Robert Pinsky | |
Dire one and desired one,
In an old allegory you would carry
A chained alphabet of tokens:
Ankh Badge Cross.
Engraved figure guarding a hallowed intaglio,
Jasper kinema of legendary Mind,
Naked omphalos pierced
By quills of rhyme or sense, torah-like: unborn
Vein of will, xenophile
Yearning out of Zero.
Untrusting I court you.
I seek your face, I read
That Crusoe's knife
Reeked of you, that to defile you
The soldier makes the rabbi spit on the torah.
"I'll drown my book" says Shakespeare.
Drowned walker, revenant.
After my mother fell on her head, she became
More than ever your sworn enemy.
Sometimes like a poet or critic of forty years later.
Or she spoke of the world as Thersites spoke of the heroes,
"I think they have swallowed one another.
Would laugh at that miracle.
You also in the laughter, warrior angel:
Your helmet the zodiac, rocket-plumed
Your spear the beggar's finger pointing to the mouth
Your heel planted on the serpent Formulation
Your face a vapor, the wreath of cigarette smoke crowning
Bogart as he winces through it.
You not in the words, not even
Between the words, but a torsion,
A cleavage, a stirring.
You stirring even in the arctic ice,
Even at the dark ocean floor, even
In the cellular flesh of a stone.
My poker friends
Question your presence
In a poem by me, passing the magazine
One to another.
Not the stone and not the words, you
Like a veil over Arthur's headstone,
The passage from Proverbs he chose
While he was too ill to teach
And still well enough to read, I was
Beside the master craftsman
Delighting him day after day, ever
At play in his presence--you
A soothing veil of distraction playing over
Dying Arthur playing in the hospital,
Thumbing the Bible, fuzzy from medication,
Ever courting your presence,
And you the prognosis,
You in the cough.
Gesturer, when is your spur, your cloud?
You in the airport rituals of greeting and parting.
Indicter, who is your claimant?
Bell at the gate.
Spiderweb iron bridge.
Cloak, video, aroma, rue, what is your
Elected silence, where was your seed?
What is Imagination
But your lost child born to give birth to you?
Or presence ever at play:
Let those scorn you who never
Starved in your dearth.
Dare to disparage
Your harp of shadows I taste
Wormwood and motor oil, I pour
Ashes on my head.
You are the wound.
Be the medicine.
Robert Pinsky | |
Not a "window on the world"
But as we call you,
A box a tube
Terrarium of dreams and wonders.
Coffer of shades, ordained
Cotillion of phosphors
Or liquid crystal
Homey miracle, tub
Of acquiescence, vein of defiance.
Your patron in the pantheon would be Hermes
Quick one, little thief, escort
Of the dying and comfort of the sick,
In a blue glow my father and little sister sat
Snuggled in one chair watching you
Their wife and mother was sick in the head
I scorned you and them as I scorned so much
Now I like you best in a hotel room,
Before I have to face an audience: behind
The doors of the armoire, box
Within a box--Tom & Jerry, or also brilliant
And reassuring, Oprah Winfrey.
Thank you, for I watched, I watched
Sid Caesar speaking French and Japanese not
Through knowledge but imagination,
His quickness, and Thank You, I watched live
Jackie Robinson stealing
Home, the image--O strung shell--enduring
Fleeter than light like these words we
Remember in, they too winged
At the helmet and ankles.
Robert Pinsky | |
The back, the yoke, the yardage.
The nearly invisible stitches along the collar
Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians
Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break
Or talking money or politics while one fitted
This armpiece with its overseam to the band
Of cuff I button at my wrist.
The presser, the cutter,
The wringer, the mangle.
The needle, the union,
The treadle, the bobbin.
The infamous blaze
At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven.
One hundred and forty-six died in the flames
On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes--
The witness in a building across the street
Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step
Up to the windowsill, then held her out
Away from the masonry wall and let her drop.
And then another.
As if he were helping them up
To enter a streetcar, and not eternity.
A third before he dropped her put her arms
Around his neck and kissed him.
Then he held
Her into space, and dropped her.
Almost at once
He stepped up to the sill himself, his jacket flared
And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down,
Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers--
Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning.
