmother's funeral
Requiem for an abstract artist
Philosophical transactions at Montauk
Waiting for Lilith
Three PoemsThe technique of loveRoutine assignment
The technique of power
The technique of laughter
Katabolism, or The Natural History of Love
Following the sun
The gardener at thirty
A prayer for my father while he is still alive
And for my mother
In this bottle you see morning
on this shelf is grass
here are specimens of turning,
nights which you must pass
love distilled from antique mirrors
tinCtures made of breath
pills of joy and powdered terrors
things to ease your death
the formulas of secret fears
catalogues of dreams
the bones of hope, the flesh of tears
what is, and what seems
all, all has been found out, tested,
certified as true;
time alone must be invested:
we depend on you.
Where the heart was, a domestic chasm, an abyss bridged by snow
As France, once great, collapsed into tourism and poetry
Behind the sublimity, obscene
Unable to command even the words useful to propose toasts
Having filled space beneath the zodiac with debris
And found the moon in its rounds merely vague
This is the town he has chosen to live out his time in:
A DELUXE BODY & FENDER SHOP
INSURANCE & REAL ESTATE
MEATS & GROCERIES in emergencies call THE OPERATOR (dial zero)
He conforms to everything
He worships pleasantly
He tinkers endlessly with mixed drinks
He reneges on the Revolution, though it tore him from his chains
He tolerates melioratives
He addresses queries to psychiatrists who answer in
He deplores the inhumanity of the avant/garde
He praises fools, and suffers them gladly
He preserves himself out of perversity, and perseveres
And in secret, at odd moments, he makes metaphors of royalty
Self piteously beginning Petrarchan sonnets thus:
After the Coronation
Forthright, busy Fortinbras summoned me,
Courteous, condoled a little, and then,
Snapping for his secretary, took pen
And signed me out ofhis drumming country...
Surmising that force brings no apples from the bare branch
Like a dark prophet in a wilderness of bright people
Full of exotic necessities
Or like a rational Messiah
Sojourning with brutes, sweet boys and hairy girls,
He busies himself studying the culture of perfume advertisements
But this year June came on bucolic.
We wore shorts, went tanned and barefoot.
Bright, hot, clear, dry; green, fresh, sweet, thick.
Apple, pear, lilac, rose, chestnut,
dandelions, primrose, peonies...
We breathed, stretched, breathed: ah we were free!
But there were more bugs, and worse too.
Houseflies and bluebottles swarmed and lit;
Adirondack blackflies came through;
venomous deerflies, how they bit;
big, lazy, thirsty mosquitoes
so quiet they could sting your nose!
But we felt, after months of snow
and that total absence of birds,
this June was our reward somehow.
So we got wrens and hummingbirds,
orioles, cardinals, phoebes
on our porch, sills, gutters and eaves.
But now silence, and no children.
Just last week a halfgrown fox, mad,
bit the art collector's widow's man
and slipped back to her dim, dry wood;
slipped out, bit our recluse, Priest,
in his patch at dusk: poor sick beast.
And so a week of rain and cold.
No flowers, no birds except crows,
no dogs barking at this gray world.
Where the vixen went no one knows.
Troopers scour gully and pasture.
We stay in, quite out of nature.
Those mad quarrels went on and on
and then she wept, and scratched your face
because she no longer loved you
because she'd lost her slender waist
lotions, unguents-her skin flaked
Was that sensible: love, love, love?
always hungry, belly and groin?
So you made this garden for her
hacked grass, plowed loam, harrowed, spaded
planted Burbank's Patented Prides
hoed and weeded, mulched, staked and tied
But did she drop her golden brush
did she leave her silver mirror?
So, what's there in the freezer now?
your corn withered on its tall stalks
squash rotted, too big on your vines
tomatoes, stung by frost, blackened...
While she nibbled and smoked and paced
or read her fashion magazines
Yesyes, she jeers, yes but
look what he's done to me!
When he takes me driving
I count telephonepoles
So damned bored so damned bored
I cook exotic meals
O Raphael! O Gabriel!
O Michael! Brandish your swords!
It got colder and colder
Then lights began going on
I whispered, Honey, don't be scared
They'll be undressed too
And so it was...
We had lost that shimmering darkness of our clothes
Right out loud I said
(was I complaining?)
She wore me like a brassiere
She ate me like a diet
She used me to fill her purse
All week I worked in that office
Thinking of ways to redeem her
Cash her in at face value
But never found the right time
Or my suitcase, or the bonds
She was too quick, too stubborn
Look at her-unkillable!
Rapidly she got pregnant
And gave me this litter
(what did I do to deserve it?)
One three/colored, sixtoed calico puss
Two tawny tiger toms, the gray female
And a black yelloweyed runt named for me
That I stepped on by mistake, in the dark
Just like a farce!
At last my heart, though it has no reason,
Gave up such unequal struggle
And delivered me from myself
-- And from you!
A PROBLEM, hypothetical, in the form of a piercing dilemma:
Surrender may be cheap, but life costs too much.
A SOLUTION, hypothetical, in the form of a cornucopia spilling
queries like random streams of lethal particles from which there
is no shelter (except to exist in the saltmines).
AFTER SWITCHING the light out, but before dropping onto
bed (why not make this your setting/down exercise for
mind and heart and senses?), stand chilling awhile
at the window, contemplate the darkness visible of
that moving universe you are glad to escape once more
for your personal, uncontrollable slumber, and consider
what it asks: Why is it there? When will you be
there? How can you get there? And where (should you
miraculously be the very one to guess the right answers,
1,2,3!), and where will you be when you are there?
COULD YOU, perhaps, have been studying the wrong subjects
all along? And were you, friends, inevitably and
necessarily misled by malicious gods (or ghosts)?
Or was it your ancestors' accidentally accumulated
and capriciously edited tables of law, of latitude,
logarithm and organization, which both propelled
and misguided you on this course? In any case, given
the right chance, if such there be, can the antique
weapons of the foundering vessel somehow be turned
against the strangers in our midst, that is, against
our heirs? Will you try? Would it be any use to
you to do so?
