Edna St Vincent Millay |
Aye, but she?
Your other sister and my other soul
Grave Silence, lovelier
Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?
Clio, not you,
Not you, Calliope,
Nor all your wanton line,
Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me
For Silence once departed,
For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,
Whom evermore I follow wistfully,
Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;
Thalia, not you,
Not you, Melpomene,
Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore, I seek in this great hall,
But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.
I seek her from afar,
I come from temples where her altars are,
From groves that bear her name,
Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame,
And cymbals struck on high and strident faces
Obstreperous in her praise
They neither love nor know,
A goddess of gone days,
Departed long ago,
Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes
Of her old sanctuary,
A deity obscure and legendary,
Of whom there now remains,
For sages to decipher and priests to garble,
Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble,
Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases,
And the inarticulate snow,
Leaving at last of her least signs and traces
None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.
"She will love well," I said,
"If love be of that heart inhabiter,
The flowers of the dead;
The red anemone that with no sound
Moves in the wind, and from another wound
That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth,
That blossoms underground,
And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.
And will not Silence know
In the black shade of what obsidian steep
Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep?
(Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home,
Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago,
Reluctant even as she,
And even as she set out again to grow
In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).
She will love well," I said,
"The flowers of the dead;
Where dark Persephone the winter round,
Uncomforted for home, uncomforted,
Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily,
With sullen pupils focussed on a dream,
Stares on the stagnant stream
That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell,
There, there will she be found,
She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound.
"I long for Silence as they long for breath
Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea;
What thing can be
So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death
What fury, what considerable rage, if only she,
Upon whose icy breast,
One time I lay,
And whom always I lack,
Even to this day,
Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away,
If only she therewith be given me back?"
I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth,
Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell,
And in among the bloodless everywhere
I sought her, but the air,
Breathed many times and spent,
Was fretful with a whispering discontent,
And questioning me, importuning me to tell
Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more,
Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.
I paused at every grievous door,
And harked a moment, holding up my hand,—and for a space
A hush was on them, while they watched my face;
And then they fell a-whispering as before;
So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.
I sought her, too,
Among the upper gods, although I knew
She was not like to be where feasting is,
Nor near to Heaven's lord,
Being a thing abhorred
And shunned of him, although a child of his,
(Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath,
Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).
Fearing to pass unvisited some place
And later learn, too late, how all the while,
With her still face,
She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile,
I sought her even to the sagging board whereat
The stout immortals sat;
But such a laughter shook the mighty hall
No one could hear me say:
Had she been seen upon the Hill that day?
And no one knew at all
How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.
There is a garden lying in a lull
Between the mountains and the mountainous sea,
I know not where, but which a dream diurnal
Paints on my lids a moment till the hull
Be lifted from the kernel
And Slumber fed to me.
Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene,
Though it would seem a ruined place and after
Your lichenous heart, being full
Of broken columns, caryatides
Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees,
And urns funereal altered into dust
Minuter than the ashes of the dead,
And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust,
Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed
Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.
There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall,
And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds;
There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds;
But never an echo of your daughters' laughter
Is there, nor any sign of you at all
Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria!
Only her shadow once upon a stone
I saw,—and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.
I tell you you have done her body an ill,
You chatterers, you noisy crew!
She is not anywhere!
I sought her in deep Hell;
And through the world as well;
I thought of Heaven and I sought her there;
Above nor under ground
Is Silence to be found,
That was the very warp and woof of you,
Lovely before your songs began and after they were through!
Oh, say if on this hill
Somewhere your sister's body lies in death,
So I may follow there, and make a wreath
Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast
Shall lie till age has withered them!
(Ah, sweetly from the rest
Turn and consider me
"There is a gate beyond the gate of Death,
Beyond the gate of everlasting Life,
Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell," she saith,
"Whereon but to believe is horror!
Whereon to meditate engendereth
Even in deathless spirits such as I
A tumult in the breath,
A chilling of the inexhaustible blood
Even in my veins that never will be dry,
And in the austere, divine monotony
That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.
This is her province whom you lack and seek;
And seek her not elsewhere.
Hell is a thoroughfare
And he that loved Euridice too well,
Have walked therein; and many more than these;
And witnessed the desire and the despair
Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air;
You, too, have entered Hell,
And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak
None has returned;—for thither fury brings
Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.
Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there.
Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory!
Be long upon this height
I shall not climb again!
I know the way you mean,—the little night,
And the long empty day,—never to see
Again the angry light,
Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain!
Ah, but she,
Your other sister and my other soul,
She shall again be mine;
And I shall drink her from a silver bowl,
A chilly thin green wine,
Not bitter to the taste,
Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,—
To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth—
But savoring faintly of the acid earth,
And trod by pensive feet
From perfect clusters ripened without haste
Out of the urgent heat
In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine
Lift up your lyres! Sing on!
But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.
Billy Collins |
Remember the 1340's? We were doing a dance called the Catapult.
You always wore brown, the color craze of the decade,
and I was draped in one of those capes that were popular,
the ones with unicorns and pomegranates in needlework.
Everyone would pause for beer and onions in the afternoon,
and at night we would play a game called "Find the Cow.
Everything was hand-lettered then, not like today.
Where has the summer of 1572 gone? Brocade and sonnet
marathons were the rage.
We used to dress up in the flags
of rival baronies and conquer one another in cold rooms of stone.
Out on the dance floor we were all doing the Struggle
while your sister practiced the Daphne all alone in her room.
We borrowed the jargon of farriers for our slang.
These days language seems transparent a badly broken code.
The 1790's will never come again.
Childhood was big.
People would take walks to the very tops of hills
and write down what they saw in their journals without speaking.
Our collars were high and our hats were extremely soft.
We would surprise each other with alphabets made of twigs.
It was a wonderful time to be alive, or even dead.
I am very fond of the period between 1815 and 1821.
Europe trembled while we sat still for our portraits.
And I would love to return to 1901 if only for a moment,
time enough to wind up a music box and do a few dance steps,
or shoot me back to 1922 or 1941, or at least let me
recapture the serenity of last month when we picked
berries and glided through afternoons in a canoe.
