The humor, or rather the irony, of my
presence in the Coffee Shop--
And there is some, believe me, the analysis
Is made to force back the tears from my eyes--
Well, this consists in the fact that I, at
The counter appearing to dally for an hour,
Am alone in the conception of such an hour
Being an hour of work. I mean I’m
The basic awkwardness I feel in my behavior
I think consists of this fact that actually
I’m engaged in important . . . research!
When you are watching everything, and all
At once, well you sink--you rise, into the
Center of a large confusion.
And if in
The Coffee Shop only held together, itself,
By the simplest sort of continuities,
this is happening to you, well
That makes you quite susceptible to the
Wellsprings of thought! And though it
Gives you faith in the daily life and
common run of humanity,
Like as a premise of observation, you
Still become too susceptible to
Should it arrive on the wings of any
Already held anticipation.
I was always
Trying to add to my store of knowledge on
The nature of reality, and I had
Determined that Coffee Shops were real, I
Was always in them, and hard at work,
like they were the storm-center
Of countless battles in the weather and street.
Simple anonymous transactions held for me
The suspense of a hoped-for, a planned-for
Confirmation of basic, unavoidable, and
Consummate, or rather hard-hitting, mysteries.
I was most like a veteran patron, not the
Jaunty customer just going by, but the
Neighborhood sitter that the waitress has
Long nursed to like a series of special
Dinner plates, like beef and noodles and
A side order of french fries with gravy,
With milk and cherry pie, sitting at the
End of the counter, eating with both hands,
A napkin in his lap, and lost in the years.
Well, I wasn’t that guy, no I was
But I was most like that guy, only I was
A world traveller, and nobody knew me at
All, I was a victim of the streets, and
Beckoned by the weather, and aware, unlike
Henry or George, precisely of
Well, I was not composed, but thinking,
And the tenor of my thoughts was yielding
To a description that embraced all around
Me, in scenes still vivid; I was not the
First person in fact or representative in
Fiction to have struggled
Against the rain and wind, with a black
Umbrella constantly collapsing, unfurling,
And withstanding the lashing water,
to be provided with
Occasional, but sensational, glimpses
Of the immediate city, whole corners of
Which were washed away in accidental
Floodtides from exhausted gutters, or in
The collision of two wild and slippery
Streets. I always caught the sight of
Other people also caught in such
And deemed them, like myself, the more
Fortunate! Yes, crossing Edinburgh--for
Example, I think this was seven years ago--
In a sudden storm consumes all the skill
One has, as a soldier and a scholar, an
Adult of the seasons, a fairly witty fellow,
Not confounded by natural comedies. And
Retaking the northern bridge, with the
Sense that my troops were lost
in lower Cannonmills--
Clearly a historical, or imaginary, scene!
I considered that the whole green park
And fringe arcade, which led in normal times,
I mean normal weather, to the sunken train
Station, had been obliterated, forever.
As I would judge in my rare perception,
It was clear if I could remain vitally aware,
I was undoubtably headed for
With the clouds. What are words, and what
Are unforgettable impressions, for?
Violent church spires that stood tall in
The ludicrous, low, white clouds, were
Claiming their final witness for man,
In view of the wrath of the heavens. I
Was preaching then, from a terrace behind
Which a winding stairway . . . fell.
Winding stairway of stones where, once,
The people climbed, had turned into a
chute of water.
I was not the first person in fact or
Indeed in some fiction to see the
relative obscurity of my position,
And the unmerited grace, or rather
spectacle of cooperation
Of the bright weather, the laughing rain,
All that awaits the threatening
re-emergence of the sun.
Then the irony, if not comedy, of my position
In the Coffee Shop was that it seemed I
Was entirely, or rather physically,
Alone in the profound malady, or the
Like I was recovering for all of them. It
Became quite clear to me that nobody else
Was at work, no fountain of expectation
Buttressed the stay of the others, surely,
In the Coffee Shops. And yet I was certain
This was where what was going to happen
Would happen first. I was watching. I
Had truth in my grasp, and I was watching
For revolution. And had there been any
Vanity attached, even the slightest degree,
To this occupation, or this martyrdom
I might say,
Then certainly, in the Coffee Shops, I
Would have become lonely, and silent,
But being only circumstantially held at
Bay, being always diagnosed by
acts of kindness
On the part of the waitress, or the guy
Sliding down the counter space the ashtray,
The being spied as one needing secret succor,
Or a second cup of coffee, or an hour
Unmolested, being allowed the
madman stance of waiting,
And, who knows, maybe taken into the heart
Somewhere by someone who glimpsed an
Overt sadness displayed or held within
If, for a moment, I put my face into my
well this was all caused,
Ironically, and even humorously, not
Because I was the supreme, the epitome,
Of a philosopher, or rather a wastrel,
But because Coffee Shops (you see) were
Never made as a field of study, were not
Intended to receive these congratulations,
But were slapped up to serve precisely
Those people taking a break from
humdrum labour, or real life--
In other words, you might say, I was in
The perfectly wrong place. And if there
Was vanity in the thought that reaches truth,
Then that vanity would have made complaint.
