So this is where the last year of the Mayan calendar begins— 5,000 birds falling on Beebe, Arkansas, a state that could smooth out with the sway of the plains but instead sputters the silence of the first syllable like a pothole that hits before you're off the on ramp—say it— ar- -can-saw— ending with that blade of rusted teeth to chew through the last of what's left of those woods, a fast-driving diesel flatbed of felled trees and all of us in a tight spot between that chugging machine and the concrete barrier as we hope the straight back of our consonants will hold, even if they are quiescent monsters, reticent prayers, because we can't help it, we lean towards letters that do not bend, try our exhausted weight on the middle of that state, that silent K—the shape of a man trying to hold up the ceiling, trying not to think of its falling as the sky's.
The great labour of appearance served the making of the pyre. But how nor how How also how they shal nat be toold shall not be told. Nor how the gods nor how the beestes and the birds nor how the ground agast Nor how the fire first with straw and then with drye and then with grene and then with gold and then. Now how a site is laid like this. Nor what nor how nor what she spak, nor what was her desire Nor what jewels when the fire Nor how some threw their and some their and their and cups full of wine and milk and blood into the fyr into the fire Nor how three times and three times with and three times how and how that Nor how nor how nor how nor who I cannot tell nor can I say but shortly to the point I turn and give my tale an end.
It's time to put the aside the old resentments; lies, machinations, the paranoia, bugs in telephones, the body bags, secret bombings, his sweaty upper lip, my cousin Arnie, too dumb to go to school, too virtuous to confess he'd give blow jobs for nothing at the Paramount, so he lost a leg in Da Nang. Now it's time for amnesiacs to play Beethoven's Eroica by Nixon's casket. To applaud his loyalty, to grant a few mistakes, to honor his diplomacy, him and his pal Kissinger who bombed the lush green paddies of Cambodia. And now for a few lyric moments as I wait patiently for my fiftieth birthday. Wood ducks decorate the pond near this farmhouse, and in the marsh I've spied a meadow lark, a fox, a white-tailed hawk who soars above the Western Mountain peaks. Oh, I'm in love with the country all right. So I can forget my friend Sweeney, who shot Congressman Lowenstein because the radio in his tooth insisted on it. I remember the march on the Pentagon in purple, a proud member of the Vegetarian Brigade. I was drugged, as many of us were drugged, as my parents were drugged by a few major networks, by a ranch house and an Oldsmobile. I once spit on Hubert Humphrey, threw a brick through Dow Chemical's plate-glass door. I wrote insane letters to Senators, burying them in moral rectitude: I got a response from one: Senator Kennedy — the dead one — whose office wrongly argued for slow withdrawal instead of Instant Victory. I remember Tricky Dick in Nineteen Fifty-three: I'm eight years-old, frightened and ignorant, lying down before my parents' first TV: my aunts and uncles sitting in a circle, biting their nails, whispering names of relatives awaiting trial, who, thanks to Nixon, lost their sorry jobs. You can see why I'd want to bury this man whose blood would not circulate, whose face was paralyzed, who should have died in shame and solitude, without benefit of eulogy or twenty-one gun salutes. I want to bury him in Southern California with the Birchers and the Libertarians. I want to look out my window and cheer the remaining cedars that require swampy habitats to survive. To be done with shame and rage this April afternoon, where embryonic fiddleheads, fuzzy and curled and pale as wings, have risen to meet me. After all, they say he was a scrappy man, wily and sage, who served as Lucifer, scapegoat, scoundrel, a receptacle for acrimony and rage — one human being whose life I have no reverence for, which is why I'm singing now.
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.
The new grass rising in the hills, the cows loitering in the morning chill, a dozen or more old browns hidden in the shadows of the cottonwoods beside the streambed. I go higher to where the road gives up and there's only a faint path strewn with lupine between the mountain oaks. I don't ask myself what I'm looking for. I didn't come for answers to a place like this, I came to walk on the earth, still cold, still silent. Still ungiving, I've said to myself, although it greets me with last year's dead thistles and this year's hard spines, early blooming wild onions, the curling remains of spider's cloth. What did I bring to the dance? In my back pocket a crushed letter from a woman I've never met bearing bad news I can do nothing about. So I wander these woods half sightless while a west wind picks up in the trees clustered above. The pines make a music like no other, rising and falling like a distant surf at night that calms the darkness before first light. "Soughing" we call it, from Old English, no less. How weightless words are when nothing will do.
Of the light in my room: Its mood swings, Dark-morning glooms, Summer ecstasies. Spider on the wall, Lamp burning late, Shoes left by the bed, I'm your humble scribe. Dust balls, simple souls Conferring in the corner. The pearl earring she lost, Still to be found. Silence of falling snow, Night vanishing without trace, Only to return. I'm your humble scribe.
after information received in The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 4 v 86
The population center of the USA Has shifted to Potosi, in Missouri. The calculation employed by authorities In arriving at this dislocation assumes That the country is a geometric plane, Perfectly flat, and that every citizen, Including those in Alaska and Hawaii And the District of Columbia, weighs the same; So that, given these simple presuppositions, The entire bulk and spread of all the people Should theoretically balance on the point Of a needle under Potosi in Missouri Where no one is residing nowadays But the watchman over an abandoned mine Whence the company got the lead out and left. "It gets pretty lonely here," he says, "at night."
An unemployed machinist An unemployed machinist who travelled here who travelled here from Georgia from Georgia 10 days ago 10 days ago and could not find a job and could not find a job walked into a police station walking into a police station yesterday and said yesterday and said: "I'm tired of being scared I'm tired of being scared."