Even this morning would be an improvement over the present.
I was in the garden then, surrounded by the hum of bees
and the Latin names of flowers, watching the early light
flash off the slanted windows of the greenhouse
and silver the limbs on the rows of dark hemlocks.
As usual, I was thinking about the moments of the past,
letting my memory rush over them like water
rushing over the stones on the bottom of a stream.
I was even thinking a little about the future, that place
where people are doing a dance we cannot imagine,
a dance whose name we can only guess.
Aleister Crowley |
" 10, 1911.
Full moon to-night; and six and twenty years
Since my full moon first broke from angel spheres!
A year of infinite love unwearying ---
No circling seasons, but perennial spring!
A year of triumph trampling through defeat,
The first made holy and the last made sweet
By this same love; a year of wealth and woe,
Joy, poverty, health, sickness --- all one glow
In the pure light that filled our firmament
Of supreme silence and unbarred extent,
Wherein one sacrament was ours, one Lord,
One resurrection, one recurrent chord,
One incarnation, one descending dove,
All these being one, and that one being Love!
You sent your spirit into tunes; my soul
Yearned in a thousand melodies to enscroll
Its happiness: I left no flower unplucked
That might have graced your garland.
Tragedy, comedy, farce, fable, song,
Each longing a little, each a little long,
But each aspiring only to express
Your excellence and my unworthiness ---
Nay! but my worthiness, since I was sense
And spirit too of that same excellence.
So thus we solved the earth's revolving riddle:
I could write verse, and you could play the fiddle,
While, as for love, the sun went through the signs,
And not a star but told him how love twines
A wreath for every decanate, degree,
Minute and second, linked eternally
In chains of flowers that never fading are,
Each one as sempiternal as a star.
Let me go back to your last birthday.
I was already your one man of men
Appointed to complete you, and fulfil
From everlasting the eternal will.
We lay within the flood of crimson light
In my own balcony that August night,
And conjuring the aright and the averse
Created yet another universe.
We worked together; dance and rite and spell
Arousing heaven and constraining hell.
We lived together; every hour of rest
Was honied from your tiger-lily breast.
We --- oh what lingering doubt or fear betrayed
My life to fate! --- we parted.
Was I afraid?
I was afraid, afraid to live my love,
Afraid you played the serpent, I the dove,
Afraid of what I know not.
I am glad
Of all the shame and wretchedness I had,
Since those six weeks have taught me not to doubt you,
And also that I cannot live without you.
Then I came back to you; black treasons rear
Their heads, blind hates, deaf agonies of fear,
Cruelty, cowardice, falsehood, broken pledges,
The temple soiled with senseless sacrileges,
Sickness and poverty, a thousand evils,
Concerted malice of a million devils; ---
You never swerved; your high-pooped galleon
Went marvellously, majestically on
Full-sailed, while every other braver bark
Drove on the rocks, or foundered in the dark.
Then Easter, and the days of all delight!
God's sun lit noontide and his moon midnight,
While above all, true centre of our world,
True source of light, our great love passion-pearled
Gave all its life and splendour to the sea
Above whose tides stood our stability.
Then sudden and fierce, no monitory moan,
Smote the mad mischief of the great cyclone.
How far below us all its fury rolled!
How vainly sulphur tries to tarnish gold!
We lived together: all its malice meant
Nothing but freedom of a continent!
It was the forest and the river that knew
The fact that one and one do not make two.
We worked, we walked, we slept, we were at ease,
We cried, we quarrelled; all the rocks and trees
For twenty miles could tell how lovers played,
And we could count a kiss for every glade.
Worry, starvation, illness and distress?
Each moment was a mine of happiness.
Then we grew tired of being country mice,
Came up to Paris, lived our sacrifice
There, giving holy berries to the moon,
July's thanksgiving for the joys of June.
And you are gone away --- and how shall I
Make August sing the raptures of July?
And you are gone away --- what evil star
Makes you so competent and popular?
How have I raised this harpy-hag of Hell's
Malice --- that you are wanted somewhere else?
I wish you were like me a man forbid,
Banned, outcast, nice society well rid
Of the pair of us --- then who would interfere
With us? --- my darling, you would now be here!
But no! we must fight on, win through, succeed,
Earn the grudged praise that never comes to meed,
Lash dogs to kennel, trample snakes, put bit
In the mule-mouths that have such need of it,
Until the world there's so much to forgive in
Becomes a little possible to live in.
God alone knows if battle or surrender
Be the true courage; either has its splendour.
But since we chose the first, God aid the right,
And damn me if I fail you in the fight!
God join again the ways that lie apart,
And bless the love of loyal heart to heart!
God keep us every hour in every thought,
And bring the vessel of our love to port!
These are my birthday wishes.
Dawn's at hand,
And you're an exile in a lonely land.
But what were magic if it could not give
My thought enough vitality to live?
Do not then dream this night has been a loss!
All night I have hung, a god, upon the cross;
All night I have offered incense at the shrine;
All night you have been unutterably mine,
Miner in the memory of the first wild hour
When my rough grasp tore the unwilling flower
From your closed garden, mine in every mood,
In every tense, in every attitude,
In every possibility, still mine
While the sun's pomp and pageant, sign to sign,
Stately proceeded, mine not only so
In the glamour of memory and austral glow
Of ardour, but by image of my brow
Stronger than sense, you are even here and now
Miner, utterly mine, my sister and my wife,
Mother of my children, mistress of my life!
O wild swan winging through the morning mist!
The thousand thousand kisses that we kissed,
The infinite device our love devised
If by some chance its truth might be surprised,
Are these all past? Are these to come? Believe me,
There is no parting; they can never leave me.
I have built you up into my heart and brain
So fast that we can never part again.
Why should I sing you these fantastic psalms
When all the time I have you in my arms?
Why? 'tis the murmur of our love that swells
Earth's dithyrambs and ocean's oracles.
But this is dawn; my soul shall make its nest
Where your sighs swing from rapture into rest
Love's thurible, your tiger-lily breast.
William Wordsworth |
Five years have passed; five summers, with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmur.
