I have eaten the plums that were in the icebox and which you were probably saving for breakfast Forgive me they were delicious so sweet and so cold
National Poetry Month 2013
First having read the book of myths, and loaded the camera, and checked the edge of the knife-blade, I put on the body-armor of black rubber the absurd flippers the grave and awkward mask. I am having to do this not like Cousteau with his assiduous team aboard the sun-flooded schooner but here alone. There is a ladder. The ladder is always there hanging innocently close to the side of the schooner. We know what it is for, we who have used it. Otherwise it is a piece of maritime floss some sundry equipment. I go down. Rung after rung and still the oxygen immerses me the blue light the clear atoms of our human air. I go down. My flippers cripple me, I crawl like an insect down the ladder and there is no one to tell me when the ocean will begin. First the air is blue and then it is bluer and then green and then black I am blacking out and yet my mask is powerful it pumps my blood with power the sea is another story the sea is not a question of power I have to learn alone to turn my body without force in the deep element. And now: it is easy to forget what I came for among so many who have always lived here swaying their crenellated fans between the reefs and besides you breathe differently down here. I came to explore the wreck. The words are purposes. The words are maps. I came to see the damage that was done and the treasures that prevail. I stroke the beam of my lamp slowly along the flank of something more permanent than fish or weed the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck the thing itself and not the myth the drowned face always staring toward the sun the evidence of damage worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty the ribs of the disaster curving their assertion among the tentative haunters. This is the place. And I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair streams black, the merman in his armored body. We circle silently about the wreck we dive into the hold. I am she: I am he whose drowned face sleeps with open eyes whose breasts still bear the stress whose silver, copper, vermeil cargo lies obscurely inside barrels half-wedged and left to rot we are the half-destroyed instruments that once held to a course the water-eaten log the fouled compass We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to this scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear.
1 The children of the Czar Played with a bouncing ball In the May morning, in the Czar's garden, Tossing it back and forth. It fell among the flowerbeds Or fled to the north gate. A daylight moon hung up In the Western sky, bald white. Like Papa's face, said Sister, Hurling the white ball forth. 2 While I ate a baked potato Six thousand miles apart, In Brooklyn, in 1916, Aged two, irrational. When Franklin D. Roosevelt Was an Arrow Collar ad. O Nicholas! Alas! Alas! My grandfather coughed in your army, Hid in a wine-stinking barrel, For three days in Bucharest Then left for America To become a king himself. 3 I am my father's father, You are your children's guilt. In history's pity and terror The child is Aeneas again; Troy is in the nursery, The rocking horse is on fire. Child labor! The child must carry His fathers on his back. But seeing that so much is past And that history has no ruth For the individual, Who drinks tea, who catches cold, Let anger be general: I hate an abstract thing. 4 Brother and sister bounced The bounding, unbroken ball, The shattering sun fell down Like swords upon their play, Moving eastward among the stars Toward February and October. But the Maywind brushed their cheeks Like a mother watching sleep, And if for a moment they fight Over the bouncing ball And sister pinches brother And brother kicks her shins, Well! The heart of man is known: It is a cactus bloom. 5 The ground on which the ball bounces Is another bouncing ball. The wheeling, whirling world Makes no will glad. Spinning in its spotlight darkness, It is too big for their hands. A pitiless, purposeless Thing, Arbitrary and unspent, Made for no play, for no children, But chasing only itself. The innocent are overtaken, They are not innocent. They are their father's fathers, The past is inevitable. 6 Now, in another October Of this tragic star, I see my second year, I eat my baked potato. It is my buttered world, But, poked by my unlearned hand, It falls from the highchair down And I begin to howl. And I see the ball roll under The iron gate which is locked. Sister is screaming, brother is howling, The ball has evaded their will. Even a bouncing ball Is uncontrollable, And is under the garden wall. I am overtaken by terror Thinking of my father's fathers, And of my own will.
Once there was a shock that left behind a long, shimmering comet tail. It keeps us inside. It makes the TV pictures snowy. It settles in cold drops on the telephone wires. One can still go slowly on skis in the winter sun through brush where a few leaves hang on. They resemble pages torn from old telephone directories. Names swallowed by the cold. It is still beautiful to hear the heart beat but often the shadow seems more real than the body. The samurai looks insignificant beside his armor of black dragon scales.
And the just man trailed God's shining agent, over a black mountain, in his giant track, while a restless voice kept harrying his woman: "It's not too late, you can still look back at the red towers of your native Sodom, the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed, at the empty windows set in the tall house where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed." A single glance: a sudden dart of pain stitching her eyes before she made a sound . . . Her body flaked into transparent salt, and her swift legs rooted to the ground. Who will grieve for this woman? Does she not seem too insignificant for our concern? Yet in my heart I never will deny her, who suffered death because she chose to turn.
On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.
On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.
And those who expected lightning and thunder
And those who expected signs and archangels' trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.
Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he's much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
No other end of the world will there be,
No other end of the world will there be.