BUT, MY FRIENDS, after having devoted yourselves with such
intensity to your lonely regimen of daily jogging and
pushups, or, alternatively, to mastering the intricate
systems of progressive jujitsu, which affords security
against superior antagonists, what can you accomplish
in the face/to/face, one/to/one contest eternity
OR, NOT LOOKING THAT FAR AHEAD, what will account for the
liveliness of some old men and the stupidity of others?
Their glands? Is it money, diet, programmed/exercises
and regular check/ups? Is it meditation, character,
fate, or a subtle definite proportion of each combined
in a certain way? Is it maybe climate,
or even race? Can it depend on the quality of the
disciples who attend them? Perhaps it is merely an
illusion fostered by the imbecile selfishness of
the rest of us, who are all just the same
quite as human although we never realize it?
Was there, in other words, a woman to be searched for?
Or, possibly, which amounts to the same thing in the end,
a woman to be destroyed?
LOOK, TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY, Suppose The Revolution is
coming? If so, from what direction? And who is to
be executed? And is there never any possibility for
an honest reprieve? And when The Revolution comes,
what will it bring to the surface, extended monstrously
over the undulant dim waters like the Great Pacific
Squid basking in the starlight, more unreal then than
the scattered and hearsay reports of its existence?
Furthermore, which one of you will be imaginative
enough in his inescapable despair and sufficiently
brutalized by events to prepare The Counterrevolution,
and afterward The Countercounterrevolution, and so on?
And meanwhile strong enough to endure forever the
plangent echoes of the bursting bombclusters and the
howitzers firing in rotation, the muted, vibrant,
thunderous idling of the enormous jets and the regular
convoys of trucks and tanks, and the printing presses
day and night pounding and rolling, the staccato of
loudspeakers shouting over them, amplified unbearably,
and indeed the peaceful rumbling of the diesels of the
field/turbines, and of the tractors, the bulldozers,
the graders and the shovels and cranes and rivetters
and pavers, and then the busses and typewriters and
comptometers and computers and cashregisters and
airconditioners and, mingled with it all, always,
roocoocooing here and there like courting mourningdoves,
the machineguns, the machineguns...?
Is there any substitute for the sound of the human voice?
THEREFORE, NOT TO ANTICIPATE FOR YOU the unknown
pleasures of white hair in retirement to the paradise of
patriarchal irresponsibility, let me ask you what is
bound to occur to you sometime, somewhere: in the
satiny, stainless/steel, fluorescentlit and automatic
elevator rising and sinking morning or evening with
that sickening glide in the sealed shaft, or when,
after jerking to a stop in the tunnel, the engineless
commuters' train waits, stale, then jerks creeping
ahead, or as the car is sidling forward in suffocating
endless traffic on the hazy parkways, or sometime
while you are manipulating the dials and punching the
keys in their marvellous sequences, or while listening
patiently to the minutes of the previous meeting and
jotting down notes for the minutes of the present
meeting which will be read at the next meeting (and
glancing frequently, furtively, at the selfwinding
wristwatch), during the sorting and filing of the week's
correspondence, or at the weighing/in of the luggage
when en route to conference sessions that will it is hoped
occasion an even greater flow of correspondence,
or perhaps with the anxious yet fearfully excited and
curious intake of breath as you unfold the morning's
incredible newspaper or later yank hurriedly at the
recalcitrant cigarette machine in the lobby for the
necessary second pack, or even while, in one of those rare
free hours, dialing the right number (you know this dear
number by heart!) but hanging up after the first buzz,
your palms moist and cold, or, in the dentist's
waitingroom, staring fascinated at the fullpage
fourcolor photographs and wondering with envy and
stultifying dismay just where on earth those models
were posed with such insouciantly hieratic and
meaningless attitudes -was it Alexandria, Cuzco,
Pompeii? under the Sphinx, in Bombay, Rio de Janeiro,
Teheran, Odessa, St. Peter's Square, at the Lincoln
Memorial, or Nassau, under St. Paul's dome, in
Bangkok, Nome, Alaska, on Hawaii's black sand
beach, Wall Street or San Diego or the Free Market
of Hongkong, Singapore, Montreal, Copenhagen, the
Midsummer Fjords, and so forth... places, places, perpetual
recollections of the geography of advertising! or
are they actually only facsimiles
of sunlight faked up against the studio wall with
artificial architecture and the false luxury of the
patina of ancient props which makes anything authentic-
or, some other time altogether, between the locker/
room and the barbecue pit, maybe while musingly
shaking the last two spoons of Bromo Seltzer out of
the famous blueglass bottle, or, late again for the
party and rummaging for the missing cufflink, or
while waxing the fishline in the springtime (in autumn
greasing the heavy boots, also sorting cartridges),
or, it might well be, slumping dazed in the barber'
chair without your glasses and unable to see what's
been done, or mulling the odds changing constantly
up there on the board as the line moves up too
easily toward the betting window, or, after the
last drink, fumbling for the elusive hatcheck, or
sometime between the fantastic hors d'oeuvres and
the terrified glances of hostess and host as the
evening is chewed relentlessly and swallowed down
in boredom boredom boredom! during, if it may be
suggested, that inevitable prolonged moment when
your life ascends irretrievably to the outer cold and
falls into the fixed trajectory of the permanent
orbit and reality retreats whirling below and
behind, its weight dragging at you with a force of
5 to 15 G's and pressing the multiplied tons of your
own existence against your chest like the final remorse,
and, as you thence become separated once and forever
from your own old self, able to view it all and yet
unable to distinguish anything whatsoever in its particular
homely details, which in any case always revealed far too
much: when, in short, in short it is finally too late and
history is all there is left to you and illumination
comes out of the infinite black depth and you know
that there was no way to have known that what you
somehow knew, somehow knew, was really accurate and
true...and then it is that that appalling dream
suddenly comes back, that dream which woke you
even from the heavy sleeping arms of your beloved...
blue and red and white flames glinting and
glaring on the midnight's horizon like silent
slow explosions: a couple of old dolls flung
seeming grotesquely alive in the corner of
the dusty room, words and phrases uttered in
the air, raucous wild syllables breaking out
of the cackles and growls, sentences spilling
into threats and moans and futile supplications
as if one had suddenly but irrevocably abandoned
the world one had made... do you com-
prehend this? one's own created world! which
had seemed so bad, so ugly and untrue -- but,
perhaps, only because it was one's own?