But I had no strategy, I had strayed at
A certain date into Coffee Shops of this type,
And I could never leave,
never abandon this
World. I mean this context of unassuming,
Even rigorously repetitive, simplicity . . .
I could not transcend them, for truth had
Told me that pity stands
And I watched the waitress serving Henry
His warm noodles, and I thought nothing at
All, I wanted to be there, I didn’t want
To describe it, but the witness
Of reality always seemed cataclysmic
Enough, in this life. I would be at some
Point the narrator for the others. In
Defense of the backward history of thought
Itself, the thought inside the person,
The whirlwind scenery that grasps and replays
The terrain of the history of the world,
I was rivetted in sheer hope and with a
Naivite that stretched back to
the thought of total mystery
In which a person starts.
I observed from the circular garret at
The top of the castle, in the yard there,
At the wall, I observed
the vast extent
Below, the gross extent of the modern city.
Smokestacks and factories to the east
Would appear as on illusory plains and
beaches of stagnant dust,
Sinking in the distance. There was a
Network of piers out on the water, but
The air, it was not clear, there was a
Network of roads and bridges spanning the
Slums, the lower slums of clapboard and
Brick. I had nothing to say.
Around from the wall, by the massive gunrails,
I was caught up and I joined the growing
Throng of tourists milling around the
open floors and fragmented walls
Of the castle whose physical reality in
The past was, obviously, unretrievable,
If it was ever there. One could doubt it.
I was quiet. I was stopped. I was closer
Then, to the monumental stones, and
listening to the fragmentary speech
Of the people going by. I was walking in
A tired gait, but my mind suddenly alive
With absurd images, behind the holiday couples,
At St. Margaret’s Chapel, where the voice
Of the tour guide, who was a schoolboy,
Was explaining, again, the main facts of
of this church, by somebody,
Sometime. This was a hopeless kind of scene,
It was a slow dance, it was like the people
Were going to be entranced and die of this.
And then in the Coffee Shop, like a home,
Even with the reflection of my face in
The glass, with the smile and unease of a
Clown, off-base, knowing all the others
were going in and out, still
I knew I had nowhere to get back to--
I had not the sense of the coffee break,
But was held with a mere awareness, and I
Didn’t know what it was all about, the
Humming along, the staying between events;
Nor what kind of work the other patrons
Had, that didn’t go on day and night.
While you might make it sound like wisdom,
And make a summary explanation, call it
Irony, or make a contrast, as if to
preserve the person
Whose identity is thus confessed, or to
Describe what was happening as if you
knew how it looked from above--
To me the chief reality was the Coffee Shop
Itself, and the sense, like the sense in
The other scenes, that I was missing,
or chasing a phantom.
Oh, it looks like out of a contrary mood
Whole cities were built, complete with these
Kindly staffed retreats, and that people
Are capable of moving, day after day with
Needing only a few scheduled breaks. It
Looks like corridors connect offices, and
That benches in the park are to relax
between other occasions, it
Looks like the world is established over
Time, maybe, and you can, well, visit it--
And keep a destiny in reserve. And people
Talk like talk were a kind of dancing
accompaniment to their way
Of walking, straightaway, between the
breakfast table and the bed, and
That it’s never time to veer into a crisis,
Or break the spell holding the grand public
Together, like in a big fiction;
Like in a book, somebody wrote before.
But the truth is, the life that is told
And heard about, comprehensively,
is the life of the narrator.
Certain traumas, when admitted, feel better
In the memory. And the truth is, I never
Felt so much at home, when with no qualms
At all I watched the changing of humanity,
From a coffee shop counter, with the
Mystery all around me, and nothing to say--
When, with no assignment, I got the sense
Of pure adventure. And I stayed put there,
As if that (and the other scenes, that words
Can express) were where
God should find us.
As soon as the dawn like a chamois
Cloth, has remade the windows,
Our mute hero has tripped into view
And his wide gaze swings in periphery,
Hands already on the silver wheel,
Upon all that is old and all that is new.
All his steps in the dawn are immortal.
He walks on the light film of their sleep
While the day falls down in sheets his
Footprints on the new lawn are protocol.
The red shutters on the house are
Dreams. The tan, pebbled driveway
Orange seashells, tiny conches,
Trivial memories . . . Now he
Turns at the familiar signpost.
Meanwhile, nowhere, on the unstained
Rug, the cats are tearing around, all
Kansas, and one house on Hinchey Road
Awake as the sunlight releases the corn.
And the afternoon will be a flash flood.
The sun is yellow like in a child’s picture.
His black tires lacerate the highway.
A sleeveless arm reaches for the blur
Of trees-- Rip, rewind, retake!
Morning is blue, there must be a mistake.
Oh, in the summer the girls were supine
On the the blue metallic roof where
The the world was reversed and he was opine,
Wearing a badge on his sleeveless shirt.
-------- Part Two
As soon as the noon with its pincers lines
With steel the edges of his broad rimmed view
Our hero rides, next to his thermos, and
Nature humbly follows on her haunches--
The Blue Sedan west into yesterday.