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
The day is come when I again repose
Here, under this dark sycamore, and view
These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
'Mid groves and copses.
Once again I see
These hedgerows, hardly hedgerows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild; these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!
With some uncertain notice, as might seem
Of vagrant dwellers in the houseless woods,
Or of some Hermit's cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.
These beauteous forms,
Through a long absence, have not been to me
As is a landscape to a blind man's eye;
But oft, in lonely rooms, and 'mid the din
Of towns and cities, I have owed to them,
In hours of weariness, sensations sweet,
Felt in the blood, and felt along the heart;
And passing even into my purer mind
With tranquil restoration—feelings too
Of unremembered pleasure; such, perhaps,
As have no slight or trivial influence
On that best portion of a good man's life,
His little, nameless, unremembered, acts
Of kindness and of love.
Nor less, I trust,
To them I may have owed another gift,
Of aspect more sublime; that blessed mood,
In which the burthen of the mystery,
In which the heavy and the weary weight
Of all this unintelligible world,
Is lightened—that serene and blessed mood,
In which the affections gently lead us on—
Until, the breath of this corporeal frame
And even the motion of our human blood
Almost suspended, we are laid asleep
In body, and become a living soul;
While with an eye made quiet by the power
Of harmony, and the deep power of joy,
We see into the life of things.
Be but a vain belief, yet, oh! how oft—
In darkness and amid the many shapes
Of joyless daylight; when the fretful stir
Unprofitable, and the fever of the world,
Have hung upon the beatings of my heart—
How oft, in spirit, have I turned to thee,
O sylvan Wye! thou wanderer through the woods,
How often has my spirit turned to thee!
And now, with gleams of half-extinguished thought,
With many recognitions dim and faint,
And somewhat of a sad perplexity,
The picture of the mind revives again;
While here I stand, not only with the sense
Of present pleasure, but with pleasing thoughts
That in this moment there is life and food
For future years.
And so I dare to hope,
Though changed, no doubt, from what I was when first
I came among these hills; when like a roe
I bounded o'er the mountains, by the sides
Of the deep rivers, and the lonely streams,
Wherever nature led—more like a man
Flying from something that he dreads than one
Who sought the thing he loved.
For nature then
(The coarser pleasures of my boyish days
And their glad animal movements all gone by)
To me was all in all.
—I cannot paint
What then I was.
The sounding cataract
Haunted me like a passion; the tall rock,
The mountain, and the deep and gloomy wood,
Their colors and their forms, were then to me
An appetite; a feeling and a love,
That had no need of a remoter charm,
By thought supplied, not any interest
Unborrowed from the eye.
—That time is past,
And all its aching joys are now no more,
And all its dizzy raptures.
Not for this
Faint I, nor mourn nor murmur; other gifts
Have followed; for such loss, I would believe,
For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.
And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.
Therefore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains; and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye, and ear—both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and the language of the sense
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.
If I were not thus taught, should I the more
Suffer my genial spirits to decay:
For thou art with me here upon the banks
Of this fair river; thou my dearest Friend,
My dear, dear Friend; and in thy voice I catch
The language of my former heart, and read
My former pleasures in the shooting lights
Of thy wild eyes.
Oh! yet a little while
May I behold in thee what I was once,
My dear, dear Sister! and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
Therefore let the moon
Shine on thee in thy solitary walk;
And let the misty mountain winds be free
To blow against thee: and, in after years,
When these wild ecstasies shall be matured
Into a sober pleasure; when thy mind
Shall be a mansion for all lovely forms,
Thy memory be as a dwelling place
For all sweet sounds and harmonies; oh! then,
If solitude, or fear, or pain, or grief,
Should be thy portion, with what healing thoughts
Of tender joy wilt thou remember me,
And these my exhortations! Nor, perchance—
If I should be where I no more can hear
Thy voice, nor catch from thy wild eyes these gleams
Of past existence—wilt thou then forget
That on the banks of this delightful stream
We stood together; and that I, so long
A worshipper of Nature, hither came
Unwearied in that service; rather say
With warmer love—oh! with far deeper zeal
Of holier love.
Nor wilt thou then forget,
That after many wanderings, many years
Of absence, these steep woods and lofty cliffs,
And this green pastoral landscape, were to me
More dear, both for themselves and for thy sake!
William Wordsworth |
A simple child, dear brother Jim,
That lightly draws its breath,
And feels its life in every limb,
What should it know of death?
I met a little cottage girl,
She was eight years old, she said;
Her hair was thick with many a curl
That cluster'd round her head.
She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair,
—Her beauty made me glad.
"Sisters and brothers, little maid,
How many may you be?"
"How many? seven in all," she said,
And wondering looked at me.
"And where are they, I pray you tell?"
She answered, "Seven are we,
And two of us at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea.
"Two of us in the church-yard lie,
My sister and my brother,
And in the church-yard cottage, I
Dwell near them with my mother.
"You say that two at Conway dwell,
And two are gone to sea,
Yet you are seven; I pray you tell
Sweet Maid, how this may be?"
Then did the little Maid reply,
"Seven boys and girls are we;
Two of us in the church-yard lie,
Beneath the church-yard tree.
"You run about, my little maid,
Your limbs they are alive;
If two are in the church-yard laid,
Then ye are only five.
"Their graves are green, they may be seen,"
The little Maid replied,
"Twelve steps or more from my mother's door,
And they are side by side.
"My stockings there I often knit,
My 'kerchief there I hem;
And there upon the ground I sit—
I sit and sing to them.
"And often after sunset, Sir,
When it is light and fair,
I take my little porringer,
And eat my supper there.
"The first that died was little Jane;
In bed she moaning lay,
Till God released her of her pain,
And then she went away.
"So in the church-yard she was laid,
And all the summer dry,
Together round her grave we played,
My brother John and I.
"And when the ground was white with snow,
And I could run and slide,
My brother John was forced to go,
And he lies by her side.
"How many are you then," said I,
"If they two are in Heaven?"
The little Maiden did reply,
"O Master! we are seven.
"But they are dead; those two are dead!
Their spirits are in heaven!"
'Twas throwing words away; for still
The little Maid would have her will,
And said, "Nay, we are seven!"