Youth was his fountain, the world round.
He'd sail out, command a starved crew,
conquer realms, colonize the night:
he'd leap ashore in battle suit,
brain casqued in steel, fists bared to dawn,
and open simple colloquy
with eternity's nude natives,
bellowing, I, Conquistador!
But he wakes, pinioned and fettered,
in some ravine whose sandstone floor
takes no print of the silent camp
where dromedaries like shaggy ghosts
humped with silver in the moonlight
kneel about him, wheezing, sighing,
their bestial breathing the mutter
of a host of sorry spirits.
He smells the rank odor of force.
No, he thinks, a mere dream ofdeath.
This is not that sleep of all sleeps,
not demons, these hooknosed Arabs
who smoke incessant cigarettes
from cuppedfingers of slender hands...
these are men, living men, not djinn --
I'll wake saft in a burst ofsun!
But on he sleeps, this marooned man,
this imperialist of night,
ravelled in a skein of mumbo,
wrapped up in shrouds. And now he sees
that fabulous gloryglory,
his western pinnacles of power,
fall down in rose shards in his mind:
the world is round, he has returned.
They gag him as he prays for dawn,
and they truss him on a camel;
they run him (how he prays for dawn)
through the longest desert of night
to the dark interior's market:
the Emperor of Eldorado!
(who prays for dawn, though never crowned)
The Emperor! Enslaved. For sale.
Well, no one considered anything wrong:
foxy grandpa limped to his farm in the hills,
the brat fetched and carried and grew up strong,
we slept with her maids, she slept with her chills.
Love costs money, we said, what good's delay?
We dined and we danced, played at arms, shot craps
and spent our few good years like a spring day.
We welcomed strangers for we feared no traps.
You know what happened, they teach it in schools:
we paid for discourtesy with our lives:
love is faithful and we -- were a pack of fools.
It may save you running, so let's get it straight:
there are two nowheres: here, where man arrives
and there, where he pursues a withering mate.
As his old marrow clotted in his loins
he tottered. Shadows crossed the air, a smell of musk
cloyed the day -- these last hours jangled like coins.
He wept. He thought he'd creep into the dusk
because all his sons were lost: dead in piles,
or dying; ravens flopping down on husks
of busted armor; the dogs loping miles
to carrion... he'd take the barge for Avalon.
But what of the jewelled sword? Friendly smiles
meant nothing. What of the Queen? His hand on
her breast meant sons, his hand on its hilt
conquest. Better to parley than travel on,
man to man. "I would keep my power: my gilt
sword, my longthighed, milkbellied, pearbreast Queen
whose hair darkens the night. You know my guilt-
I have fidgeted the world, flubbed feasts, and seen
her stiff on her throne,whimpering in bed.
Business and drink. Now my knees quake, and green
bile stains my beard: this account is scored red
on my crusted brow. Yet still I lust: my
foot stands in the world among all these dead,
among cowards and lovers. I will not die!"
What was desire -- Dido bawling from the cliffs,
her general mulling fresher conquests,
that gorgeous insipidity -- has gone:
there are high heels clacking in Saskatoon;
what might be -- when little stars are great suns
in a universe too large for discourse,
lucid difficulties like adult poems,
so austere a jazz -- blinds in this shadow;
what is -- neither convoy nor residence,
nothing remembered, nothing found -- we have:
our wish, engineered climate, draftsman's walls,
and our life, single minds in double beds.
The old man is tired.Those insurance men
who sold him life with policies are dead.
He paid them out, he gathers interest now,
and scrawls his memoirs in the blank ledger.
There were women. Their bones fill his gray bed.
He thinks he has them yet like ghosts whose breath
is soft as his. All his snows have melted
in the same sun each year. He does not sleep.
He learned what there was to learn, left doubts room,
even reached this uninhabitable coast:
what were limits to him? But I'm his child.
I'll pay my own way, thanks. I'll bury him.
Below the tree lines
love runs its rank course
in hungry diligence
and all are slaves, none free,
pack wolves prowl through pines
but pure ways of force
suit lone intelligence:
these peaks belong to me.
Here is no men's dust
to soil the white sun
for no men know such noons,
creatureless, filled with light,
where the ice kills lust
on rocks beings shun:
such tracts polish dulled moons
and gratify the night.
Men's need for others
cannot look above
where giants in the snow
walk free and live apart:
I have no brothers
to command my love,
the grimmest winds that blow
will never touch my heart.
The doors of Numa's Arcade hang open,
and these hordes press through our dreadful Forum
where broguing Duffy, conscripts' chaplain,
shoulders and brow shagged with pigeon droppings,
broods in the sanctum of The Great White Way,
mastiff/toothed and parsing his bronze prayers:
Flesh is bread, blood is wine. Lay mine altar!
Dominus, you who ate your god in bogs,
cannons' Canon, whose masses your Mass,
Father ours: shall these drunken demos live?
I take my chance where all is rigged, like chance,
and slip a nickel in the thumbworn slot.
Round me rabid Pokerino rages,
"King of Hearts! Queen of Hearts! Who wins this hand?"
Wild soldiers shoot at waddling wooden ducks.
The Knave of Hearts turns up, and the house wins.
It's cold. Hawkers of horns baa in the snow.
What of the future? Would this machine know?
My coin drops: amber bulbs buzz and flicker:
an old bellows wheezes astral music.
In the ancient blue flaked mirror I see
my dead uncle: Java Man: trepanned skull.
He holds my hand out and takes his message.
Once more the word made new he cannot read:
YOUR ANALYSIS little concentration
you have temperament your moods too deep
quick to change intolerant lovable
your life can be guided subconscious ly
you should have faith you will die
Bafflement for bafflement. It is just.
I join the throngs of frozen revelers.
Under dense low clouds boiling red and blue,
mounted on marquees, waiting midnight's knell,
technicians garbed in flyer's dress scan us
televising to an unsleeping world
how time in tumult takes its harshest turn:
pale pimpled boys and patchy painted girls
laugh, yell, scream, blat Bronx Cheers from tin trumpets,
lope by flourishing pints of cheap whiskey.