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A feather table: reckless gratitude. It is that-there that means best. White the green grinding trimming thing! The disgrace, like stripes. More selection, slighter intention. Rosewood stationing is use journey: curious dusty empty length. Winged cake: the cake, the plan that neglects to make color certainly. Time long could winter: elegant consequences monstrous. So much and guided holders garments are—and arrangements. Staring then that when sudden same time's necessary, that circular same's more necessary, not actually aching. And why special? Not left straw, the chain's the missing, was white winningly and occasion's entirely strings. Reason is sullenness: it's there that practices left when six into nothing narrow, resolute, suggests all beside that plain seam. Pencils, mutton, asparagus: the table there. There reddening is not to change that in such absurd surroundings. Considering clearly, a feather's large second heat is there. There that thing which smells that whistles that there's denial, difference, surfeit-dated choices—everything trembling imitation. Imitation?—imitation is a joy gurgle. Best bent, likely disappointed. Cake season's not more than most. That cake makes no larder likely. Not a single protection is even temporarily standing. Sugar and lard there are sudden and shaming. That single set comes orderly. There the remarkable witness made no more settlement than blessing. Increase the way steak colored coffee. Wheatly that music half-noisy. Reason's decline is not a little grainy. This means taste where toe-washing is reasonable. Salmon carriage?—action hanging. Scene bits and this nervous draught don't satisfy elevation, There is no change. Much was temporary behind that center and much was formerly charming. Then the then-triumphant showed their disagreeable hidden worries. The chair asked the speech be repeated, supposing attention-resemblance. It is just summer. Another section has a light likeness to pedestrianism. Which is light? That used this there. The chair's justice: nothing-colored mercy. No, perhaps some is likely. That is not a genuine bargain. There preparation so suits white bands' singing and redness that the same sight's a simpler splendor. No, not the same. Wishing the same is not quite the same as a different arrangement. Any measure washed is brighter than an occasional string set. A precocious nothing discolors that extract sooner than showing its starting. A bag place chain room winningly reasons with shining hair. What with supposing without protection, no wound is sudden. Coloring sullenness rushes bottom reason in gilded country. What if it shows? Necessarily, the whole thing there is shining. Is that anything? More single women stitch tickets. To show difference exudes reliability. Inside that large silver likeness, Hope tables thick coal. Coal makes morning furnaces darker, Joy and success are exceptions. Four suggest a sadder surrender. Pretence and cheaper influences are staining tender Pride there. Sort out that little sink. Why is the size of the baking remainder something that resembles light more than cutting? This cheese is more calm than anything solitary. It is still an occasion for bottom anticipation. Reason's season cracked that which was ripe. Nearly all were neglected by blessing, not without nervous actions. He's readily beginning to seed the cheese and estrange the Whites. The celery curled its lashes at the slam. Not-so-heated reason will be little able to satisfy another. This was formerly much used as a charming chair. Pedestrianism showed itself triumphant and disagreeable. That which was hidden worried them. They asked that her speech be repeated. Summer light bears a likeness to justice. Then the light is supposing attention. That section has a resemblance to light. Is it a likeness of the justice chair?
I felt a Funeral, in my Brain, And Mourners to and fro Kept treading – treading – till it seemed That Sense was breaking through – And when they all were seated, A Service, like a Drum – Kept beating – beating – till I thought My Mind was going numb – And then I heard them lift a Box And creak across my Soul With those same Boots of Lead, again, Then Space – began to toll, As all the Heavens were a Bell, And Being, but an Ear, And I, and Silence, some strange Race Wrecked, solitary, here – And then a Plank in Reason, broke, And I dropped down, and down – And hit a World, at every plunge, And Finished knowing – then –
1 When lilacs last in the door-yard bloom'd, And the great star early droop'd in the western sky in the night, I mourn'd—and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. O ever-returning spring! trinity sure to me you bring; Lilac blooming perennial, and drooping star in the west, And thought of him I love. 2 O powerful, western, fallen star! O shades of night! O moody, tearful night! O great star disappear'd! O the black murk that hides the star! O cruel hands that hold me powerless! O helpless soul of me! O harsh surrounding cloud, that will not free my soul! 3 In the door-yard fronting an old farm-house, near the white-wash'd palings, Stands the lilac bush, tall-growing, with heart-shaped leaves of rich green, With many a pointed blossom, rising, delicate, with the perfume strong I love, With every leaf a miracle......and from this bush in the door-yard, With delicate-color'd blossoms, and heart-shaped leaves of rich green, A sprig, with its flower, I break. 4 In the swamp, in secluded recesses, A shy and hidden bird is warbling a song. Solitary, the thrush, The hermit, withdrawn to himself, avoiding the settlements, Sings by himself a song. Song of the bleeding throat! Death's outlet song of life—(for well, dear brother, I know If thou wast not gifted to sing, thou would'st surely die.) 5 Over the breast of the spring, the land, amid cities, Amid lanes, and through old woods, (where lately the violets peep'd from the ground, spotting the gray debris;) Amid the grass in the fields each side of the lanes—passing the endless grass; Passing the yellow-spear'd wheat, every grain from its shroud in the dark-brown fields uprising; Passing the apple-tree blows of white and pink in the orchards; Carrying a corpse to where it shall rest in the grave, Night and day journeys a coffin. 