ANECDOTE for FATHERS,
Shewing how the practice of Lying may be taught.
I have a boy of five years old,
His face is fair and fresh to see;
His limbs are cast in beauty's mould,
And dearly he loves me.
One morn we stroll'd on our dry walk,
Our quiet house all full in view,
And held such intermitted talk
As we are wont to do.
My thoughts on former pleasures ran;
I thought of Kilve's delightful shore,
My pleasant home, when Spring began,
A long, long year before.
A day it was when I could bear
To think, and think, and think again;
With so much happiness to spare,
I could not feel a pain.
My boy was by my side, so slim
And graceful in his rustic dress!
And oftentimes I talked to him
In very idleness.
The young lambs ran a pretty race;
The morning sun shone bright and warm;
"Kilve," said I, "was a pleasant place,
And so is Liswyn farm.
"My little boy, which like you more,"
I said and took him by the arm—
"Our home by Kilve's delightful shore,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
"And tell me, had you rather be,"
I said and held-him by the arm,
"At Kilve's smooth shore by the green sea,
Or here at Liswyn farm?"
In careless mood he looked at me,
While still I held him by the arm,
And said, "At Kilve I'd rather be
Than here at Liswyn farm.
"Now, little Edward, say why so;
My little Edward, tell me why;"
"I cannot tell, I do not know.
"Why this is strange," said I.
"For, here are woods and green hills warm:
There surely must some reason be
Why you would change sweet Liswyn farm,
For Kilve by the green sea.
At this, my boy hung down his head,
He blush'd with shame, nor made reply;
And five times to the child I said,
"Why, Edward, tell me, why?"
His head he raised—there was in sight,
It caught his eye, he saw it plain—
Upon the house-top, glittering bright,
A broad and gilded vane.
Then did the boy his tongue unlock,
And thus to me he made reply;
"At Kilve there was no weather-cock,
And that's the reason why.
Oh dearest, dearest boy! my heart
For better lore would seldom yearn
Could I but teach the hundredth part
Of what from thee I learn.
Written at a small distance from my House, and sent by
my little boy to the person to whom they are addressed.
It is the first mild day of March:
Each minute sweeter than before,
The red-breast sings from the tall larch
That stands beside our door.
There is a blessing in the air,
Which seems a sense of joy to yield
To the bare trees, and mountains bare,
And grass in the green field.
My Sister! ('tis a wish of mine)
Now that our morning meal is done,
Make haste, your morning task resign;
Come forth and feel the sun.
Edward will come with you, and pray,
Put on with speed your woodland dress,
And bring no book, for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
No joyless forms shall regulate
Our living Calendar:
We from to-day, my friend, will date
The opening of the year.
Love, now an universal birth,
From heart to heart is stealing,
From earth to man, from man to earth,
—It is the hour of feeling.
One moment now may give us more
Than fifty years of reason;
Our minds shall drink at every pore
The spirit of the season.
Some silent laws our hearts may make,
Which they shall long obey;
We for the year to come may take
Our temper from to-day.
And from the blessed power that rolls
About, below, above;
We'll frame the measure of our souls,
They shall be tuned to love.
Then come, my sister I come, I pray,
With speed put on your woodland dress,
And bring no book; for this one day
We'll give to idleness.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge |
The Frost performs its secret ministry,
Unhelped by any wind.
The owlet's cry
Came loud---and hark, again! loud as before.
The inmates of my cottage, all at rest,
Have left me to that solitude, which suits
Abstruser musings: save that at my side
My cradled infant slumbers peacefully.
`Tis calm indeed! so calm, that it disturbs
And vexes meditation with its strange
And extreme silentness.
Sea, hill, and wood,
This populous village! Sea, and hill, and wood,
With all the numberless goings-on of life,
Inaudible as dreams! the thin blue flame
Lies on my low-burnt fire, and quivers not;
Only that film, which fluttered on the grate,
Still flutters there, the sole unquiet thing.
Methinks, its motion in this hush of nature
Gives it dim sympathies with me who live,
Making it a companionable form,
Whose puny flaps and freaks the idling Spirit
By its own moods interprets, every where
Echo or mirror seeking of itself,
And makes a toy of Thought.
But O! how oft,
How oft, at school, with most believing mind,
Presageful, have I gazed upon the bars,
To watch that fluttering stranger! and as oft
With unclosed lids, already had I dreamt
Of my sweet birth-place, and the old church-tower,
Whose bells, the poor man's only music, rang
>From morn to evening, all the hot Fair-day,
So sweetly, that they stirred and haunted me
With a wild pleasure, falling on mine ear
Most like articulate sounds of things to come!
So gazed I, till the soothing things, I dreamt,
Lulled me to sleep, and sleep prolonged my dreams!
And so I brooded all the following morn,
Awed by the stern preceptor's face, mine eye
Fixed with mock study on my swimming book:
Save if the door half opened, and I snatched
A hasty glance, and still my heart leaped up,
For still I hoped to see the stranger's face,
Townsman, or aunt, or sister more beloved,
My play-mate when we both were clothed alike!
Dear Babe, that sleepest cradled by my side,
Whose gentle breathings, heard in this deep calm,
Fill up the interspersed vacancies
And momentary pauses of the thought!
My babe so beautiful! it thrills my heart
With tender gladness, thus to look at thee,
And think that thou shall learn far other lore,
And in far other scenes! For I was reared
In the great city, pent 'mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.
Great universal Teacher! he shall mould
Thy spirit, and by giving make it ask.
Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.
Anne Sexton |
You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son's heart.
from diapers to Dior.
Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.
Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother's grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.
Next came the ball, as you all know.
It was a marriage market.
The prince was looking for a wife.
All but Cinderella were preparing
and gussying up for the event.
Cinderella begged to go too.
Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils
into the cinders and said: Pick them
up in an hour and you shall go.
The white dove brought all his friends;
all the warm wings of the fatherland came,
and picked up the lentils in a jiffy.
No, Cinderella, said the stepmother,
you have no clothes and cannot dance.
That's the way with stepmothers.
Cinderella went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince's ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went.
Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn't
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.
As nightfall came she thought she'd better
The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone.
Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They just don't heal up like a wish.
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.
At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.
Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
Allen Ginsberg |
When I die
I don't care what happens to my body
throw ashes in the air, scatter 'em in East River
bury an urn in Elizabeth New Jersey, B'nai Israel Cemetery
But l want a big funeral
Patrick's Cathedral, St.
Mark's Church, the largest synagogue in
First, there's family, brother, nephews, spry aged Edith stepmother
96, Aunt Honey from old Newark,
Doctor Joel, cousin Mindy, brother Gene one eyed one ear'd, sister-
in-law blonde Connie, five nephews, stepbrothers & sisters
companion Peter Orlovsky, caretakers Rosenthal & Hale, Bill Morgan--
Next, teacher Trungpa Vajracharya's ghost mind, Gelek Rinpoche,
there Sakyong Mipham, Dalai Lama alert, chance visiting
America, Satchitananda Swami
Shivananda, Dehorahava Baba, Karmapa XVI, Dudjom Rinpoche,
Katagiri & Suzuki Roshi's phantoms
Baker, Whalen, Daido Loorie, Qwong, Frail White-haired Kapleau
Roshis, Lama Tarchen --
Then, most important, lovers over half-century
Dozens, a hundred, more, older fellows bald & rich
young boys met naked recently in bed, crowds surprised to see each
other, innumerable, intimate, exchanging memories
"He taught me to meditate, now I'm an old veteran of the thousand
day retreat --"
"I played music on subway platforms, I'm straight but loved him he
"I felt more love from him at 19 than ever from anyone"
"We'd lie under covers gossip, read my poetry, hug & kiss belly to belly
arms round each other"
"I'd always get into his bed with underwear on & by morning my
skivvies would be on the floor"
"Japanese, always wanted take it up my bum with a master"
"We'd talk all night about Kerouac & Cassady sit Buddhalike then
sleep in his captain's bed.
"He seemed to need so much affection, a shame not to make him happy"
"I was lonely never in bed nude with anyone before, he was so gentle my
shuddered when he traced his finger along my abdomen nipple to hips-- "
"All I did was lay back eyes closed, he'd bring me to come with mouth
& fingers along my waist"
"He gave great head"
So there be gossip from loves of 1948, ghost of Neal Cassady commin-
gling with flesh and youthful blood of 1997
and surprise -- "You too? But I thought you were straight!"
"I am but Ginsberg an exception, for some reason he pleased me.
"I forgot whether I was straight gay queer or funny, was myself, tender
and affectionate to be kissed on the top of my head,
my forehead throat heart & solar plexus, mid-belly.
on my prick,
tickled with his tongue my behind"
"I loved the way he'd recite 'But at my back allways hear/ time's winged
chariot hurrying near,' heads together, eye to eye, on a
Among lovers one handsome youth straggling the rear
"I studied his poetry class, 17 year-old kid, ran some errands to his
seduced me didn't want to, made me come, went home, never saw him
again never wanted to.
"He couldn't get it up but loved me," "A clean old man.
" "He made
sure I came first"
This the crowd most surprised proud at ceremonial place of honor--
Then poets & musicians -- college boys' grunge bands -- age-old rock
star Beatles, faithful guitar accompanists, gay classical con-
ductors, unknown high Jazz music composers, funky trum-
peters, bowed bass & french horn black geniuses, folksinger
fiddlers with dobro tamborine harmonica mandolin auto-
harp pennywhistles & kazoos
Next, artist Italian romantic realists schooled in mystic 60's India,
Late fauve Tuscan painter-poets, Classic draftsman Massa-
chusets surreal jackanapes with continental wives, poverty
sketchbook gesso oil watercolor masters from American
Then highschool teachers, lonely Irish librarians, delicate biblio-
philes, sex liberation troops nay armies, ladies of either sex
"I met him dozens of times he never remembered my name I loved
him anyway, true artist"
"Nervous breakdown after menopause, his poetry humor saved me
from suicide hospitals"
"Charmant, genius with modest manners, washed sink, dishes my
studio guest a week in Budapest"
Thousands of readers, "Howl changed my life in Libertyville Illinois"
"I saw him read Montclair State Teachers College decided be a poet-- "
"He turned me on, I started with garage rock sang my songs in Kansas
"Kaddish made me weep for myself & father alive in Nevada City"
"Father Death comforted me when my sister died Boston l982"
"I read what he said in a newsmagazine, blew my mind, realized
others like me out there"
Deaf & Dumb bards with hand signing quick brilliant gestures
Then Journalists, editors's secretaries, agents, portraitists & photo-
graphy aficionados, rock critics, cultured laborors, cultural
historians come to witness the historic funeral
Super-fans, poetasters, aging Beatnicks & Deadheads, autograph-
hunters, distinguished paparazzi, intelligent gawkers
Everyone knew they were part of 'History" except the deceased
who never knew exactly what was happening even when I was alive
February 22, 1997
Cornelius Eady |
Some folks will tell you the blues is a woman,
Some type of supernatural creature.
My mother would tell you, if she could,
About her life with my father,
A strange and sometimes cruel gentleman.
She would tell you about the choices
A young black woman faces.
Is falling in love with some man
A deal with the devil
In blue terms, the tongue we use
When we don't want nuance
To get in the way,
When we need to talk straight.
My mother chooses my father
After choosing a man
Who was, as we sing it,
Of no account.
This man made my father look good,
That's how bad it was.
He made my father seem like an island
In the middle of a stormy sea,
He made my father look like a rock.
And is the blues the moment you realize
You exist in a stacked deck,
You look in a mirror at your young face,
The face my sister carries,
And you know it's the only leverage
Does this create a hurt that whispers
How you going to do?
Is the blues the moment
You shrug your shoulders
And agree, a girl without money
Is nothing, dust
To be pushed around by any old breeze.
Compared to this,
My father seems, briefly,
To be a fire escape.