I cross to Duffy's Rock in the traffic.
Beneath his silence a bum harangues us:
"Augh! Men of mine, women! Be warned by me:
time is, time was, but time is not to be!
Isle of shining towers, stones ofManhattan,
steel, glass, you happy peoples of the North:
the day has passed, the hour comes!" Who hears him?
He's drunk, he's blind, he's old and feeble.
He slumps, drooping to his derelict's doze.
Some hand stuffs a scrawled note in his stiff claws.
I give the prophet my chocolate bar
and some cold pennies (Lincoln and Legend),
in exchange for this last poor chance writing.
It reads: go get 68 West 36 Street!
wants to kill me and father who's decent
give me my things from his crime morgue room shop
212 West 110 Street holding my bankbook
stop him interfering with my life
get the unsane to attack me in Harlem
pleasure to die from 120 Street B'way crimes
Now it comes: death strikes like birth! Eyes up, all!
As if tomorrow brought yesterday's hope
above, around, among, within their eyes
seas of dulled stars anticipate chaos
roaring like the last clocks and the first
with a noise as of mobs roaming and lost
confusion triumphant in their joyful praise
without this fated drifting gray despair
burdening even the silent old stones
but passing away, but passing away
You have brought me to a despair deeper than poetry...
To have forgotten poetry!
I should sing a song of remorse to you
That you may cry Well done!
And hang your stone around my neck...
This is what you are:
Settled comfortably in the suburbs of mortality
Not interested in birds without wings
Having no expectations of honesty
(telling the truth you lie most of all)
Dependent on bureaucrats for information
Your secular joys are secretly shameful
You did not leave a space blank for holiness
You have weak ankles you fear to challenge fate
(unlike certain reckless skeletons we knew
whose bones, hung in the wind, are musical)
You are so careful you take vitamins and prudent exercise
In your old age you will think of nothing but lecheries!
Small loves, I denounce you!
Your advertisements and all your friends
Your knowledge of the score-provincial gregariousness
You are always camping somewhere:
On shaking hands properly or dressing in good taste
On current events, the corrida, silent German films, ritual guilts
On clever jobs, with or without futures, or on Fellowships
On the American Musical and editing good books
Amateur skills like exotic cooking exquisite cabinetmaking collecting
On very wellpaid regional directorships raising money for humanity
On Etruscan Byzantine Ceylonese Han Navajo scholarship
Camping on Bohemia, on destitution, on an income
East and West Coast jazz sodalities
Dealing in abstract art, temple/dancing, gamehunting with cameras
On being beautiful
On selling reproductions in museums or tickets at airline desks
On sonnets and villanelles
On drug addiction and on God, prayer even!
You small loves, you camp on heterosexuality, on homosexuality
and on marriage too!
On certain beaches in Spain
On the undiscovered retreats of the French avant/garde
in the South of France --
Wherever it might have been interesting to go or be.
Small loves, I renounce you!
I won't get drunk at your party or keep Siamese cats...
What is it like on the Flying Dutchman
Where is the country of love
Where you come groaning
Without pity for my nakedness?
Once to wake proud in a burst of sunlight
as bearing news of real significance,
to risk cold coffee for that native hour,
unembarrassed at much cruel rapture
and clothed with an astonished nakedness
the other animals must remember:
those brunts of darkness in the opened eye
which must accept all the retributions
called justice, called civilizing peace;
to know that moment, pleasure of action,
of a world swayed by irrelevant tides
where men scorn beds made simply for sleep,
is life at a high price, without napkins,
minus the morning's editorial,
an unimaginable selfrespect
of the very young and the very old:
those who fear discipline as they fear death.
An impossible hairpin curve
the guardrail recently smashed --
we stopped there and picnicked
We had only an hour, love
there is never another time, or place
still, how useful to recall it now
The dark, deep, boulderstrewn gorge
and down down, so white and hard and swift and loud,
the foaming cataract!
And then, love, from the high, rough road
winding out at last (but too soon!)
to see that populous valley in the dusk
And to find the neon beds all taken
(though there wasn't one we could have afforded)
And so driving on all night, smoking, thinking
the car bringing us, eventually, to such different places
She came across the seas steerage class
in her middle age, past childbearing
her husband sinking into dotage
having sired two males upon her
and seven girls, none of them grateful
for her services as cook and char.
Her husband gone, at seventy-five
she had a hard stroke but was redeemed
by that young doctor who tapped her spine
and drew offin a pint of fluid
the troubling clot -- so that she lived on
blind in one eye, deafened, rather weak.
Another fifteen years she survived
uselessly dimming in the poor corners
of a household her last two daughters
destroyed by their ignorant furies,
lapsing incontinent, a burden
had she known it even to herself.
She endured her perishing a week:
bothered three days with what seemed a cold,
pausing one night to let them bicker,
Who'd buy drugs? Who'dpay doctors? Her costs!
and slipping three days slowly, slowly,
toward those rattling rasping sighs, and death.
She was through yet she wasn't finished:
consigned that hour to morticians
her hamper of flesh and bent old bones
were zipped up in a green canvas sack
and bundled off -- as they wept a tear
for mother, and two more for themselves.
On the next day at twelve/thirty sharp
she reappeared in Chapel C, West,
in a plain coffin of good grade oak
to be viewed by mourners where she lay
dressed in raw muslin, washed and powdered
and neatly stitched: she seemed someone else.
A short service for this old stranger
THE FIFTH COMMANDMENT'S IMPLICATIONS
CONCERNING FILIAL OBLIGATIONS
delivered by a rented rabbi
in a spate of Buchenwald Yiddish,
broken Hebrew and passport English.
And then that sleek new Cadillac hearse
driven by a rakish/capped chauffeur
who wears aviator's sunglasses
and knows the fast route across the Bronx
over the Triborough Bridge to Queens
out expressways to the granite gates.
It's a glorious Spring afternoon,
three robins dispute this hunting ground,
that man speaks his mangled speech, O God!
and the sandy loam is shoveled back
tactlessly neutral, filling the hole
making my brother's nose twitch with fear.
