Ben Jonson |
Consider this small dust here running in the glass,
By atoms moved;
Could you believe that this the body was
Of one that loved?
And in his mistress' flame, playing like a fly,
Turned to cinders by her eye:
Yes; and in death, as life, unblessed,
To have it expressed,
Even ashes of lovers find no rest.
Raymond Carver |
Fear of seeing a police car pull into the drive.
Fear of falling asleep at night.
Fear of not falling asleep.
Fear of the past rising up.
Fear of the present taking flight.
Fear of the telephone that rings in the dead of night.
Fear of electrical storms.
Fear of the cleaning woman who has a spot on her cheek!
Fear of dogs I've been told won't bite.
Fear of anxiety!
Fear of having to identify the body of a dead friend.
Fear of running out of money.
Fear of having too much, though people will not believe this.
Fear of psychological profiles.
Fear of being late and fear of arriving before anyone else.
Fear of my children's handwriting on envelopes.
Fear they'll die before I do, and I'll feel guilty.
Fear of having to live with my mother in her old age, and mine.
Fear of confusion.
Fear this day will end on an unhappy note.
Fear of waking up to find you gone.
Fear of not loving and fear of not loving enough.
Fear that what I love will prove lethal to those I love.
Fear of death.
Fear of living too long.
Fear of death.
I've said that.
Richard Aldington |
the misery, the wretchedness of childhood
Put me out of love with God.
I can't believe in God's goodness;
I can believe
In many avenging gods.
Most of all I believe
In gods of bitter dullness,
Cruel local gods
Who scared my childhood.
I've seen people put
A chrysalis in a match-box,
"To see," they told me, "what sort of moth would come.
But when it broke its shell
It slipped and stumbled and fell about its prison
And tried to climb to the light
For space to dry its wings.
That's how I was.
Somebody found my chrysalis
And shut it in a match-box.
My shrivelled wings were beaten,
Shed their colours in dusty scales
Before the box was opened
For the moth to fly.
I hate that town;
I hate the town I lived in when I was little;
I hate to think of it.
There wre always clouds, smoke, rain
In that dingly little valley.
It rained; it always rained.
I think I never saw the sun until I was nine --
And then it was too late;
Everything's too late after the first seven years.
The long street we lived in
Was duller than a drain
And nearly as dingy.
There were the big College
And the pseudo-Gothic town-hall.
There were the sordid provincial shops --
The grocer's, and the shops for women,
The shop where I bought transfers,
And the piano and gramaphone shop
Where I used to stand
Staring at the huge shiny pianos and at the pictures
Of a white dog looking into a gramaphone.
How dull and greasy and grey and sordid it was!
On wet days -- it was always wet --
I used to kneel on a chair
And look at it from the window.
The dirty yellow trams
Dragged noisily along
With a clatter of wheels and bells
And a humming of wires overhead.
They threw up the filthy rain-water from the hollow lines
And then the water ran back
Full of brownish foam bubbles.
There was nothing else to see --
It was all so dull --
Except a few grey legs under shiny black umbrellas
Running along the grey shiny pavements;
Sometimes there was a waggon
Whose horses made a strange loud hollow sound
With their hoofs
Through the silent rain.
And there was a grey museum
Full of dead birds and dead insects and dead animals
And a few relics of the Romans -- dead also.
There was a sea-front,
A long asphalt walk with a bleak road beside it,
Three piers, a row of houses,
And a salt dirty smell from the little harbour.
I was like a moth --
Like one of those grey Emperor moths
Which flutter through the vines at Capri.
And that damned little town was my match-box,
Against whose sides I beat and beat
Until my wings were torn and faded, and dingy
As that damned little town.
At school it was just as dull as that dull High Street.
The front was dull;
The High Street and the other street were dull --
And there was a public park, I remember,
And that was damned dull, too,
With its beds of geraniums no one was allowed to pick,
And its clipped lawns you weren't allowed to walk on,
And the gold-fish pond you mustn't paddle in,
And the gate made out of a whale's jaw-bones,
And the swings, which were for "Board-School children,"
And its gravel paths.