This is the way the blues works
Its sorry wonders,
Makes trouble look like
A feather bed,
Makes the wrong man's kisses
Jack Prelutsky |
it came today to visit
and moved into the house
it was smaller than an elephant
but larger than a mouse
first it slapped my sister
then it kicked my dad
then it pushed my mother
oh! that really made me mad
it went and tickled rover
and terrified the cat
it sliced apart my necktie
and rudely crushed my hat
it smeared my head with honey
and filled the tub with rocks
and when i yelled in anger
it stole my shoes and socks
that's just the way it happened
it happened all today
before it bowed politely
and softly went away
Sidney Lanier |
A pale enchanted moon is sinking low
Behind the dunes that fringe the shadowy lea,
And there is haunted starlight on the flow
Of immemorial sea.
I am alone and need no more pretend
Laughter or smile to hide a hungry heart;
I walk with solitude as with a friend
Enfolded and apart.
We tread an eerie road across the moor
Where shadows weave upon their ghostly looms,
And winds sing an old lyric that might lure
Sad queens from ancient tombs.
I am a sister to the loveliness
Of cool far hill and long-remembered shore,
Finding in it a sweet forgetfulness
Of all that hurt before.
The world of day, its bitterness and cark,
No longer have the power to make me weep;
I welcome this communion of the dark
As toilers welcome sleep.
Adrienne Rich |
Something spreading underground won't speak to us
under skin won't declare itself
not all life-forms want dialogue with the
machine-gods in their drama hogging down
the deep bush clear-cutting refugees
from ancient or transient villages into
our opportunistic fervor to search
crazily for a host a lifeboat
Suddenly instead of art we're eyeing
organisms traced and stained on cathedral transparencies
cruel blues embroidered purples succinct yellows
a beautiful tumor
I guess you're not alone I fear you're alone
There's, of course, poetry:
awful bridge rising over naked air: I first
took it as just a continuation of the road:
"a masterpiece of engineering
" then on the radio:
"incline too steep for ease of, etc.
Drove it nonetheless because I had to
this being how— So this is how
I find you: alive and more
As if (how many conditionals must we suffer?)
I'm driving to your side
—an intimate collusion—
packed in the trunk my bag of foils for fencing with pain
glasses of varying spectrum for sun or fog or sun-struck
rain or bitterest night my sack of hidden
poetries, old glue shredding from their spines
my time exposure of the Leonids
over Joshua Tree
As if we're going to win this O because
If you have a sister I am not she
nor your mother nor you my daughter
nor are we lovers or any kind of couple
except in the intensive care
of poetry and
death's master plan architecture-in-progress
draft elevations of a black-and-white mosaic dome
the master left on your doorstep
with a white card in black calligraphy:
Make what you will of this
As if leaving purple roses
If (how many conditionals must we suffer?)
I tell you a letter from the master
is lying on my own doorstep
glued there with leaves and rain
and I haven't bent to it yet
if I tell you I surmise
he writes differently to me:
Do as you will, you have had your life
many have not
signing it in his olden script:
Meister aus Deutschland
In coldest Europe end of that war
frozen domes iron railings frozen stoves lit in the
memory banks of cold
the Nike of Samothrace
on a staircase wings in blazing
backdraft said to me
: : to everyone she met
Displaced, amputated never discount me
indented in disaster striding
at the head of stairs
for Tory Dent
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe |
[First published in Schiller's Horen, in connection
friendly contest in the art of ballad-writing between the two
great poets, to which many of their finest works are owing.
ONCE a stranger youth to Corinth came,
Who in Athens lived, but hoped that he
From a certain townsman there might claim,
As his father's friend, kind courtesy.
Son and daughter, they
Had been wont to say
Should thereafter bride and bridegroom be.
But can he that boon so highly prized,
Save tis dearly bought, now hope to get?
They are Christians and have been baptized,
He and all of his are heathens yet.
For a newborn creed,
Like some loathsome weed,
Love and truth to root out oft will threat.
Father, daughter, all had gone to rest,
And the mother only watches late;
She receives with courtesy the guest,
And conducts him to the room of state.
Wine and food are brought,
Ere by him besought;
Bidding him good night.
she leaves him straight.
But he feels no relish now, in truth,
For the dainties so profusely spread;
Meat and drink forgets the wearied youth,
And, still dress'd, he lays him on the bed.
Scarce are closed his eyes,
When a form in-hies
Through the open door with silent tread.
By his glimmering lamp discerns he now
How, in veil and garment white array'd,
With a black and gold band round her brow,
Glides into the room a bashful maid.
But she, at his sight,
Lifts her hand so white,
And appears as though full sore afraid.
"Am I," cries she, "such a stranger here,
That the guest's approach they could not name?
Ah, they keep me in my cloister drear,
Well nigh feel I vanquish'd by my shame.
On thy soft couch now
Slumber calmly thou!
I'll return as swiftly as I came.
"Stay, thou fairest maiden!" cries the boy,
Starting from his couch with eager haste:
"Here are Ceres', Bacchus' gifts of joy;
Amor bringest thou, with beauty grac'd!
Thou art pale with fear!
Loved one let us here
Prove the raptures the Immortals taste.
"Draw not nigh, O Youth! afar remain!
Rapture now can never smile on me;
For the fatal step, alas! is ta'en,
Through my mother's sick-bed phantasy.
Cured, she made this oath:
'Youth and nature both
Shall henceforth to Heav'n devoted be.
"From the house, so silent now, are driven
All the gods who reign'd supreme of yore;
One Invisible now rules in heaven,
On the cross a Saviour they adore.
Victims slay they here,
Neither lamb nor steer,
But the altars reek with human gore.
And he lists, and ev'ry word he weighs,
While his eager soul drinks in each sound:
"Can it be that now before my gaze
Stands my loved one on this silent ground?
Pledge to me thy troth!
Through our father's oath:
With Heav'ns blessing will our love be crown'd.
"Kindly youth, I never can be thine!
'Tis my sister they intend for thee.
When I in the silent cloister pine,
Ah, within her arms remember me!
Thee alone I love,
While love's pangs I prove;
Soon the earth will veil my misery.
"No! for by this glowing flame I swear,
Hymen hath himself propitious shown:
Let us to my fathers house repair,
And thoult find that joy is not yet flown,
Sweetest, here then stay,
And without delay
Hold we now our wedding feast alone!"