As the family turns toward the cars
he points at the Queens College buildings
beyond the graveyard's west wall and says
"Next Fall when I'm admitted I'll drive
to campus over the Whitestone Bridge"
and I say "Taking Humanities?"
No world but this for your eye:
space without nebulae, comets,
neither cosmic dusts, stars, gas, debris,
nor, nearer, planets, sun, moon, cloud, hill, plain,
trees, birds-nothing inhuman to stir pain
and make us love what eyes learned to see
when forepaws left their rude comments
on things, saying X was I.
No world but this in your space:
where all is free, where being's forms,
born of human force, live from your act
of grace in spectrums unknown to God's white,
thrive in space like souls passing time when light
strikes fractured glass, sand, paint smeared and tracked
by palette knife-such random storms
whirled over your human face
as never racked God's creatures.
Who can commit you then to God
when all things are His but yours, Jackson,
who to say, "Sandy cemetery clay
holds this broken drunken artist whose play
was work, work splash of bitter lakes on
silent unsized canvas where good
and bad never have features
as in God's world of moral things,
God's numbers not at last nameless,
sexual, violent, or skillful
as you were in those desperate movements
of your times at work, at play, those moments
bourbon, breasts, brush made living artful
and so self/willed, dying aimless
and unmindful of God's real things?"
Won't someone ask, when flowers
dropped by Kline, de Kooning, pale wife
and fifty ranking abstract friends wilt
on your new grave and funeral turns wake,
wake floats toward next weekend, when for your sake
flesh becomes void again, denied, killed
for love of something in this life
called art, "Are all man's hours
zeroed like yours in God's eye
and ours in yours, Jackson, useless
colored space minus natural line,
naked spirit's elaborate gestures
knowing nothing in truth but these vestures
of itself in its own masculine,
own feminine, with no address
but this home in time, this I?"
The follies of the Sanhedrin prepared
us for innocence: a high August sun,
shore of broken conches emptied of flesh
by local synods of gulls, this tumult
of waters patched now blue, now gray, now black,
swashing about surf-fishers' knees. Like posts
they stand, casting, reeling, casting, reeling,
roughdressed, rawhanded, stubblefaced, staring
at the blank stretch of sea, while behind them
flies quarrel over scraps of stinking bait.
Even God deserts his echoes: silence
confounds the drone of antique deliberations
whose heavens were harsher than life: dismissed,
our elders trudged to their tabernacles
in the moral fires, leaving us this world.
Is it strange to be content to be hopeless?
Consider burrowing nations of clams,
or fat porgies scrounging those taut fish lines.
We have no answers: questions need we none:
Though marrow is not nectar, call it bilge?
Grant concessions to animus, oh sure,
one glance shows the dumb fury of this Point:
rocks plunging awash, a tide'bitten beach,
the necessary lighthouse at the end,
monstrous squalls and human desolation.
So, we're paupers staring east at zero...
Yet grant too this bland hour's better than most:
we sit near the good and the true, smoking,
talking our jargon. Out of the welter
we plucked breath, and a pail full of beach plums.
Eve is angel, though bone of bone. She is
the wealth of women, she makes my garden
love's maze, all flesh and fruit: the sweat of bliss
is dew upon our bellies. She is the warden
of this world, and its colors speck her eyes
as richest soil her hair. Fear can't harden
her heart, silver under breasts of gold: cries
from dispossessed night burnish her sweet sleep.
Yet I hear you from Eden, where wind sighs
over the ruined metropolis, where you keep
vigil in that waste, mounting your old tower
to watch deserts of stars, count dead moons, and weep
the dust from your eyes. Even here this hour
is yours, Lilith, my demon wife before time,
like my years before the sun, my power
knotted in your long black hair. Steps that climb
to Eden lead down again. Heirs of blood
may walk in the shade with Eve, giants prime
yoking the mammoth mountains to her good
will and farming men in her big daughters.
They may stretch their dominions over the flood
of time, and crown Eve mother of waters-
but, Lilith, your song rises from the stones' curse
at night, and I turn to hear you. No laughters
of sons, no wife from my bone, can drown your voice.
Regime falls on regime, a flood of stones
pounding the horse plains, burying strangers
and beloved together in the cause
of no community and of no life
but one: the way of flags, standards of death
displayed by hordes riding always without hope.
Scorned, denied, banished from today, the hope
of thought broken where these broken stones
crush the choked, smoking streets: a place of death,
children killing, children killed by strangers,
no quarter for thought: yet hope still, still life
makes way among the ruins and seeks a cause.
Killing or killed, we will not yield our cause
to them nor they to us, there is no hope
of settling the ways of passion with life:
out of old ways come civil streets and stones
to pave and build, but out of life strangers
with fire hot in their hands come bringing death.
Ungentle then these crossroads, filled with death,
enfiladed from all sides in no cause,
to no end: we foreign and they strangers
firing in darkness and blind with the hope
that sunlight lights the others heaped on stones,
that hatred's nights no longer rake this life.
Stairs blasted, riddled walls, the garden's life
of peace unhonored by gardeners whose death
is sowed and reaped with force among these stones:
on every hand neglect: neglect of cause,
ends neglected while time wastes and dear hope
rots with neglect... a waste where strangers
wander unmeeting, avoiding strangers
who will ask alight, for the time: Your life,
your life, give us whateveryou would hope
to have or save or take :you are lost,your death
is here, now,forever, and for your cause
you shall die and be buried under stones!
What is fit for stones is fit for strangers:
our only good cause going from the life
where men find death, where slaves can only hope.
Once again, undressing for bed late that night, we
looked shyly at each other in anticipation of the joy
wandering the nearest landscape one knows, perhaps
expecting the calm rest that belongs to fortunately-
settled natives. We were shocked to see the bloated
bellies of long starvation!