Wonderful how the patern matches perfectly
Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked
Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme
Or a major chord.
Prints, plaids, checks,
Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras.
The clan tartans
Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian,
To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed
By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor,
The kilt, devised for workers
to wear among the dusty clattering looms.
Weavers, carders, spinners.
The docker, the navvy.
The planter, the picker, the sorter
Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton
As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields:
George Herbert, your descendant is a Black
Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma
And she inspected my shirt.
Its color and fit
And feel and its clean smell have satisfied
both her and me.
We have culled its cost and quality
Down to the buttons of simulated bone,
The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters
Printed in black on neckband and tail.
The label, the labor, the color, the shade.
More great poems below...
Robert Pinsky | |
Some of us believe
We would have conceived romantic
Love out of our own passions
With no precedents,
Without songs and poetry--
Or have invented poetry and music
As a comb of cells for the honey.
Shaped by ignorance,
A succession of new worlds,
Congruities improvised by
Immigrants or children.
I once thought most people were Italian,
Jewish or Colored.
To be white and called
Something like Ed Ford
A rare distinction.
Possibly I believed only gentiles
And blonds could be left-handed.
After one year in the majors,
Whitey Ford was drafted by the Army
To play ball in the flannels
Of the Signal Corps, stationed
In Long Branch, New Jersey.
A night game, the silver potion
Of the lights, his pink skin
Shining like a burn.
Never a player
I liked or hated: a Yankee,
A mere success.
But white the chalked-off lines
In the grass, white and green
The immaculate uniform,
And white the unpigmented
Halo of his hair
When he shifted his cap:
So ordinary and distinct,
So close up, that I felt
As if I could have made him up,
Imagined him as I imagined
The ball, a scintilla
High in the black backdrop
Of the sky.
Tight red stitches.
Horsehide white: the color
Color of the past
And of the future, of the movie screen
At rest and of blank paper.
"I could have.
" The mind.
Backdrop, the white
Fly picked out by the towering
A few years later
On a blanket in the grass
By the same river
A girl and I came into
To the faint muttering
Troubadours and radios.
Theater, the night.
I devised a left-hander
Even more gifted
Than Whitey Ford: A Dodger.
People were amazed by him.
Once, when he was young,
He refused to pitch on Yom Kippur.
Robert Pinsky | |
A monosyllabic European called Sax
Invents a horn, walla whirledy wah, a kind of twisted
Brazen clarinet, but with its column of vibrating
Air shaped not in a cylinder but in a cone
Widening ever outward and bawaah spouting
Infinitely upward through an upturned
Swollen golden bell rimmed
Like a gloxinia flowering
In Sax's Belgian imagination
And in the unfathomable matrix
Of mothers and fathers as a genius graven
Humming into the cells of the body
Or cupped in the resonating grail
Of memory changed and exchanged
As in the trading of brasses,
Pearls and ivory, calicos and slaves,
Laborers and girls, two
Cousins in a royal family
Of Niger known as the Birds or Hawks.
In Christendom one cousin's child
Becomes a "favorite negro" ennobled
By decree of the Czar and founds
A great family, a line of generals,
Dandies and courtiers including the poet
Pushkin, killed in a duel concerning
His wife's honor, while the other cousin sails
In the belly of a slaveship to the port
Of Baltimore where she is raped
And dies in childbirth, but the infant
Will marry a Seminole and in the next
Chorus of time their child fathers
A great Hawk or Bird, with many followers
Among them this great-grandchild of the Jewish
Manager of a Pushkin estate, blowing
His American breath out into the wiggly
Tune uncurling its triplets and sixteenths--the Ginza
Samba of breath and brass, the reed
Vibrating as a valve, the aether, the unimaginable
Wires and circuits of an ingenious box
Here in my room in this house built
A hundred years ago while I was elsewhere:
It is like falling in love, the atavistic
Imperative of some one
Voice or face--the skill, the copper filament,
The golden bellful of notes twirling through
Their invisible element from
Rio to Tokyo and back again gathering
Speed in the variations as they tunnel
The twin haunted labyrinths of stirrup
And anvil echoing here in the hearkening
Instrument of my skull.