6 Coffin that passes through lanes and streets, Through day and night, with the great cloud darkening the land, With the pomp of the inloop'd flags, with the cities draped in black, With the show of the States themselves, as of crape-veil'd women, standing, With processions long and winding, and the flambeaus of the night, With the countless torches lit—with the silent sea of faces, and the unbared heads, With the waiting depot, the arriving coffin, and the sombre faces, With dirges through the night, with the thousand voices rising strong and solemn; With all the mournful voices of the dirges, pour'd around the coffin, The dim-lit churches and the shuddering organs—Where amid these you journey, With the tolling, tolling bells' perpetual clang; Here! coffin that slowly passes, I give you my sprig of lilac. 7 (Nor for you, for one, alone; Blossoms and branches green to coffins all I bring: For fresh as the morning—thus would I carol a song for you, O sane and sacred death. All over bouquets of roses, O death! I cover you over with roses and early lilies; But mostly and now the lilac that blooms the first, Copious, I break, I break the sprigs from the bushes; With loaded arms I come, pouring for you, For you, and the coffins all of you, O death.) 8 O western orb, sailing the heaven! Now I know what you must have meant, as a month since we walk'd, As we walk'd up and down in the dark blue so mystic, As we walk'd in silence the transparent shadowy night, As I saw you had something to tell, as you bent to me night after night, As you droop'd from the sky low down, as if to my side, (while the other stars all look'd on;) As we wander'd together the solemn night, (for something, I know not what, kept me from sleep;) As the night advanced, and I saw on the rim of the west, ere you went, how full you were of woe; As I stood on the rising ground in the breeze, in the cold transparent night, As I watch'd where you pass'd and was lost in the netherward black of the night, As my soul, in its trouble, dissatisfied, sank, as where you, sad orb, Concluded, dropt in the night, and was gone. 9 Sing on, there in the swamp! O singer bashful and tender! I hear your notes—I hear your call; I hear—I come presently—I understand you; But a moment I linger—for the lustrous star has detain'd me; The star, my departing comrade, holds and detains me. 10 O how shall I warble myself for the dead one there I loved? And how shall I deck my song for the large sweet soul that has gone? And what shall my perfume be, for the grave of him I love? Sea-winds, blown from east and west, Blown from the eastern sea, and blown from the western sea, till there on the prairies meeting: These, and with these, and the breath of my chant, I perfume the grave of him I love. 11 O what shall I hang on the chamber walls? And what shall the pictures be that I hang on the walls, To adorn the burial-house of him I love? Pictures of growing spring, and farms, and homes, With the Fourth-month eve at sundown, and the gray smoke lucid and bright, With floods of the yellow gold of the gorgeous, indolent, sinking sun, burning, expanding the air; With the fresh sweet herbage under foot, and the pale green leaves of the trees prolific; In the distance the flowing glaze, the breast of the river, with a wind-dapple here and there; With ranging hills on the banks, with many a line against the sky, and shadows; And the city at hand, with dwellings so dense, and stacks of chimneys, And all the scenes of life, and the workshops, and the workmen homeward returning. 12 Lo! body and soul! this land! Mighty Manhattan, with spires, and the sparkling and hurrying tides, and the ships; The varied and ample land—the South and the North in the light—Ohio's shores, and flashing Missouri, And ever the far-spreading prairies, cover'd with grass and corn. Lo! the most excellent sun, so calm and haughty; The violet and purple morn, with just-felt breezes; The gentle, soft-born, measureless light; The miracle, spreading, bathing all—the fulfill'd noon; The coming eve, delicious—the welcome night, and the stars, Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land. 13 Sing on! sing on, you gray-brown bird! Sing from the swamps, the recesses—pour your chant from the bushes; Limitless out of the dusk, out of the cedars and pines. Sing on, dearest brother—warble your reedy song; Loud human song, with voice of uttermost woe. O liquid, and free, and tender! O wild and loose to my soul! O wondrous singer! You only I hear......yet the star holds me, (but will soon depart;) Yet the lilac, with mastering odor, holds me. 14 Now while I sat in the day, and look'd forth, In the close of the day, with its light, and the fields of spring, and the farmer preparing his crops, In the large unconscious scenery of my land, with its lakes and forests, In the heavenly aerial beauty, (after the perturb'd winds, and the storms;) Under the arching heavens of the afternoon swift passing, and the voices of children and women, The many-moving sea-tides,—and I saw the ships how they sail'd, And the summer approaching with richness, and the fields all busy with labor, And the infinite separate houses, how they all went on, each with its meals and minutia of daily usages; And the streets, how their throbbings throbb'd, and the cities pent—lo! then and there, Falling upon them all, and among them all, enveloping me with the rest, Appear'd the cloud, appear'd the long black trail; And I knew Death, its thought, and the sacred knowledge of death. 