Then, as the moon went out and we tossed in sleep in
the darkness, what did we hear? A scurrying of
timid ground~dwellers, chipmunks, mice, rabbits,
foxes; whirring of wings beating among the forest
leaves; cracklings and crashings of deer and bear
through the dense brush? We thought them mythical
Human contours remain the last anfractuosities for
the ambitious explorer. Let him be warned in advance
of his researches: in the dark -- let him consider
this -- in the dark, and with the clock pressing
more loudly at his ear, what exactly will he be able
to put his hands on? Even he who is most attentive
to intimate processes is afraid to contemplate this sudden
record of catastrophe. Erosion,
drowned chasms, uplifting of the very roots of the
range -- those long-hidden Cambrian basalts lying naked
when the sun struggles through the
thin smoky curtain of consciousness. What must have
been successive and profound temblors: to have gone
unnoticed! Only then did we realize what a delusion
our hopes of breakfast were...
Away with that tradition of wretched glory
Sustained by the memory of certain deep caresses
That dream of lovers, and enemies- to have each other!
Wealth upon wealth! your charity impoverished me...
Was it right, was it good, to seek our humanity?
Alert, but wisely blind, like mirrors engaged: a nightmare!
Because your solicitude gave me what I wished
Oh my friend, may my generosity plunder you
Surfeit drown you, burn you, leave you to my death!
Forms emptied, momentary purity, each from each, unbound
And then, breakfasting on carbon, to find our equivalents,
Pleasures exquisite and black sentiments-obscure concentrations!
Yet to take, forget, take again and, unremembering, take once more!
I measure you with my fingers, and these estimations begin. Endless!
As if to understand, to accomplish ourselves, or become happy!
Poisoned, by our own lips! That exchange of eloquence...
Having worshiped too long in the same place-that radiance!
Our theory decayed into hard passions, perishing bits
Except the work to be done, nothing true can be known
Flesh parallel with flesh, ourselves merely the objects of force
As if love alone were precious! Now do you comprehend government?
Hence we joined, entering this silent momentum of things
Was it to resolve chastity that we opened our eyes in the dark,
Yielding tender as stoics to the mutualities of conquest?
All things are joyous but joy, whose kisses are blows
Compressed, heavy, durable-broken matters come to earth at last
Thus we grew human, having abandoned nothing but life
Yet, enlarged and preyed on by tomorrow, we will be hungrier
Rally the despairing fractions, command them to this new world
So that, iron ringing in our bones, we shall seem admirable killers!
You gave them all the dances, but came home with me
Then we bathed, and anointed each other with true lies
You showed me fields in the sea: I promised wild, honest tigers
To have torn ourselves away, lost them everywhere around us
Miracle! aspiring yet again and only to such nakedness!
They will say we lacked compassion, like survivors
Neither mine nor yours the courtesy of rotten states
Their archives burdened by the news of perpetual disasters
Absurd communities, cities rooted in our very hearts-gone!
Having destroyed ourselves and risen, ourselves once more
We drink this wine, resting content in the fruitful, bright mirage
Wanderers, come here! Green and gay, the world without hate or love
There, those shadows whirl grasping their possession, alive as ghosts!
But remember, remember we are real, it is no dream --
Soon we die, embracing and alone -- remember we have lost nothing.
To pass inhuman barriers
heroes were by ancient ritual
brought most bloody forth from loins ripped wide
in bestial labor: they sprung from childhood
joy and fell in virgin manhood
on divine traps: strange deaths stained their pride
with glory grim yet natural
to men lacking man's terrors.
Leave them in myth where they lie,
destroyers of all decency,
brave but in excess, as though God's wilds
were gardened rich without domestic tools
or flesh home enough: who today is fooled
past what tested powers prudence wields?
No man knowing love leaves men, he
fears that hero's wish to die.
(Icarus, that callow youth,
that amateur doomed in contempt
of the laws of motion, comes to mind:
beeswax and feathers ruined by the sun
to adorn the maxims that kept Greek sons
down on the farm, on foot, with their kind-
are heavens heaven when attempts
on heights reach but to such truth?)
Captain Apt: no hero found
in legend falls with such a fall,
bound unwarned, unwilling, unmade for death,
professionally cautious every day,
a family man needing his week's pay
though working beyond life's reach where breath
takes thought, where his something is all,
and nothing's silence surrounds.
Those who came back from such flight
do not talk with heroes' accents
of what they know: Chuck Yeager the bold,
aging Gene May, restless Bill Bridgeman and
one who broke through first and died, de Havilland:
that tremorless high arc, still and cold,
Mach 3 on twenty/mile ascents,
that peace of most intense light,
and that flameout at the top,
weightlessness, shadow/blotched dials,
null trim/control: that long loathed drop down
buffeting, burning, shattering through air,
plunged worse than the damned falling in despair,
that deadstick landing on native ground,
that fearful gearing for new trials:
a day's work that never stops.
Such means mean ends: you perished
in the name of power and life
on routine assignment, testing walls
of shock, of heat, testing blood bone and metal,
force on naked force that we may settle
squatter's claims on God's desert that calls
the soul as man is called to wife:
that children may be cherished
amid universal storms,
that cabins may grow to towers,
tribes to nations rampant who shall find
solace paving boulevards of empire
which run past all barriers to desire
and plant on barren worlds the strong mind
that loves love's domestic powers,
love's homemaking human forms.
The giant blooms amidst green damnation,
swollen ecstasies of this timeless realm,
elegant, unblessed. Old hothouse roaches
trot along lianas on their roach affairs.
Hot, hot beneath glass, the dour pineapple
and the sweetish lemon, greengold and thinskinned,
ripening sans honor: athletes and esthetes.
Fat frogs squat steaming in bowers of blood
and tumorous copper carp fin idly
at the conduit. There is nothing but life.
There is nothing but life but love. The pyre,
the searing mantle, the egg in embers,
the new pinions, a hundred years of youth:
earth, air, water, the greenhouse sun at noon:
all heaven in a pot: Adam virgin
brooding in his sterile zoo. But when she comes
swanking to his couch the dust lusts
in the desert and time begins society:
the sun runs, the moon is pregnant with stars:
under domes of glass there is laughter.
They stroll on tidy paths, flesh. Nimble Jack
and Nimble Jill in the hothouse jungle:
their fathers kings, and queens their mothers.
They walk, they talk. They sit, they smoke, and they kiss.
Lovers laugh at rumblings in the bush:
cities rise new in their arms, their arts conquer men:
there is no other choice but to love.
Old closing time shoos them kindly. Outside
it is snowing. Their selves of laughter meet
their tears. There is nothing but love but death.