And on Sundays they rang the bells,
From Baptist and Evangelical and Catholic churches.
They had a Salvation Army.
I was taken to a High Church;
The parson's name was Mowbray,
"Which is a good name but he thinks too much of it --"
That's what I heard people say.
I took a little black book
To that cold, grey, damp, smelling church,
And I had to sit on a hard bench,
Wriggle off it to kneel down when they sang psalms
And wriggle off it to kneel down when they prayed,
And then there was nothing to do
Except to play trains with the hymn-books.
There was nothing to see,
Nothing to do,
Nothing to play with,
Except that in an empty room upstairs
There was a large tin box
Containing reproductions of the Magna Charta,
Of the Declaration of Independence
And of a letter from Raleigh after the Armada.
There were also several packets of stamps,
Yellow and blue Guatemala parrots,
Blue stags and red baboons and birds from Sarawak,
Indians and Men-of-war
From the United States,
And the green and red portraits
Of King Francobello
I don't believe in God.
I do believe in avenging gods
Who plague us for sins we never sinned
But who avenge us.
That's why I'll never have a child,
Never shut up a chrysalis in a match-box
For the moth to spoil and crush its brght colours,
Beating its wings against the dingy prison-wall.
Allen Ginsberg |
At gauzy dusk, thin haze like cigarette smoke
ribbons past Chrysler Building's silver fins
tapering delicately needletopped, Empire State's
taller antenna filmed milky lit amid blocks
black and white apartmenting veil'd sky over Manhattan,
offices new built dark glassed in blueish heaven--The East
50's & 60's covered with castles & watertowers, seven storied
tar-topped house-banks over York Avenue, late may-green trees
surrounding Rockefellers' blue domed medical arbor--
Geodesic science at the waters edge--Cars running up
East River Drive, & parked at N.
Hospital's oval door
where perfect tulips flower the health of a thousand sick souls
trembling inside hospital rooms.
Triboro bridge steel-spiked
penthouse orange roofs, sunset tinges the river and in a few
Bronx windows, some magnesium vapor brilliances're
spotted five floors above E 59th St under grey painted bridge
Way downstream along the river, as Monet saw Thames
100 years ago, Con Edison smokestacks 14th street,
& Brooklyn Bridge's skeined dim in modern mists--
Pipes sticking up to sky nine smokestacks huge visible--
Building hangs under an orange crane, & red lights on
vertical avenues below the trees turn green at the nod
of a skull with a mild nerve ache.
Dim dharma, I return
to this spectacle after weeks of poisoned lassitude, my thighs
belly chest & arms covered with poxied welts,
head pains fading back of the neck, right eyebrow cheek
mouth paralyzed--from taking the wrong medicine, sweated
too much in the forehead helpless, covered my rage from
gorge to prostate with grinding jaw and tightening anus
not released the weeping scream of horror at robot Mayaguez
World self ton billions metal grief unloaded
Pnom Penh to Nakon Thanom, Santiago & Tehran.
Fresh warm breeze in the window, day's release
>from pain, cars float downside the bridge trestle
and uncounted building-wall windows multiplied a mile
deep into ash-delicate sky beguile
my empty mind.
A seagull passes alone wings
spread silent over roofs.
- May 20, 1975 Mayaguez Crisis
Rabindranath Tagore |
Mother, let us imagine we are travelling, and passing through a
strange and dangerous country.
You are riding in a palanquin and I am trotting by you on a
It is evening and the sun goes down.
The waste of Joradighi
lies wan and grey before us.
The land is desolate and barren.
You are frightened and thinking-"I know not where we have come
I say to you, "Mother, do not be afraid.
The meadow is prickly with spiky grass, and through it runs
a narrow broken path.
There are no cattle to be seen in the wide field; they have
gone to their village stalls.
It grows dark and dim on the land and sky, and we cannot tell
where we are going.
Suddenly you call me and ask me in a whisper, "What light is
that near the bank?"
Just then there bursts out a fearful yell, and figures come
running towards us.
You sit crouched in your palanquin and repeat the names of the
gods in prayer.