Then exchange they tokens of their truth;
She gives him a golden chain to wear,
And a silver chalice would the youth
Give her in return of beauty rare.
"That is not for me;
Yet I beg of thee,
One lock only give me of thy hair.
Now the ghostly hour of midnight knell'd,
And she seem'd right joyous at the sign;
To her pallid lips the cup she held,
But she drank of nought but blood-red wine.
For to taste the bread
There before them spread,
Nought he spoke could make the maid incline.
To the youth the goblet then she brought,--
He too quaff'd with eager joy the bowl.
Love to crown the silent feast he sought,
Ah! full love-sick was the stripling's soul.
From his prayer she shrinks,
Till at length he sinks
On the bed and weeps without control.
And she comes, and lays her near the boy:
"How I grieve to see thee sorrowing so!
If thou think'st to clasp my form with joy,
Thou must learn this secret sad to know;
Yes! the maid, whom thou
Call'st thy loved one now,
Is as cold as ice, though white as snow.
Then he clasps her madly in his arm,
While love's youthful might pervades his frame:
"Thou might'st hope, when with me, to grow warm,
E'en if from the grave thy spirit came!
Breath for breath, and kiss!
Overflow of bliss!
Dost not thou, like me, feel passion's flame?"
Love still closer rivets now their lips,
Tears they mingle with their rapture blest,
From his mouth the flame she wildly sips,
Each is with the other's thought possess'd.
His hot ardour's flood
Warms her chilly blood,
But no heart is beating in her breast.
In her care to see that nought went wrong,
Now the mother happen'd to draw near;
At the door long hearkens she, full long,
Wond'ring at the sounds that greet her ear.
Tones of joy and sadness,
And love's blissful madness,
As of bride and bridegroom they appear,
From the door she will not now remove
'Till she gains full certainty of this;
And with anger hears she vows of love,
Soft caressing words of mutual bliss.
"Hush! the cock's loud strain!
But thoult come again,
When the night returns!"--then kiss on kiss.
Then her wrath the mother cannot hold,
But unfastens straight the lock with ease
"In this house are girls become so bold,
As to seek e'en strangers' lusts to please?"
By her lamp's clear glow
Looks she in,--and oh!
Sight of horror!--'tis her child she sees.
Fain the youth would, in his first alarm,
With the veil that o'er her had been spread,
With the carpet, shield his love from harm;
But she casts them from her, void of dread,
And with spirit's strength,
In its spectre length,
Lifts her figure slowly from the bed.
"Mother! mother!"--Thus her wan lips say:
"May not I one night of rapture share?
From the warm couch am I chased away?
Do I waken only to despair?
It contents not thee
To have driven me
An untimely shroud of death to wear?
"But from out my coffin's prison-bounds
By a wond'rous fate I'm forced to rove,
While the blessings and the chaunting sounds
That your priests delight in, useless prove.
Water, salt, are vain
Fervent youth to chain,
Ah, e'en Earth can never cool down love!
"When that infant vow of love was spoken,
Venus' radiant temple smiled on both.
Mother! thou that promise since hast broken,
Fetter'd by a strange, deceitful oath.
Gods, though, hearken ne'er,
Should a mother swear
To deny her daughter's plighted troth.
From my grave to wander I am forc'd,
Still to seek The Good's long-sever'd link,
Still to love the bridegroom I have lost,
And the life-blood of his heart to drink;
When his race is run,
I must hasten on,
And the young must 'neath my vengeance sink,
"Beauteous youth! no longer mayst thou live;
Here must shrivel up thy form so fair;
Did not I to thee a token give,
Taking in return this lock of hair?
View it to thy sorrow!
Grey thoult be to-morrow,
Only to grow brown again when there.
"Mother, to this final prayer give ear!
Let a funeral pile be straightway dress'd;
Open then my cell so sad and drear,
That the flames may give the lovers rest!
When ascends the fire
From the glowing pyre,
To the gods of old we'll hasten, blest.
Vachel Lindsay |
DEDICATED TO LUCY BATES
(Being a reminiscence of certain private theatricals.
Oh, cabaret dancer, I know a dancer,
Whose eyes have not looked on the feasts that are vain.
I know a dancer, I know a dancer,
Whose soul has no bond with the beasts of the plain:
Judith the dancer, Judith the dancer,
With foot like the snow, and with step like the rain.
Oh, thrice-painted dancer, vaudeville dancer,
Sad in your spangles, with soul all astrain,
I know a dancer, I know a dancer,
Whose laughter and weeping are spiritual gain,
A pure-hearted, high-hearted maiden evangel,
With strength the dark cynical earth to disdain.
Flowers of bright Broadway, you of the chorus,
Who sing in the hope of forgetting your pain:
I turn to a sister of Sainted Cecilia,
A white bird escaping the earth's tangled skein:—
The music of God is her innermost brooding,
The whispering angels her footsteps sustain.
Oh, proud Russian dancer: praise for your dancing.
No clean human passion my rhyme would arraign.
You dance for Apollo with noble devotion,
A high cleansing revel to make the heart sane.
But Judith the dancer prays to a spirit
More white than Apollo and all of his train.
I know a dancer who finds the true Godhead,
Who bends o'er a brazier in Heaven's clear plain.
I know a dancer, I know a dancer,
Who lifts us toward peace, from this earth that is vain:
Judith the dancer, Judith the dancer,
With foot like the snow, and with step like the rain.
Charles Simic |
A New Version: 1980
What is that little black thing I see there
in the white?
Out of poverty
To begin again:
With the color of the bride
And that of blindness,
Touch what I can
Of the quick,
Speak and then wait,
As if this light
Will continue to linger
On the threshold.
All that is near,
I no longer give it a name.
Once a stone hard of hearing,
Once sharpened into a knife.
Now only a chill
Enough glow to kneel by and ask
To be tied to its tail
When it goes marrying
Its cousins, the stars.
Is it a cloud?
If it's a cloud it will move on.