You said, How strange! Among all who have come by, only
you guessed my name. Hardly. I could not have done
otherwise. And now, what is mine?
No matter where it fell, the seed must do its best to become
its unknown self. If you believed morality necessary too,
consider the agony of the plant: its only life, desire.
That permanent diet they forced on us -- how young we
were! Some warm room, food enough, a few cigarettes,
and everywhere in our thoughts those loudspeaking
communities instructing us. By such dry passions they
obliged us to persist, despite everything, in the one
direction: towards life.
Thronged streets, people whispering, What? What? Pale
swaths of filmy radiance, ivory, rose, chartreuse, ozone blue,
sweeping overhead though not dimming the stars: the Northern
Lights! Before dawn a total eclipse of the sun, calculated
how many scores of years ago, would surely begin, eastward
over the Atlantic. The great age must be near.We waited,
heroic as lampposts. Clocks ticked loudly, then softer
again: sighs of married sleepers. Also, through the
short, hot night, the thrilling noise of shattered
glass-windows, bottles. Barriers and containers.
That perpetual sedentary economy! Well, but if you cared
you could manage for a few years, living together like a
family. Yet when it came, on whom would the sun shine?
Oh my dear hope, how frightened you are.
As for thought -- plunged like an aging actress in her
barbituric pool. Darkness, and talk was misery; it filled
the ashtrays. In awhile, the tide at full, men would be
concentrating on charts held unrolled beneath the sufficient
glow of their binnacles. Business and pleasure: always
somewhere to go and a way to get there. Yet as though
hopeless, we brewed another pot of coffee. You could
almost feel the waters start on ebb. We knew what was
happening to us: it is never the first time for those who can
remember their birth.
You were taught one of the histories, and so you take the
huge vagary of the present for granted. My faith in
nothing, not even in what I do (my show of life!) makes
you anxious. You wish me to possess you, just as you
need to possess me. You even survey and dig into
tomorrow: you suppose that buying an old well'built
house and moving it to your own new foundation where you
can overlook this dairygreen valley in which farmers fought
side by side with Indians will bring us to America. All
right, then what? You'll only see me there, mowing the
lawn again. Maybe I stop, go to the ragged screen of privet
to peer through. Maybe I've glimpsed the shadow of
ruin moving once more in Mr. Wester's tall August hay,
careless as the black bear who slouched through sumac
at the bottom of the meadow. A tremor. You will recall
what a surprise our meeting was, too. Springs flowing
in one eon, in another not...
One need only want to join those who have imagined the true
change of season to understand that space and time exist,
and yet do not. For each one of those thousand miles
separating them from that brief life lovers have
prepared a fear, each fear the thought that stops them, and,
stopped, they stand forever contemplating the killing distance
that lies beyond the next step. Look, the first piece of gravel
I pick up from my driveway reveals a fossil snail!
For we have no destiny at all! This planet spins on, fixed
in a lucky orbit. The single stars themselves, which we
resolve as clusters of random, dimming universes, drift
nowhere. Dreading your reply, I said, Where do you want
to go? It was what I expected, the only one: With you.
As long as the car was moving, whatever we said made sense.
And whenever we stopped for the night it seemed useless to
utter anything but the common syllable of endearments.
Day and night, the diesels of the combines roaring. Cutting,
husking, threshing, baling, bagging, loading, they disappear
over the flat bluegray horizon, following their compasses
north/by/northwest. High summer. The spume of their
exhausts, grayblue, tinges the haze. Up in the sky swifts
and swallows careen; redwinged blackbirds tilt on the
fenceposts; crows cross cawing at dusk and dawn. There is
no such thing as America -- only the plowing up, the plowing
under. So that our lives are like all those yesterdays:
before and after the orange and yellow squads of combines.
Because there is neither digression nor return, but
merely cessation, we remembered to kiss goodbye.
Once on the way we perceived strangers everywhere,
in everything terror. Had we abandoned our life
for what was barely possible? Yet it would have been wrong
to protect ourselves. For later, in that standard and
familiar rented American room, helpless in the net of the
deepest embrace, we cried out to each other, spontaneously,
But who are you!
But I want you to understand
I find myself here to be known
Just as out back this piece of land
Waited ten years lying grassgrown
I myself an arm of no race
To stoop like that first settled man
And touch and probe this fallow place
To make it give me what it can
I revealed it like an old chest
Covered with books and webs of dust
Stripping it bare as my wife's breast
I pondered its promise and my lust
Green striving, beans, corn, peas, it's true:
Nourished loves create our fables
Innocent powers, I've found you!
That was one of my morning dreams --
As if plenty were life, were all
To have to know to do clay's themes --
That was wisdom before the Fall
When light fails these mad weeds come through
My rows groan, deformed: ah poor patch!
Like my nightmare I feel cold dew
As if I could bear it I'll watch
Mumbling monster rabbit who creeps
Full and silver magnificence
My gardened human folly sleeps:
I'm here for my deliverance!
Haunting the lives of all you glide
Murdering owl, who know the worst
Bring us truth wherever we hide
In hunger and hope we die cursed
Yet may we rest safe and rest well
May I not hear the rabbit's scream
And waking to dawn's mist not tell
How I died waiting in my dream
Our lives are not renewable, yet we seek extinctions.
The effort needed to subdue and suppress that wise
fear, that monstrous tenacity of nature in us which
protects us from ourselves! What do we hope to
discover in disaster: further cycles
of growth, perhaps achieving the new capacities...?
Is that why I betrayed
you? Everywhere. In everything. As we ate and slept.
Even before our long spring began, when the sun came
back with fresh light and winds out of the south
breathed upon the black sodden valley, recreating
grass and the blossoms as though from memory. It was all
food. We were promiscuous as bees. Yet I was always
alone, aspiring toward my own fulfillment. In our
common acts of love most of all. And you?
Leaves drooping coated with red dust. Confused by
the humid glare of an overcast afternoon sky, the
wild bees swarm irritably. The yellow hay has
finally stopped growing; waist-high it stands
waiting the mower. What was that long season of
flowering but time's metaphor? Errors ripen now,
impersonal as our joys -- those accidents and
brief coincidences in which matter clings to matter
like the touches of love. And the seeds scattering,
somewhere to overcome us: the same things returning,
inexorably full of themselves. We should have
known, expected it. But how?