The bearers, shaking in terror, hide themselves in the thorny
I shout to you, "Don't be afraid, mother.
I am here.
With long sticks in their hands and hair all wild about their
heads, they come nearer and nearer.
I shout, "Have a care, you villains! One step more and you are
They give another terrible yell and rush forward.
You clutch my hand and say, "Dear boy, for heaven's sake, keep
away from them.
I say, "Mother, just you watch me.
Then I spur my horse for a wild gallop, and my sword and
buckler clash against each other.
The fight becomes so fearful, mother, that it would give you
a cold shudder could you see it from your palanquin.
Many of them fly, and a great number are cut to pieces.
I know you are thinking, sitting all by yourself, that your
boy must be dead by this time.
But I come to you all stained with blood, and say,"Mother, the
fight is over now.
You come out and kiss me, pressing me to your heart, and you
say to yourself,
"I don't know what I should do if I hadn't my boy to escort
A thousand useless things happen day after day, and why
couldn't such a thing come true by chance?
It would be like a story in a book.
My brother would say, "Is it possible? I always thought he was
Our village people would all say in amazement, "Was it not
lucky that the boy was with his mother?"
Alexander Pushkin |
Children running into izba,
Calling father, dripping sweat:
"Daddy, daddy! come -- there is a
Deadman caught inside our net.
"Fancy, fancy fabrication.
Grumbled off their weary Pa,
"Have these imps imagination!
Deadman, really! ya-ha-ha.
the court may come to bother -
What'll I say before the judge?
Hey you brats, go have your mother
Bring my coat; I better trudge.
Show me, where?" -- "Right there, Dad, farther!"
On the sand where netting ropes
Lay spread out, the peasant father
Saw the veritable corpse.
Badly mangled, ugly, frightening,
Blue and swollen on each side.
Has he fished in storm and lightning,
Or committed suicide?
Could this be a careless drunkard,
Or a mermaid-seeking monk,
Or a merchandizer, conquered
By some bandits, robbed and sunk?
To the peasant, what's it matter!
Quick: he grabs the dead man's hair,
Drags his body to the water,
Looks around: nobody's there:
relieved of the concern he
Shoves his paddle at a loss,
While the stiff resumes his journey
Down the stream for grave and cross.
Long the dead man as one living
Rocked on waves amid the foam.
Surly as he watched him leaving,
Soon our peasant headed home.
"Come you pups! let's go, don't scatter.
Each of you will get his bun.
But remember: just you chatter --
And I'll whip you, every one.
Dark and stormy it was turning.
High the river ran in gloom.
Now the torch has finished burning
In the peasant's smoky room.
Kids asleep, the wife aslumber,
He lies listening to the rain.
Bang! he hears a sudden comer
Knocking on the window-pane.
" -- "Let me in there, master!"
"Damn, you found the time to roam!
Well, what is it, your disaster?
Let you in? It's dark at home,
Dark and crowded.
What a pest you are!
Where'd I put you in my cot.
Slowly, with a lazy gesture,
He lifts up the pane and - what?
Through the clouds, the moon was showing.
Well? the naked man was there,
Down his hair the water flowing,
Wide his eyes, unmoved the stare;
Numb the dreadful-looking body,
Arms were hanging feeble, thin;
Crabs and cancers, black and bloody,
Sucked into the swollen skin.
As the peasant slammed the shutter
(Recognized his visitant)
Horror-struck he could but mutter
"Blast you!" and began to pant.
He was shuddering, awful chaos
All night through stirred in his brain,
While the knocking shook the house
By the gates and at the pane.
People tell a dreadful rumor:
Every year the peasant, say,
Waiting in the worst of humor
For his visitor that day;
As the rainstorm is increasing,
Nightfall brings a hurricane -
And the drowned man knocks, unceasing,
By the gates and at the pane.
Translated by: Genia Gurarie, 11/95
Copyright retained by Genia Gurarie.
For permission to reproduce, write personally to the translator.
T S (Thomas Stearns) Eliot |
In my beginning is my end.
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
In my beginning is my end.
Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.
In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde.
Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn.
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts.
Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking.