15 Then with the knowledge of death as walking one side of me, And the thought of death close-walking the other side of me, And I in the middle, as with companions, and as holding the hands of companions, I fled forth to the hiding receiving night, that talks not, Down to the shores of the water, the path by the swamp in the dimness, To the solemn shadowy cedars, and ghostly pines so still. And the singer so shy to the rest receiv'd me; The gray-brown bird I know, receiv'd us comrades three; And he sang what seem'd the carol of death, and a verse for him I love. From deep secluded recesses, From the fragrant cedars, and the ghostly pines so still, Came the carol of the bird. And the charm of the carol rapt me, As I held, as if by their hands, my comrades in the night; And the voice of my spirit tallied the song of the bird. 16 DEATH CAROL. Come, lovely and soothing Death, Undulate round the world, serenely arriving, arriving, In the day, in the night, to all, to each, Sooner or later, delicate Death. Prais'd be the fathomless universe, For life and joy, and for objects and knowledge curious; And for love, sweet love—But praise! praise! praise! For the sure-enwinding arms of cool-enfolding Death. Dark Mother, always gliding near, with soft feet, Have none chanted for thee a chant of fullest welcome? Then I chant it for thee—I glorify thee above all; I bring thee a song that when thou must indeed come, come unfalteringly. Approach, strong Deliveress! When it is so—when thou hast taken them, I joyously sing the dead, Lost in the loving, floating ocean of thee, Laved in the flood of thy bliss, O Death. From me to thee glad serenades, Dances for thee I propose, saluting thee—adornments and feastings for thee; And the sights of the open landscape, and the high-spread sky, are fitting, And life and the fields, and the huge and thoughtful night. 155 The night, in silence, under many a star; The ocean shore, and the husky whispering wave, whose voice I know; And the soul turning to thee, O vast and well-veil'd Death, And the body gratefully nestling close to thee. Over the tree-tops I float thee a song! Over the rising and sinking waves—over the myriad fields, and the prairies wide; Over the dense-pack'd cities all, and the teeming wharves and ways, I float this carol with joy, with joy to thee, O Death! 17 To the tally of my soul, Loud and strong kept up the gray-brown bird, With pure, deliberate notes, spreading, filling the night. Loud in the pines and cedars dim, Clear in the freshness moist, and the swamp-perfume; And I with my comrades there in the night. While my sight that was bound in my eyes unclosed, As to long panoramas of visions. 18 I saw askant the armies; And I saw, as in noiseless dreams, hundreds of battle-flags; Borne through the smoke of the battles, and pierc'd with missiles, I saw them, And carried hither and yon through the smoke, and torn and bloody; And at last but a few shreds left on the staffs, (and all in silence,) And the staffs all splinter'd and broken. I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them, And the white skeletons of young men—I saw them; I saw the debris and debris of all the dead soldiers of the war; But I saw they were not as was thought; They themselves were fully at rest—they suffer'd not; The living remain'd and suffer'd—the mother suffer'd, And the wife and the child, and the musing comrade suffer'd, And the armies that remain'd suffer'd. 19 Passing the visions, passing the night; Passing, unloosing the hold of my comrades' hands; Passing the song of the hermit bird, and the tallying song of my soul, (Victorious song, death's outlet song, yet varying, ever-altering song, As low and wailing, yet clear the notes, rising and falling, flooding the night, Sadly sinking and fainting, as warning and warning, and yet again bursting with joy, Covering the earth, and filling the spread of the heaven, As that powerful psalm in the night I heard from recesses,) Passing, I leave thee, lilac with heart-shaped leaves; I leave thee there in the door-yard, blooming, returning with spring, I cease from my song for thee; From my gaze on thee in the west, fronting the west, communing with thee, O comrade lustrous, with silver face in the night. 20 Yet each I keep, and all, retrievements out of the night; The song, the wondrous chant of the gray-brown bird, And the tallying chant, the echo arous'd in my soul, With the lustrous and drooping star, with the countenance full of woe, With the lilac tall, and its blossoms of mastering odor; With the holders holding my hand, nearing the call of the bird, Comrades mine, and I in the midst, and their memory ever I keep—for the dead I loved so well; For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands...and this for his dear sake; Lilac and star and bird, twined with the chant of my soul, There in the fragrant pines, and the cedars dusk and dim.
Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality. We slowly drove – He knew no haste And I had put away My labor and my leisure too, For His Civility – We passed the School, where Children strove At Recess – in the Ring – We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – We passed the Setting Sun – Or rather – He passed us – The Dews drew quivering and chill – For only Gossamer, my Gown – My Tippet – only Tulle – We paused before a House that seemed A Swelling of the Ground – The Roof was scarcely visible – The Cornice – in the Ground – Since then – 'tis Centuries – and yet Feels shorter than the Day I first surmised the Horses' Heads Were toward Eternity –
She has forgotten what she forgot this morning: her keys, toast in the toaster blackening the insides of beloved skulls, little planetariums projecting increasingly incomplete and fanciful constellations: the Gravid Ass, the Mesozoic Cartwheel, the Big Goatee, the Littlest Fascist. Outside her window a crowd gathers, seething in white confusion like milk boiling dry in a saucepan—some lift fingers to point this way and that with herky-jerky certainty but they're standing too close for all those flying hands so that eyeglasses and hats fall—apologies inaudible, someone hands a fist, the brawl overwhelms the meager traffic of pedicabs and delivery trucks stacked high with rotting lettuce. Meanwhile above it all she's setting out the tea things: ceramic cup and saucer, little pewter spoon, pebbled iron pot, a slice of Sara Lee. Waiting to remember to turn the radio on, listen for the elevator, for the lock to turn or a knock on the door. In a little while she'll put everything away in the same configuration at the bottom of a clean white sink with its faucet dripping. We who watch this, half-turned away already toward sunny gardens or the oncoming semi— being not the one dead but not exactly alive either. The skin is a glove that wrinkles as it tightens. The cerebellum's the same. A game of chess between walking sticks—I mean the insects made up to resemble wood. I say we dissemble from photos and repetition our stakes in these weightless names.