To what purpose, April, do you return again? Beauty is not enough. You can no longer quiet me with the redness Of little leaves opening stickily. I know what I know. The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of crocus. The smell of the earth is good. It is apparent that there is no death. But what does that signify? Not only under ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. Life in itself Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
My friend Michael and I are walking home arguing about the movie. He says that he believes a person can love someone and still be able to murder that person. I say, No, that's not love. That's attachment. Michael says, No, that's love. You can love someone, then come to a day when you're forced to think "it's him or me" think "me" and kill him. I say, Then it's not love anymore. Michael says, It was love up to then though. I say, Maybe we mean different things by the same word. Michael says, Humans are complicated: love can exist even in the murderous heart. I say that what he might mean by love is desire. Love is not a feeling, I say. And Michael says, Then what is it? We're walking along West 16th Street—a clear unclouded night—and I hear my voice repeating what I used to say to my husband: Love is action, I used to say to him. Simone Weil says that when you really love you are able to look at someone you want to eat and not eat them. Janis Joplin says, take another little piece of my heart now baby. Meister Eckhardt says that as long as we love images we are doomed to live in purgatory. Michael and I stand on the corner of 6th Avenue saying goodnight. I can't drink enough of the tangerine spritzer I've just bought— again and again I bring the cold can to my mouth and suck the stuff from the hole the flip top made. What are you doing tomorrow? Michael says. But what I think he's saying is "You are too strict. You are a nun." Then I think, Do I love Michael enough to allow him to think these things of me even if he's not thinking them? Above Manhattan, the moon wanes, and the sky turns clearer and colder. Although the days, after the solstice, have started to lengthen, we both know the winter has only begun.
From childhood's hour I have not been As others were--I have not seen As others saw--I could not bring My passions from a common spring-- From the same source I have not taken My sorrow--I could not awaken My heart to joy at the same tone-- And all I lov'd--I lov'd alone-- Then--in my childhood--in the dawn Of a most stormy life--was drawn From ev'ry depth of good and ill The mystery which binds me still-- From the torrent, or the fountain-- From the red cliff of the mountain-- From the sun that 'round me roll'd In its autumn tint of gold-- From the lightning in the sky As it pass'd me flying by-- From the thunder, and the storm-- And the cloud that took the form (When the rest of Heaven was blue) Of a demon in my view--
When Hades decided he loved this girl
he built for her a duplicate of earth,
everything the same, down to the meadow,
but with a bed added.
Everything the same, including sunlight,
because it would be hard on a young girl
to go so quickly from bright light to utter darkness
Gradually, he thought, he'd introduce the night,
first as the shadows of fluttering leaves.
Then moon, then stars. Then no moon, no stars.
Let Persephone get used to it slowly.
In the end, he thought, she'd find it comforting.
A replica of earth
except there was love here.
Doesn't everyone want love?
He waited many years,
building a world, watching
Persephone in the meadow.
Persephone, a smeller, a taster.
If you have one appetite, he thought,
you have them all.
Doesn't everyone want to feel in the night
the beloved body, compass, polestar,
to hear the quiet breathing that says
I am alive, that means also
you are alive, because you hear me,
you are here with me. And when one turns,
the other turns—
That's what he felt, the lord of darkness,
looking at the world he had
constructed for Persephone. It never crossed his mind
that there'd be no more smelling here,
certainly no more eating.
Guilt? Terror? The fear of love?
These things he couldn't imagine;
no lover ever imagines them.
He dreams, he wonders what to call this place.
First he thinks: The New Hell. Then: The Garden.
In the end, he decides to name it
A soft light rising above the level meadow,
behind the bed. He takes her in his arms.
He wants to say I love you, nothing can hurt you
but he thinks
this is a lie, so he says in the end
you're dead, nothing can hurt you
which seems to him
a more promising beginning, more true.
I want a red dress. I want it flimsy and cheap, I want it too tight, I want to wear it until someone tears it off me. I want it sleeveless and backless, this dress, so no one has to guess what's underneath. I want to walk down the street past Thrifty's and the hardware store with all those keys glittering in the window, past Mr. and Mrs. Wong selling day-old donuts in their café, past the Guerra brothers slinging pigs from the truck and onto the dolly, hoisting the slick snouts over their shoulders. I want to walk like I'm the only woman on earth and I can have my pick. I want that red dress bad. I want it to confirm your worst fears about me, to show you how little I care about you or anything except what I want. When I find it, I'll pull that garment from its hanger like I'm choosing a body to carry me into this world, through the birth-cries and the love-cries too, and I'll wear it like bones, like skin, it'll be the goddamned dress they bury me in.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep; How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face; And bending down beside the glowing bars, Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled And paced upon the mountains overhead And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath, Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone; Yet many a man is making friends with death Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution's power, I might be driven to sell your love for peace, Or trade the memory of this night for food. It well may be. I do not think I would.
Am I to become profligate as if I were a blonde? Or religious as if I were French?
Each time my heart is broken it makes me feel more adventurous (and how the same names keep recurring on that interminable list!), but one of these days there'll be nothing left with which to venture forth.
Why should I share you? Why don't you get rid of someone else for a change?
I am the least difficult of men. All I want is boundless love.
Even trees understand me! Good heavens, I lie under them, too, don't I? I'm just like a pile of leaves.