Dung and death.
Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence.
Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides.
I am here
Or there, or elsewhere.
In my beginning.
What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.
That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.
The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes.
There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
The houses are all gone under the sea.
The dancers are all gone under the hill.
O dark dark dark.
They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody's funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God.
As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing façade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.
You say I am repeating
Something I have said before.
I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.
The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer's art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.
Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam's curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.
The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.
The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.
The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.
And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion.
And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious.
But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying.
The rest is not our business.
Home is where one starts from.
As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living.
Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise.
In my end is my beginning.
David Berman |
I know it's a bad title
but I'm giving it to myself as a gift
on a day nearly canceled by sunlight
when the entire hill is approaching
the ideal of Virginia
brochured with goldenrod and loblolly
and I think "at least I have not woken up
with a bloody knife in my hand"
by then having absently wandered
one hundred yards from the house
while still seated in this chair
with my eyes closed.
It is a certain hill
the one I imagine when I hear the word "hill"
and if the apocalypse turns out
to be a world-wide nervous breakdown
if our five billion minds collapse at once
well I'd call that a surprise ending
and this hill would still be beautiful
a place I wouldn't mind dying
alone or with you.
I am trying to get at something
and I want to talk very plainly to you
so that we are both comforted by the honesty.
You see there is a window by my desk
I stare out when I am stuck
though the outdoors has rarely inspired me to write
and I don't know why I keep staring at it.
My childhood hasn't made good material either
mostly being a mulch of white minutes
with a few stand out moments,
popping tar bubbles on the driveway in the summer
a certain amount of pride at school
everytime they called it "our sun"
and playing football when the only play
was "go out long" are what stand out now.
If squeezed for more information
I can remember old clock radios
with flipping metal numbers
and an entree called Surf and Turf.
As a way of getting in touch with my origins
every night I set the alarm clock
for the time I was born so that waking up
becomes a historical reenactment and the first thing I do
is take a reading of the day and try to flow with it like
when you're riding a mechanical bull and you strain to learn
the pattern quickly so you don't inadverantly resist it.
I can't remember being born
and no one else can remember it either
even the doctor who I met years later
at a cocktail party.
It's one of the little disappointments
that makes you think about getting away
going to Holly Springs or Coral Gables
and taking a room on the square
with a landlady whose hands are scored
by disinfectant, telling the people you meet
that you are from Alaska, and listen
to what they have to say about Alaska
until you have learned much more about Alaska
than you ever will about Holly Springs or Coral Gables.
Sometimes I am buying a newspaper
in a strange city and think
"I am about to learn what it's like to live here.
Oftentimes there is a news item
about the complaints of homeowners
who live beside the airport
and I realize that I read an article
on this subject nearly once a year
and always receive the same image.
I am in bed late at night
in my house near the airport
listening to the jets fly overhead
a strange wife sleeping beside me.
In my mind, the bedroom is an amalgamation
of various cold medicine commercial sets
(there is always a box of tissue on the nightstand).
I know these recurring news articles are clues,
flaws in the design though I haven't figured out
how to string them together yet,
but I've begun to notice that the same people
are dying over and over again,
for instance Minnie Pearl
who died this year
for the fourth time in four years.
Today is the first day of Lent
and once again I'm not really sure what it is.
How many more years will I let pass
before I take the trouble to ask someone?
It reminds of this morning
when you were getting ready for work.
I was sitting by the space heater
numbly watching you dress
and when you asked why I never wear a robe
I had so many good reasons
I didn't know where to begin.
If you were cool in high school
you didn't ask too many questions.
You could tell who'd been to last night's
big metal concert by the new t-shirts in the hallway.
You didn't have to ask
and that's what cool was:
the ability to deduct
to know without asking.
And the pressure to simulate coolness
means not asking when you don't know,
which is why kids grow ever more stupid.
A yearbook's endpages, filled with promises
to stay in touch, stand as proof of the uselessness
of a teenager's promise.
Not like I'm dying
for a letter from the class stoner
ten years on but.
Do you remember the way the girls
would call out "love you!"
conveniently leaving out the "I"
as if they didn't want to commit
to their own declarations.