James has cancer. Catherine has cancer. Melvin has AIDS. Whom will I call, and get no answer? My old friends, my new friends who are old, or older, sixty, seventy, take pills before or after dinner. Arthritis scourges them. But irremediable night is farther away from them; they seem to hold it at bay better than the young-middle-aged whom something, or another something, kills before the chapter's finished, the play staged. The curtains stay down when the light fades. Morose, unanswerable, the list of thirty- and forty-year-old suicides (friends' lovers, friends' daughters) insists in its lengthening: something's wrong. The sixty-five-year-olds are splendid, vying with each other in work-hours and wit. They bring their generosity along, setting the tone, or not giving a shit. How well, or how eccentrically, they dress! Their anecdotes are to the point, or wide enough to make room for discrepancies. But their children are dying. Natalie died by gas in Montpeyroux. In San Francisco, Ralph died of lung cancer, AIDS years later, Lew wrote to me. Lew, who at forty-five, expected to be dead of drink, who, ten years on, wasn't, instead survived a gentle, bright, impatient younger man. (Cliché: he falls in love with younger men.) Natalie's father came, and Natalie, as if she never had been there, was gone. Michèle closed up their house (where she was born). She shrouded every glass inside — mirrors, photographs — with sheets, as Jews do, though she's not a Jew. James knows, he thinks, as much as he wants to. He's been working half-time since November. They made the diagnosis in July. Catherine is back in radiotherapy. Her schoolboy haircut, prematurely grey, now frames a face aging with other numbers: "stage two," "stage three" mean more than "fifty-one" and mean, precisely, nothing, which is why she stares at nothing: lawn chair, stone, bird, leaf; brusquely turns off the news. I hope they will be sixty in ten years and know I used their names as flares in a polluted atmosphere, as private reasons where reason obtains no quarter. Children in the streets still die in grandfathers' good wars. Pregnant women with AIDS, schoolgirls, crack whores, die faster than men do, in more pain, are more likely than men to die alone. What are our statistics, when I meet the lump in my breast, you phone the doctor to see if your test results came? The earth-black woman in the bed beside Lidia on the AIDS floor — deaf and blind: I want to know if, no, how, she died. The husband, who'd stopped visiting, returned? He brought the little boy, those nursery- school smiles taped on the walls? She traced her name on Lidia's face when one of them needed something. She learned some Braille that week. Most of the time, she slept. Nobody knew the baby's HIV status. Sleeping, awake, she wept. And I left her name behind. And Lidia, where's she who got her act so clean of rum and Salem Filters and cocaine after her passing husband passed it on? As soon as she knew she phoned and told her mother she had AIDS but no, she wouldn't come back to San Juan. Sipping café con leche with dessert, in a blue robe, thick hair in braids, she beamed: her life was on the right track, now. But the cysts hurt too much to sleep through the night. No one was promised a shapely life ending in a tutelary vision. No one was promised: if you're a genuinely irreplaceable grandmother or editor you will not need to be replaced. When I die, the death I face will more than likely be illogical: Alzheimer's or a milk truck: the absurd. The Talmud teaches we become impure when we die, profane dirt, once the word that spoke this life in us has been withdrawn, the letter taken from the envelope. If we believe the letter will be read, some curiosity, some hope come with knowing that we die. But this was another century in which we made death humanly obscene: Soweto El Salvador Kurdistan Armenia Shatila Baghdad Hanoi Auschwitz Each one, unique as our lives are, taints what's left with complicity, makes everyone living a survivor who will, or won't, bear witness for the dead. I can only bear witness for my own dead and dying, whom I've often failed: unanswered letters, unattempted phone calls, against these fictions. A fiction winds her watch in sunlight, cancer ticking bone to shards. A fiction looks at proofs of a too-hastily finished book that may be published before he goes blind. The old, who tell good stories, half expect that what's written in their chromosomes will come true, that history won't interject a virus or a siren or a sealed train to where age is irrelevant. The old rebbetzen at Ravensbruck died in the most wrong place, at the wrong time. What do the young know different? No partisans are waiting in the woods to welcome them. Siblings who stayed home count down doom. Revolution became a dinner party in a fast-food chain, a vendetta for an abscessed crime, a hard-on market for consumer goods. A living man reads a dead woman's book. She wrote it; then, he knows, she was turned in. For every partisan there are a million gratuitous deaths from hunger, all-American mass murders, small wars, the old diseases and the new. Who dies well? The privilege of asking doesn't have to do with age. For most of us no question what our deaths, our lives, mean. At the end, Catherine will know what she knew, and James will, and Melvin, and I, in no one's stories, as we are.
This has nothing to do with propagating The species is continued as so many are (among the smaller creatures) by fission (and this species is very small next in order to the amoeba, the beginning one) The paramecium achieves, then, immortality by dividing But when the paramecium desires renewal strength another joy this is what the paramecium does: The paramecium lies down beside another paramecium Slowly inexplicably the exchange takes place in which some bits of the nucleus of each are exchanged for some bits of the nucleus of the other This is called the conjugation of the paramecium.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
A volunteer, a Daughter of the Confederacy, receives my admission and points the way. Here are gray jackets with holes in them, red sashes with individual flourishes, things soft as flesh. Someone sewed the gold silk cord onto that gray sleeve as if embellishments could keep a man alive. I have been reading War and Peace, and so the particulars of combat are on my mind—the shouts and groans of men and boys, and the horses' cries as they fall, astonished at what has happened to them. Blood on leaves, blood on grass, on snow; extravagant beauty of red. Smoke, dust of disturbed earth; parch and burn. Who would choose this for himself? And yet the terrible machinery waited in place. With psalters in their breast pockets, and gloves knitted by their sisters and sweethearts, the men in gray hurled themselves out of the trenches, and rushed against blue. It was what both sides agreed to do.