However, I have never clogged myself with the praises of pastoral life, nor with nostalgia for an innocent past of perverted acts in pastures. No. One need never leave the confines of New York to get all the greenery one wishes—I can't even enjoy a blade of grass unless I know there's a subway handy, or a record store or some other sign that people do not totally regret life. It is more important to affirm the least sincere; the clouds get enough attention as it is and even they continue to pass. Do they know what they're missing? Uh huh.
My eyes are vague blue, like the sky, and change all the time; they are indiscriminate but fleeting, entirely specific and disloyal, so that no one trusts me. I am always looking away. Or again at something after it has given me up. It makes me restless and that makes me unhappy, but I cannot keep them still. If only i had grey, green, black, brown, yellow eyes; I would stay at home and do something. It's not that I'm curious. On the contrary, I am bored but it's my duty to be attentive, I am needed by things as the sky must be above the earth. And lately, so great has their anxiety become, I can spare myself little sleep.
Now there is only one man I like to kiss when he is unshaven. Heterosexuality! you are inexorably approaching. (How best discourage her?)
St. Serapion, I wrap myself in the robes of your whiteness which is like midnight in Dostoevsky. How I am to become a legend, my dear? I've tried love, but that hides you in the bosom of another and I am always springing forth from it like the lotus—the ecstasy of always bursting forth! (but one must not be distracted by it!) or like a hyacinth, "to keep the filth of life away," yes, there, even in the heart, where the filth is pumped in and slanders and pollutes and determines. I will my will, though I may become famous for a mysterious vacancy in that department, that greenhouse.
Destroy yourself, if you don't know!
It is easy to be beautiful; it is difficult to appear so. I admire you, beloved, for the trap you've set. It's like a final chapter no one reads because the plot is over.
"Fanny Brown is run away—scampered off with a Cornet of Horse; I do love that little Minx, & hope She may be happy, tho' She has vexed me by this Exploit a little too.—Poor silly Cecchina! or F:B: as we used to call her.—I wish She had a good Whipping and 10,000 pounds."—Mrs. Thrale.
I've got to get out of here. I choose a piece of shawl and my dirtiest suntans. I'll be back, I'll re-emerge, defeated, from the valley; you don't want me to go where you go, so I go where you don't want me to. It's only afternoon, there's a lot ahead. There won't be any mail downstairs. Turning, I spit in the lock and the knob turns.
Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, Alone and palely loitering; The sedge is withered from the lake, And no birds sing. Ah, what can ail thee, wretched wight, So haggard and so woe-begone? The squirrel's granary is full, And the harvest's done. I see a lilly on thy brow, With anguish moist and fever dew; And on thy cheek a fading rose Fast withereth too. I met a lady in the meads Full beautiful, a faery's child; Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild. I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long; For sideways would she lean, and sing A faery's song. I made a garland for her head, And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; She looked at me as she did love, And made sweet moan. She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna dew; And sure in language strange she said, I love thee true. She took me to her elfin grot, And there she gazed and sighed deep, And there I shut her wild sad eyes-- So kissed to sleep. And there we slumbered on the moss, And there I dreamed, ah woe betide, The latest dream I ever dreamed On the cold hill side. I saw pale kings, and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; Who cried--"La belle Dame sans merci Hath thee in thrall!" I saw their starved lips in the gloam With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke, and found me here On the cold hill side. And this is why I sojourn here Alone and palely loitering, Though the sedge is withered from the lake, And no birds sing.
Even when I was a little boy I was always alone with my guardian angel Playing Tarzan An icicle fell on me & cut my arm I had a rope around my neck I was hanged in Innifree Had my hand cut off in Perfidee Never had my fill of Thee ST MICHAEL IN THE CORNER, NINE FEET TALL
O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish; Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?) Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d; Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me; Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined; The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life? Answer. That you are here—that life exists, and identity; That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.
We make our meek adjustments, Contented with such random consolations As the wind deposits In slithered and too ample pockets. For we can still love the world, who find A famished kitten on the step, and know Recesses for it from the fury of the street, Or warm torn elbow coverts. We will sidestep, and to the final smirk Dally the doom of that inevitable thumb That slowly chafes its puckered index toward us, Facing the dull squint with what innocence And what surprise! And yet these fine collapses are not lies More than the pirouettes of any pliant cane; Our obsequies are, in a way, no enterprise. We can evade you, and all else but the heart: What blame to us if the heart live on. The game enforces smirks; but we have seen The moon in lonely alleys make A grail of laughter of an empty ash can, And through all sound of gaiety and quest Have heard a kitten in the wilderness.
He went there to learn how to give a good perm and ended up just crazy about nails so He opened up His own shop. "Nails by Jim" He called it. He was afraid to call it Nails by God. He was sure people would think He was being disrespectful and using His own name in vain and nobody would tip. He got into nails, of course, because He'd always loved hands-- hands were some of the best things He'd ever done and this way He could just hold one in His and admire those delicate bones just above the knuckles, delicate as birds' wings, and after He'd done that awhile, He could paint all the nails any color He wanted, then say, "Beautiful," and mean it.