The true shape of this thought,
Something seeks someone,
It bears him a gift
Of himself, a bit
Of snow to taste,
Glimpse of his own nakedness
By which to imagine the face.
On a late afternoon of snow
In a dim badly-aired grocery,
Where a door has just rung
With a short, shrill echo,
A little boy hands the old,
Bending low over the counter,
A shiny nickel for a cupcake.
Now only that shine, now
Only that lull abides.
That your gaze
Of my first hopeless insomnia.
Kind nurse, show me
The place of salves.
Teach me the song
That makes a man rise
His glass at dusk
Until a star dances in it.
Who are you? Are you anybody
A moonrock would recognize?
There are words I need.
They are not near men.
I went searching.
Is this a deathmarch?
You bend me, bend me,
Oh toward what flower!
Noose big for us all.
As strange as a shepherd
In the Arctic Circle.
Someone like Bo-peep.
All his sheep are white
And he can't get any sleep
Over lost sheep.
And he's got a flute
Which says Bo-peep,
Which says Poor boy,
Take care of your snow-sheep.
Then all's well and white,
And no more than white.
Indiana with one bare tree.
Michigan a storm-cloud.
Wisconsin empty of men.
There's a trap on the ice
Laid there centuries ago.
The bait is still fresh.
The metal glitters as the night descends.
Woe, woe, it sings from the bough.
Our Lady, etc.
You had me hoodwinked.
I see your brand new claws.
Praying, what do I betray
By desiring your purity?
There are old men and women,
All bandaged up, waiting
At the spiked, wrought-iron gate
Of the Great Eye and Ear Infirmery.
We haven't gone far.
Fear lives there too.
Five ears of my fingertips
Against the white page.
What do you hear?
We hear holy nothing
It touched you once, twice,
And tore like a stitch
Out of a new wound.
What are you up to son of a gun?
I roast on my heart's dark side.
What do you use as a skewer sweetheart?
I use my own crooked backbone.
What do you salt yourself with loverboy?
I grind the words out of my spittle.
And how will you know when you're done chump?
When the half-moons on my fingernails set.
With what knife will you carve yourself smartass?
The one I hide in my tongue's black boot.
Well, you can't call me a wrestler
If my own dead weight has me pinned down.
Well, you can't call me a cook
If the pot's got me under its cover.
Well, you can't call me a king
if the flies hang their hats in my mouth.
Well, you can't call me smart,
When the rain's falling my cup's in the cupboard.
Nor can you call me a saint,
If I didn't err, there wouldn't be these smudges.
One has to manage as best as one can.
The poppies ate the sunset for supper.
One has to manage as best as one can.
Who stole my blue thread, the one
I tied around my pinky to remember?
One has to manage as best as one can.
The flea I was standing on, jumped.
One has to manage as best as one can.
I think my head went out for a walk.
One has to manage as best as one can.
This is breath, only breath,
Think it over midnight!
A fly weighs twice as much.
The struck match nods as it passes,
But when I shout,
Its true name sticks in my throat.
It has to be cold
So the breath turns white,
And then mother, who's fast enough
To write his life on it?
A song in prison
And for prisoners,
Made of what the condemned
Have hidden from the jailers.
White--let me step aside
So that the future may see you,
For when this sheet is blown away,
What else is left
But to set the food on the table,
To cut oneself a slice of bread?
In an unknown year
Of an algebraic century,
An obscure widow
Wrapped in the colors of widowhood,
Met a true-blue orphan
On an indeterminate street-corner.
She offered him
A tiny sugar cube
In the hand so wizened
All the lines said: fate.
Do you take this line
Stretching to infinity?
I take this chipped tooth
On which to cut it in half.
Do you take this circle
Bounded by a single curved line?
I take this breath
That it cannot capture.
Then you may kiss the spot
Where her bridal train last rustled.
Winter can come now,
The earth narrow to a ditch--
And the sky with its castles and stone lions
Above the empty plains.
The snow can fall.
What other perennials would you plant,
My prodigals, my explorers
Tossing and turning in the dark
For those remote, finely honed bees,
The December stars?
Had to get through me elsewhere.
Woe to bone
That stood in their way.
Woe to each morsel of flesh.
In a white anthill.
The rustle of their many feet
This is the last summoning.
Solitude--as in the beginning.
A zero burped by a bigger zero--
It's an awful licking I got.
And fear--that dead letter office.
And doubt--that Chinese shadow play.
Does anyone still say a prayer
Before going to bed?
No one knows its weight.
What The White Had To Say
For how could anything white be distinct
from or divided from whiteness?
Because I am the bullet
That has gone through everyone already,
I thought of you long before you thought of me.
Each one of you still keeps a blood-stained handkerchief
In which to swaddle me, but it stays empty
And even the wind won't remain in it long.
Cleverly you've invented name after name for me,
Mixed the riddles, garbled the proverbs,
Shook you loaded dice in a tin cup,
But I do not answer back even to your curses,
For I am nearer to you than your breath.
One sun shines on us both through a crack in the roof.
A spoon brings me through the window at dawn.
A plate shows me off to the four walls
While with my tail I swing at the flies.
But there's no tail and the flies are your thoughts.
Steadily, patiently I life your arms.
I arrange them in the posture of someone drowning,
And yet the sea in which you are sinking,
And even this night above it, is myself.
Because I am the bullet
That has baptized each one of your senses,
Poems are made of our lusty wedding nights.
The joy of words as they are written.
The ear that got up at four in the morning
To hear the grass grow inside a word.
Still, the most beautiful riddle has no answer.
I am the emptiness that tucks you in like a
The fingernail that scratched on your sleep's
Take a letter: From cloud to onion.
Say: There was never any real choice.
One gaunt shadowy mother wiped our asses,
The same old orphanage taught us loneliness.
Street-organ full of blue notes,
I am the monkey dancing to your grinding--
And still you are afraid-and so,
It's as if we had not budged from the beginning.
We are falling head over heels
At the speed of night.
That milk tooth
You left under the pillow, it's grinning.
This currently out-of-print edition:
Copyright ©1980 Logbridge-Rhodes, Inc.
An earlier version of White was first published
by New Rivers Press in 1972.