The first chainsaw I owned was years ago, an old yellow McCulloch that wouldn't start. Bo Bremmer give it to me that was my friend, though I've had enemies couldn't of done no worse. I took it to Ward's over to Morrisville, and no doubt they tinkered it as best they could, but it still wouldn't start. One time later I took it down to the last bolt and gasket and put it together again, hoping somehow I'd do something accidental-like that would make it go, and then I yanked on it 450 times, as I figured afterwards, and give myself a bursitis in the elbow that went five years even after Doc Arrowsmith shot it full of cortisone and near killed me when he hit a nerve dead on. Old Stan wanted that saw, wanted it bad. Figured I was a greenhorn that didn't know nothing and he could fix it. Well, I was, you could say, being only forty at the time, but a fair hand at tinkering. "Stan," I said, "you're a neighbor. I like you. I wouldn't sell that thing to nobody, except maybe Vice-President Nixon." But Stan persisted. He always did. One time we was loafing and gabbing in his front dooryard, and he spied that saw in the back of my pickup. He run quick inside, then come out and stuck a double sawbuck in my shirt pocket, and he grabbed that saw and lugged it off. Next day, when I drove past, I seen he had it snugged down tight with a tow-chain on the bed of his old Dodge Powerwagon, and he was yanking on it with both hands. Two or three days after, I asked him, "How you getting along with that McCulloch, Stan?" "Well," he says, "I tooken it down to scrap, and I buried it in three separate places yonder on the upper side of the potato piece. You can't be too careful," he says, "when you're disposing of a hex." The next saw I had was a godawful ancient Homelite that I give Dry Dryden thirty bucks for, temperamental as a ram too, but I liked it. It used to remind me of Dry and how he'd clap that saw a couple times with the flat of his double-blade axe to make it go and how he honed the chain with a worn-down file stuck in an old baseball. I worked that saw for years. I put up forty-five run them days each summer and fall to keep my stoves het through the winter. I couldn't now. It'd kill me. Of course they got these here modern Swedish saws now that can take all the worry out of it. What's the good of that? Takes all the fun out too, don't it? Why, I reckon. I mind when Gilles Boivin snagged an old sap spout buried in a chunk of maple and it tore up his mouth so bad he couldn't play "Tea for Two" on his cornet in the town band no more, and then when Toby Fox was holding a beech limb that Rob Bowen was bucking up and the saw skidded crossways and nipped off one of Toby's fingers. Ain't that more like it? Makes you know you're living. But mostly they wan't dangerous, and the only thing they broke was your back. Old Stan, he was a buller and a jammer in his time, no two ways about that, but he never sawed himself. Stan had the sugar all his life, and he wan't always too careful about his diet and the injections. He lost all the feeling in his legs from the knees down. One time he started up his Powerwagon out in the barn, and his foot slipped off the clutch, and she jumped forwards right through the wall and into the manure pit. He just set there, swearing like you could of heard it in St. Johnsbury, till his wife come out and said, "Stan, what's got into you?" "Missus," he says "ain't nothing got into me. Can't you see? It's me that's got into this here pile of shit." Not much later they took away one of his legs, and six months after that they took the other and left him setting in his old chair with a tank of oxygen to sip at whenever he felt himself sinking. I remember that chair. Stan reupholstered it with an old bearskin that must of come down from his great-great- grandfather and had grit in it left over from the Civil War and a bullet-hole as big as a yawning cat. Stan latched the pieces together with rawhide, cross fashion, but the stitches was always breaking and coming undone. About then I quit stopping by to see old Stan, and I don't feel so good about that neither. But my mother was having her strokes then. I figured one person coming apart was as much as a man can stand. Then Stan was taken away to the nursing home, and then he died. I always remember how he planted them pieces of spooked McCulloch up above the potatoes. One time I went up and dug, and I took the old sprocket, all pitted and et away, and set it on the windowsill right there next to the butter mold. But I'm damned if I know why.
The bright-faced children have gone home, trailing the sun to supper. Tonight, these others have come, almost sweetly shy, starched for their monthly party. Nurse herds them into metal chairs. I've come to sing, Nurse tells them, and they fold their hands --these lately mad who failed behind a door or slipped under in a jammed street, whose eyes blossomed like silver fists in mirrors, in plate-glass windows. Nurse is waiting for me. So I sing for them, for the boy in the front row, groping the stiff corners of his pockets; for the ugly one in pink anklets --her legs have never felt a razor, though her wrist has; for him whose fingers are eaten by ants; for her whose face sags like a torn sack. They do not like my songs, but infinitely polite, they turn their smiles up into the dark as if a smile should fall softly, obliquely, like rain. "Home on the Range," Nurse calls out, her sure fingers on the pulse of America. I start in faltering voice, half-forgetting those dead words sung at campfires in the past. One joins, and then another: Home, home on the range. . . Where the deer. . . And the skies are. . . The voices crack and lurch, we are singing--the boy, the ugly one-- singing like crows in the empty prairie of a children's playground where if there are distances that shine they shine like the eyes of pain.
This is the house of Bedlam. This is the man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is the time of the tragic man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is a wristwatch telling the time of the talkative man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is a sailor wearing the watch that tells the time of the honored man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is the roadstead all of board reached by the sailor wearing the watch that tells the time of the old, brave man that lies in the house of Bedlam. These are the years and the walls of the ward, the winds and clouds of the sea of board sailed by the sailor wearing the watch that tells the time of the cranky man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is a Jew in a newspaper hat that dances weeping down the ward over the creaking sea of board beyond the sailor winding his watch that tells the time of the cruel man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is a world of books gone flat. This is a Jew in a newspaper hat that dances weeping down the ward over the creaking sea of board of the batty sailor that winds his watch that tells the time of the busy man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is a boy that pats the floor to see if the world is there, is flat, for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat that dances weeping down the ward waltzing the length of a weaving board by the silent sailor that hears his watch that ticks the time of the tedious man that lies in the house of Bedlam. These are the years and the walls and the door that shut on a boy that pats the floor to feel if the world is there and flat. This is a Jew in a newspaper hat that dances joyfully down the ward into the parting seas of board past the staring sailor that shakes his watch that tells the time of the poet, the man that lies in the house of Bedlam. This is the soldier home from the war. These are the years and the walls and the door that shut on a boy that pats the floor to see if the world is round or flat. This is a Jew in a newspaper hat that dances carefully down the ward, walking the plank of a coffin board with the crazy sailor that shows his watch that tells the time of the wretched man that lies in the house of Bedlam.
When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all my toys beside me lay To keep me happy all the day. And sometimes for an hour or so I watched my leaden soldiers go, With different uniforms and drills, Among the bed-clothes, through the hills; And sometimes sent my ships in fleets All up and down among the sheets; Or brought my trees and houses out, And planted cities all about. I was the giant great and still That sits upon the pillow-hill, And sees before him, dale and plain, The pleasant land of counterpane.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear; Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.