Sitting by the road I watch the cars. Their passage
raises the clayey dust that chokes the leaves.We
have conquered this narrow strip of space in which
all are born. But what are those blank impassive
faces people show? They pretend to hide
our secret: that we go everywhere and come to nothing,
that even in the necessary and lucky exchanges of
pollen which preserve the world yesterday robs us
So that we must destroy our lives because life has
destroyed us. Burning ways random as our unknown,
equivocal desires through time, that abyss of silence.
Imagine it, through time!
I can spot where the bees are at work in the hollow tree
finishing their graywalled, goldfilled
catacombs. The thinning coarsened foliage dies out,
stiffens, blackish/green. In expectation of the suns
of coming years, our cousins the living things have
increased themselves and multiplied. Now they
halt: they will wait, without the vanity of hope: and
they will survive their own deaths. But we, driving,
driving, do not slow-although when we are gone,
in a month, in a year, who will claim the strange
harvest of this incessant wintry assault upon ourselves?
One could not want a clearer season, when things age but
do not grow, time fit for true meditations
the stained white house thrown up by summer's storm, stranded,
abandoned on this crisp crackling backwash of brown leaves
all the birds asleep, huddled away from the frost owl, or flown
whence their seasonal imperatives direct
and that gibbous moon, gleaned of color, dull as the rimed stooks,
rocking on a porch of Prussian blue.
I, however, do not sit in the dark looking out at this
transparency, this quasi-philosophical Kodachrome,
but by a bright light ponder, considering next week's lectures,
and think what I shall not say:
supposing Poe sober-sane, Hawthorne utterly mad, both, like myself,
uxorious, in love with necessity
and up against it, its rigors and crotchets, etcetera, baffled by
will and desire, baffled oh by right answers.
But it is very hard to think, because the flies have gone berserk,
buzzing buzzing buzzing
they beat against my clean ceiling, where in consternation have
they come from! and bash bash bash
indiscriminate, even for Musca domestica, beating about the bulb,
caroming off the shade,
like spitballs whizzing, hopped-up like protons in a cyclotron,
they crack against my face -- and cling.
Ugh! it's not just the October chill has set this fly circus
aswarm in crazy orbits --
their controls are shot, reckless senility misguides them,
desperate, into these centrifugal throes:
unpredictable even to themselves, how can one stalk October flies!
chaos! it is maddening!
yet, with calculated indirection, rather nonchalant, feigning
purposelessness, I hunt these distractions down.
What I do, I clap hands over them as they sit-Hai! Hai! with
a kind of Zen finesse --
they fall, stunned it would seem into thought, moreover still
sufficiently alive for it,
wherefore, much against my better nature, I pull the brittle wings
to calm the last agony
indeed to help them through their black October passage in dry
meditation, as it were.
And for myself endeavor to give thanks for this their pestiferous
excruciation (oh it is a sign!)
because, reckless, jumpy, despairingly unpredictable and
buzzing beating bashing
I too make myself generally a nuisance unto God Who in this
same night of Fall sits, alone, j
pondering a sensible rhyme for His Own Name -- to give thanks
I say, that, distracted, He clap not His Hands!
You! whom the aged brandy does not burn
Cold lecher forcing technical boundaries
Dayblind, nightcalm, though bubs and bellies storm
Last judge of international anatomies
And you! sublime tricks breeding such quandaries
Smooth contraceptive eye, knee, lip, thigh
All contestants universal beauties
Quarrelling fuel, frantic for light
You! angels abroad weathering those abysms
Beyond me far as I transgress my natural
Having mounted beneath that hail of kisses
On perpetual stairs (dismal after the funeral)
And you too, her sonorities, thought infernal
You demand the bridge-the bridge, not seamen
And men for those hips undismayed though autumnal
Long hair, long laughter, and her cruel pleased mind
You, fluorescent in midnight blizzard! I see, I know!
Orbed bane striding through slush, spiritual beast
Rings of violet flaming as eyes, bare bleached brow
Hungry mouth of blue teeth, those sucked'out breasts
Naked ankles strapped on killing heels, such slut's taste
Beaked nose, clanging wrists, and hands bejewelled
Gaunt in black crepe, a satin-sashed grim cocktail dress
You! ponderable there so terribly tall
Is it you? So, it's you! "Hag, accuse, bless!"
Silent on she comes pointing that harpy's manicure
The car stalls Drunk Igiggle and retch "Blast!
O you! Hybrid! Roar, bitch! Make me-pure!"
He himself suffering and starved
He did not rain bread on me
In ignorance begat me
Cursed each way each way enslaved
Unborn my mother killed him
As my wife who loves me now
And I beget children now
In silence like his so damned
Denying not nor affirmed
Father such deaths as men live
In pain continue to live
Blood consumed secluded heart
Who fought joys calloused by love
Who thought forgiving true love
Forgive me my love you feared
And believe your ravaged breast
And forget our chains of hope
And reconcile without hope
And reside restless at peace
She sorrowed because she pleased
While spring gave no more than sons
Her terrors born at her breast
Lost pursuing her poor moons
She wanted no wish but love's
Betrayed by trusting that truth
His flesh hers now in us moves
Perfections unknown by both
She was strong without wisdom
Her sons would take light from God
Mirrors that folly lives in
Returning horrors for good
She fought hard but we broke her
For we proved human as stones
Her fouled thighs tremble in fear
And we shall preserve her ruins
She knew no bliss but pain's way
Though hate bonds too like love's vow
Love brings all strangers all joys
Neither love nor hate we know
Love here whatever love declares is love:
Life undressed like winter elms is dressed like life
Beauty preponderant yet masked by beauty
Design made glad and doomed and mad with design
Stones beneath snow, gray clouds above: beyond,
the flesh of stars is stone
Flesh bitter as the sea though kissed and bathed
by sweet flesh
Truth believed like death which lives betrayed by truth
Unknown the seeker, who finds nothing but what is
She, she names me: I come, I pray, I know, I name!
but is it she?