I agree that the "I" is a pretty heavy concept
and hope you won't get uncomfortable
if I should go into some deeper stuff here.
There are things I've given up on
like recording funny answering machine messages.
It's part of growing older
and the human race as a group
has matured along the same lines.
It seems our comedy dates the quickest.
If you laugh out loud at Shakespeare's jokes
I hope you won't be insulted
if I say you're trying too hard.
Even sketches from the original Saturday Night Live
seem slow-witted and obvious now.
It's just that our advances are irrepressible.
Nowadays little kids can't even set up lemonade stands.
It makes people too self-conscious about the past,
though try explaining that to a kid.
I'm not saying it should be this way.
All this new technology
will eventually give us new feelings
that will never completely displace the old ones
leaving everyone feeling quite nervous
and split in two.
We will travel to Mars
even as folks on Earth
are still ripping open potato chip
bags with their teeth.
Why? I don't have the time or intelligence
to make all the connections
like my friend Gordon
(this is a true story)
who grew up in Braintree Massachusetts
and had never pictured a brain snagged in a tree
until I brought it up.
He'd never broken the name down to its parts.
By then it was too late.
He had moved to Coral Gables.
The hill out my window is still looking beautiful
suffused in a kind of gold national park light
and it seems to say,
I'm sorry the world could not possibly
use another poem about Orpheus
but I'm available if you're not working
on a self-portrait or anything.
I'm watching my dog have nightmares,
twitching and whining on the office floor
and I try to imagine what beast
has cornered him in the meadow
where his dreams are set.
I'm just letting the day be what it is:
a place for a large number of things
to gather and interact --
not even a place but an occasion
a reality for real things.
Friends warned me not to get too psychedelic
or religious with this piece:
"They won't accept it if it's too psychedelic
or religious," but these are valid topics
and I'm the one with the dog twitching on the floor
possibly dreaming of me
that part of me that would beat a dog
for no good reason
no reason that a dog could see.
I am trying to get at something so simple
that I have to talk plainly
so the words don't disfigure it
and if it turns out that what I say is untrue
then at least let it be harmless
like a leaky boat in the reeds
that is bothering no one.
I can't trust the accuracy of my own memories,
many of them having blended with sentimental
telephone and margarine commercials
plainly ruined by Madison Avenue
though no one seems to call the advertising world
"Madison Avenue" anymore.
Have they moved?
Let's get an update on this.
But first I have some business to take care of.
I walked out to the hill behind our house
which looks positively Alaskan today
and it would be easier to explain this
if I had a picture to show you
but I was with our young dog
and he was running through the tall grass
like running through the tall grass
is all of life together
until a bird calls or he finds a beer can
and that thing fills all the space in his head.
his mind can only hold one thought at a time
and when he finally hears me call his name
he looks up and cocks his head
and for a single moment
my voice is everything:
Self-portrait at 28.
David Lehman |
Some people find out they are Jews.
They can't believe it.
Thy had always hated Jews.
As children they had roamed in gangs on winter nights in the old
neighborhood, looking for Jews.
They were not Jewish, they were Irish.
They brandished broken bottles, tough guys with blood on their
lips, looking for Jews.
They intercepted Jewish boys walking alone and beat them up.
Sometimes they were content to chase a Jew and he could elude
them by running away.
They were happy just to see him run
The coward! All Jews were yellow.
They spelled Jew with a small j jew.
And now they find out they are Jews themselves.
It happened at the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
To escape persecution, they pretended to convert to Christianity.
They came to this country and settled in the Southwest.
At some point oral tradition failed the family, and their
secret faith died.
No one would ever have known if not for the bones that turned up
on the dig.
How could it have happened to them?
They are in a state of panic--at first.
Then they realize that it is the answer to their prayers.
They hasten to the synagogue or build new ones.
They are Jews at last!
They are free to marry other Jews, and divorce them, and intermarry
with Gentiles, God forbid.
They are model citizens, clever and thrifty.
They debate the issues.
They fire off earnest letters to the editor.
They are resented for being clever and thrifty.