I have walked through many lives, some of them my own, and I am not who I was, though some principle of being abides, from which I struggle not to stray. When I look behind, as I am compelled to look before I can gather strength to proceed on my journey, I see the milestones dwindling toward the horizon and the slow fires trailing from the abandoned camp-sites, over which scavenger angels wheel on heavy wings. Oh, I have made myself a tribe out of my true affections, and my tribe is scattered! How shall the heart be reconciled to its feast of losses? In a rising wind the manic dust of my friends, those who fell along the way, bitterly stings my face. Yet I turn, I turn, exulting somewhat, with my will intact to go wherever I need to go, and every stone on the road precious to me. In my darkest night, when the moon was covered and I roamed through wreckage, a nimbus-clouded voice directed me: "Live in the layers, not on the litter." Though I lack the art to decipher it, no doubt the next chapter in my book of transformations is already written. I am not done with my changes.
It is a Sunday afternoon on the Grand Canal. We are watching the sailboats trying to sail along without wind. Small rowboats are making their incisions on the water, only to have the wounds seal up again soon after they pass. In the background, smoke from the factories and smoke from the steamboats merges into tiny clouds above us then disappears. Our mothers and fathers walk arm in arm along the shore clutching tightly their umbrellas and canes. We are sitting on a blanket in the foreground, but even if someone were to take a photograph, only our closest relatives would recognize us: we seem to be burying our heads between our knees.
I remember thinking you were one of the most delicate women I had ever seen. Your bones seemed small and fragile as a rabbit's. Even so, beads of perspiration begin to form on your wrist and forehead — if we were to live long enough we'd have been amazed at how many clothes we forced ourselves to wear. At this time I had never seen you without your petticoats, and if I ever gave thought to such a possibility I'd chastise myself for not offering you sufficient respect.
The sun is very hot. Why is it no one complains of the heat in France? There are women doing their needlework, men reading, a man in a bowler hat smoking a pipe. The noise of the children is absorbed by the trees. The air is full of idleness, there is the faint aroma of lilies coming from somewhere. We discuss what we want for ourselves, abstractly, it seems only right on a day like this. I have ambitions to be a painter, and you want a small family and a cottage in the country. We make everything sound so simple because we believe everything is still possible. The small tragedies of our parents have not yet made an impression on us. We should be grateful, but we're too awkward to think hard about very much.
I throw a scaling rock into the water; I have strong arms and before the rock sinks it seems to have nearly reached the other side. When we get up we have a sense of our own importance. We could not know, taking a step back, looking at the total picture, that we would occupy such a small corner of the canvas, and that even then we are no more than tiny clusters of dots, carefully placed together without touching.
The back, the yoke, the yardage. Lapped seams, The nearly invisible stitches along the collar Turned in a sweatshop by Koreans or Malaysians Gossiping over tea and noodles on their break Or talking money or politics while one fitted This armpiece with its overseam to the band Of cuff I button at my wrist. The presser, the cutter, The wringer, the mangle. The needle, the union, The treadle, the bobbin. The code. The infamous blaze At the Triangle Factory in nineteen-eleven. One hundred and forty-six died in the flames On the ninth floor, no hydrants, no fire escapes-- The witness in a building across the street Who watched how a young man helped a girl to step Up to the windowsill, then held her out Away from the masonry wall and let her drop. And then another. As if he were helping them up To enter a streetcar, and not eternity. A third before he dropped her put her arms Around his neck and kissed him. Then he held Her into space, and dropped her. Almost at once He stepped to the sill himself, his jacket flared And fluttered up from his shirt as he came down, Air filling up the legs of his gray trousers-- Like Hart Crane's Bedlamite, "shrill shirt ballooning." Wonderful how the pattern matches perfectly Across the placket and over the twin bar-tacked Corners of both pockets, like a strict rhyme Or a major chord. Prints, plaids, checks, Houndstooth, Tattersall, Madras. The clan tartans Invented by mill-owners inspired by the hoax of Ossian, To control their savage Scottish workers, tamed By a fabricated heraldry: MacGregor, Bailey, MacMartin. The kilt, devised for workers To wear among the dusty clattering looms. Weavers, carders, spinners. The loader, The docker, the navvy. The planter, the picker, the sorter Sweating at her machine in a litter of cotton As slaves in calico headrags sweated in fields: George Herbert, your descendant is a Black Lady in South Carolina, her name is Irma And she inspected my shirt. Its color and fit And feel and its clean smell have satisfied Both her and me. We have culled its cost and quality Down to the buttons of simulated bone, The buttonholes, the sizing, the facing, the characters Printed in black on neckband and tail. The shape, The label, the labor, the color, the shade. The shirt.
When a deed is done for Freedom, through the broad earth's aching breast Runs a thrill of joy prophetic, trembling on from east to west, And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels the soul within him climb To the awful verge of manhood, as the energy sublime Of a century bursts full-blossomed on the thorny stem of Time. Through the walls of hut and palace shoots the instantaneous throe, When the travail of the Ages wrings earth's systems to and fro; At the birth of each new Era, with a recognizing start, Nation wildly looks at nation, standing with mute lips apart, And glad Truth's yet mightier man-child leaps beneath the Future's heart. So the Evil's triumph sendeth, with a terror and a chill, Under continent to continent, the sense of coming ill, And the slave, where'er he cowers, feels his sympathies with God In hot tear-drops ebbing earthward, to be drunk up by the sod, Till a corpse crawls round unburied, delving in the nobler clod. For mankind are one in spirit, and an instinct bears along, Round the earth's electric circle, the swift flash of right or wrong; Whether conscious or unconscious, yet Humanity's vast frame Through its ocean-sundered fibres feels the gush of joy or shame;— In the gain or loss of one race all the rest have equal claim. Once to every man and nation comes the moment to decide, In the strife of Truth with Falsehood, for the good or evil side; Some great cause, God's new Messiah, offering each the bloom or blight, Parts the goats upon the left hand, and the sheep upon the right, And the choice goes by forever 'twixt that darkness and that light. Hast thou chosen, O my people, on whose party thou shalt stand, Ere the Doom from its worn sandals shakes the dust against our land? Though the cause of Evil prosper, yet 'tis Truth alone is strong, And, albeit she wander outcast now, I see around her throng Troops of beautiful, tall angels, to enshield her from all wrong. Backward look across the ages and the beacon-moments see, That, like peaks of some sunk continent, jut through Oblivion's sea; Not an ear in court or market for the low, foreboding cry Of those Crises, God's stern winnowers, from whose feet earth's chaff must fly; Never shows the choice momentous till the judgment hath passed by. Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word; Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,— Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own. We see dimly in the Present what is small and what is great, Slow of faith how weak an arm may turn the iron helm of fate, But the soul is still oracular; amid the market's din, List the ominous stern whisper from the Delphic cave within,— "They enslave their children's children who make compromise with sin." Slavery, the earth-born Cyclops, fellest of the giant brood, Sons of brutish Force and Darkness, who have drenched the earth with blood, Famished in his self-made desert, blinded by our purer day, Gropes in yet unblasted regions for his miserable prey;— Shall we guide his gory fingers where our helpless children play? Then to side with Truth is noble when we share her wretched crust, Ere her cause bring fame and profit, and 'tis prosperous to be just; Then it is the brave man chooses, while the coward stands aside, Doubting in his abject spirit, till his Lord is crucified, And the multitude make virtue of the faith they had denied. Count me o'er earth's chosen heroes,—they were souls that stood alone, While the men they agonized for hurled the contumelious stone, Stood serene, and down the future saw the golden beam incline To the side of perfect justice, mastered by their faith divine, By one man's plain truth to manhood and to God's supreme design. By the light of burning heretics Christ's bleeding feet I track, Toiling up new Calvaries ever with the cross that turns not back, And these mounts of anguish number how each generation learned One new word of that grand Credo which in prophet-hearts hath burned Since the first man stood God-conquered with his face to heaven upturned. For Humanity sweeps onward: where to-day the martyr stands, On the morrow crouches Judas with the silver in his hands; Far in front the cross stands ready and the crackling fagots burn, While the hooting mob of yesterday in silent awe return To glean up the scattered ashes into History's golden urn. 'Tis as easy to be heroes as to sit the idle slaves Of a legendary virtue carved upon our fathers' graves, Worshippers of light ancestral make the present light a crime;— Was the Mayflower launched by cowards, steered by men behind their time? Turn those tracks toward Past or Future, that made Plymouth Rock sublime? They were men of present valor, stalwart old iconoclasts, Unconvinced by axe or gibbet that all virtue was the Past's; But we make their truth our falsehood, thinking that hath made us free, Hoarding it in mouldy parchments, while our tender spirits flee The rude grasp of that great Impulse which drove them across the sea. They have rights who dare maintain them; we are traitors to our sires, Smothering in their holy ashes Freedom's new-lit altar-fires; Shall we make their creed our jailer? Shall we, in our haste to slay, From the tombs of the old prophets steal the funeral lamps away To light up the martyr-fagots round the prophets of to-day? New occasions teach new duties; Time makes ancient good uncouth; They must upward still, and onward, who would keep abreast of Truth; Lo, before us gleam her camp-fires! we ourselves must Pilgrims be, Launch our Mayflower, and steer boldly through the desperate winter sea, Nor attempt the Future's portal with the Past's blood-rusted key.
I am the people—the mob—the crowd—the mass. Do you know that all the great work of the world is done through me? I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the world's food and clothes. I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns. I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me. I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted. I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and makes me work and give up what I have. And I forget. Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red drops for history to remember. Then—I forget. When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer forget who robbed me last year, who played me for a fool—then there will be no speaker in all the world say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision. The mob—the crowd—the mass—will arrive then.
Abraham Lincoln his hand and pen he will be good but god knows When
Our lives no longer feel ground under them. At ten paces you can’t hear our words. But whenever there’s a snatch of talk it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer, the ten thick worms his fingers, his words like measures of weight, the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip, the glitter of his boot-rims. Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses he toys with the tributes of half-men. One whistles, another meows, a third snivels. He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom. He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes, One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye. He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries. He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.
Last century we took a lot of shots Of what we did, framing things for Look and Life So we could see us and our lot Riveting the lattice of a skyline Or walking the I beams of infinite rooms Over Manhattan, Cleveland, Washington— Oh elevated light. We were amassing works—bridges and dams, Ike’s interstates, highrises; raising tons Out of a continent unfolding by Mountain and pit, plain and gradient river, The convex sky bottling cirrus highs And the steep cumuli of moody weather, Oh century of light. Back then we were stout realists working out All manner of the world as one-to-one, The aerials that Margaret Bourke-White got Of factories and bombed-out towns, Also the gaunt subtractive stares by Evans, Whose dust bowl poor became our luminous Internal weather. And then at Buchenwald there were those faces Of ourselves—fed guards, starved Poles and Jews, The citizens of Weimar just trucked in Bearing the stares of deformed children, As now our lenses focused on the krill And undertow of the swallowing real Weather of enlightenment. Add in atomic white, the napalm blind . . . An overbright disequilibrium Had settled in, a kind of countermind, Blind as those guards at Buchenwald, darkroom And looking up, gashed faces wide with fear, All interrogatives frozen where Someone holds a light For focusing Margaret Bourke-White; While the two guards, deserving or not, stripped To bloody underwear, still looking up In horror at what’s coming next, hear "Pop!" Thanks to the flash, so everyone will see Us taking our turn at victory, Oh century.
It shows up one summer in a greatcoat, storms through the house confiscating, says it must be paid and quickly, says it must take everything. Your children stare into their cornflakes, your wife whispers only once to stop it, because she loves you and she sees it darken the room suddenly like a stain. What did you do to deserve it, ruining breakfast on a balmy day? Kiss your loved ones. Night is coming. There was no life without it anyway.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"