They buy houses in the suburbs and agree not to talk so loud.
They look like everyone else, drive the same cars as everyone else,
yet in their hearts they know they're different.
In every minyan there are always two or three, hated by
the others, who give life to one ugly stereotype or another:
The grasping Jew with the hooked nose or the Ivy League Bolshevik
who thinks he is the agent of world history.
But most of them are neither ostentatiously pious nor
How I envy them! They believe.
How I envy them their annual family reunion on Passover,
anniversary of the Exodus, when all the uncles and aunts and
cousins get together.
They wonder about the heritage of Judaism they are passing along
to their children.
Have they done as much as they could to keep the old embers
Others lead more dramatic lives.
A few go to Israel.
One of them calls Israel "the ultimate concentration camp.
He tells Jewish jokes.
On the plane he gets tipsy, tries to seduce the stewardess.
People in the Midwest keep telling him reminds them of Woody
He wonders what that means.
I'm funny? A sort of nervous
intellectual type from New York? A Jew?
Around this time somebody accuses him of not being Jewish enough.
It is said by resentful colleagues that his parents changed their
name from something that sounded more Jewish.
Everything he publishes is scrutinized with reference to "the
It is no longer clear what is meant by that phrase.
He has already forgotten all the Yiddish he used to know, and
the people of that era are dying out one after another.
The number of witnesses keeps diminishing.
Soon there will be no one left to remind the others and their
That is why he came to this dry place where the bones have come
To live in a state of perpetual war puts a tremendous burden on the
As a visitor he felt he had to share that burden.
With his gift for codes and ciphers, he joined the counter-
terrorism unit of army intelligence.
Contrary to what the spook novels say, he found it possible to
avoid betraying either his country or his lover.
This was the life: strange bedrooms, the perfume of other men's
As a spy he has a unique mission: to get his name on the front
page of the nation's newspaper of record.
Only by doing that
would he get the message through to his immediate superior.
If he goes to jail, he will do so proudly; if they're going to
hang him anyway, he'll do something worth hanging for.
In time he may get used to being the center of attention, but
this was incredible:
To talk his way into being the chief suspect in the most
flamboyant murder case in years!
And he was innocent!
He could prove it!
And what a book he would write when they free him from this prison:
A novel, obliquely autobiographical, set in Vienna in the twilight
of the Hapsburg Empire, in the year that his mother was born.
Obi Nwakanma |
ICICLES fall from trees, molten with age,
without memory - they stand aloof in their
nakedness - they limber;
like the gods terrified into silence,
like tall brooding deities looming out of the
The forest hugs them
carves them into stones,
Etches them into the slow
eastern landscape: rivers, hills
the slow running water,
times broken inscapes…
The willows are burdened with ice
the white shrouds of burial spread
upon the earth's ravaged face; the eyes
unseeing, the mouth unspeaking,
a gust of wind proclaims the anger of
immemorial ages; the cycle, the
eternal ritual of mystical returns -
The cypress - whitening -
boneless; wearing her best habit,
a pale green in the forest of ghosts -
And so I walk through this windless night
through the narrow imponderable road
through the silence - the silence of trees -
I hear not even the gust of wind
I hear only the quiet earth, thawing underneath;
I hear the slow silent death of winter -
where the sun is yellowest.
But above, Monadnock looms
like some angry Moloch, her
white nipple seizing the space
drained of all milk.
A she-devil beckoning to worshippers
seductive - her arm stretching outwards -
to this lonely pilgrim
lost in the mist:
Behold the school of wild bucks
Behold the meeting of incarnate
Behold the lost souls bearing tapers
in rags of rich damask,
Down Thomas - the saint of
unbelievers - down the road to bliss
Down to the red house, uncertain
like a beggar's bowl hanging unto the cliff
of withdrawn pledges, where the well is
I have dared to live
beneath the great untamed.
To every good, to every
flicker of stars along the pine
To every tussle with lucid dusk,
To every moonlit pledge, to
every turn made to outleap
I have desired to listen - to listen -
to the ripening of seasons.
This is ONE of a continuing sequence.