The casual road under telephone wires
Tends toward the forest of tents where
The memorable people of Hinchey Road
And a girl from Kansas, no doubt, run about
With hoops that rise blue in the noon,
Fall around the skirts of childish trees
And a message races garbled in the trees,
A thin scream backward on the modern wires
That deeper still within his gloom
Inevitable youth has just dove forever in
The blue-rimmed eyes of a clear lagoon.
Onward into the speckled leaves,
There is a hush over Lake Quintessence
As a bottle of blood floats into the sun,
While under a similar sky
The famous cat had a sparrow for lunch
And morning was a blue suspense.
-------Part Two, Again
Stranger than that his past is a postcard
On the white vinyl or a glimpse into
The rear-view mirror, waving her arms come
Back, come back and walking the children--
Bang, the famous screen door and the sky are
Now closing shop. Painting the fenders bluer
Than March, color the rest as you wish.
Headlights dance on the twilight snow,
How many winters ago?
By the criminal stream far from Hinchey
Road he abandons his car and memory.
But the strident dreamer strides onward
And here silver glass marks the frozen mud,
The tire is in its natural rut and blue,
He looks up. Headlights bend about the maze,
Snow dancing backward coaxing the eye.
You abandon a car in one century
And turn off the headlights in the previous.
Now in the midst of this fiction, bowing.
The clown steps into the circle (luckily)
Reading everyone’s favorite poetry:
The trees are laden with this man’s sorrow,
Under a broken bridge go colored leaves
Like blue medallions upon a pure stream
Leading like time to the waters of his heart.
No sooner has the night, stranger to any
Tale, reduced this recondite fancy to silver
(Moonlight on the shield of a racing sedan),
Than the blue man took pencil in hand.
Sitting cross-legged on a rotting stump,
Or somewhere in Kansas in a flashflood, he
Penned in staunch pines, straightforward lines:
“Had I not imagined your sleep was real
(Little man was I, scurrying across
The oval lid of erudite dreams),
I would not have braved the world when I
Knew so well how fragile how meek the sky
Seemed at the indigo border of road and yard
With my thermos, at the age three.
It was then I discovered the place I’m
Now, the marvelous creek and yellow sun
And the curious off-rhymes that my mind
Ascribes to the symbolic world of time.”
This accomplished flight across meridians
Space and time, allows our hero afterthought--
Coincident with the ravishing moon
On his chin, wheel, automobile. His wide
Swing raced the drops of cold dew on spring
Lawns, where his spirited footsteps are made
Anew, as credulous man and his blue sedan.
They stare, amused, at the ancient scene, no
Words come to them, only infinite phrases
Concerning the sunlight bleaching porch floors,
Mild rains and November, the length in years
Of stairways bound toward the portico,
Old people lost in the long hour of dusk.
And near them, on a difficult errand,
Somewhere in the autumn yard,
Distracted, roams the child,.
Three paces in the haze, a likely figure
Leading vague crowds among apple trees,
Watching the wind unbuckle his shoulder,
Invited by silence, suggestion, and tears--
A comical boy,vanquished on his knees.
The illustrious old couple, doubled
Up with mute laughter, on the veranda
Overlooking a bottomless dusk, are
Name for the famed Rosaceous tree--
Here a retarded, southern wind plays, a
Kitten stripping ribbons at their feet;
Rain drops mildly on his outstretched hand,
Its ignorant melodies failing to persuade
Him from contemplations of privacy,
Black mirrors reflecting yellow leaves.
And the dusk’s cool, quiet enclosure
Serves his memory, like endless space.
A child, lowering twilight with his eyes,
Surrenders secret footsteps to the grass,
Inventing codes of loyalty to error;
The dull whistle of the low wind, and the
Glitters of farcical lights attract him
Through the orchard where hangs
Like an image faintly reminiscent,
A defeat, a summons, a great apology--
Boughs of pale yellow and ambrosial green.
The hilarious pair, Rose and Redeemer,
In mustard gowns and wicker chairs, attempt
To discern other faces around them,
Admonishing the kitten for his casual play . . .
He suggests he adjust the porchlight to low,
She suggests if she lower her tone so light,
They whisper together: we mean the same thing.
Her fingers remove several folds of gown,
Loosening formless shadows in flight;
She curves her shawl, so as to include
Familiar tremors, like a memory
Of gardens, gloves soaked in autumn air.
And he casts her a realistic glance.
“I like the moon, but love your pale brooch.”
Dogs bark from the hollow, day is gone;
Abject murmurs, vague crowds, precede the
Arbitrary child, as he apprehends
Special inflections in familiar voices,
Inclining curves among the copper trees.
Shuffling the bushes the wind arranges
Pleasant galleries of known faces, just
Incomplete, in pink and bronze relief. And
As the sunlight falls short of the porch floor,
Two rocking chairs hum in the empty air.
And the dusk, which interlocks, has a
Lone spectator. The autumn, which keeps,
Has a private caretaker, in the orchard
Where he feels he is surrounded by
Voices and footsteps, famous echoes . . .
He makes a wide, magnificent scan
Over rock and bush, in surveillance of
Handmade paths and remembered lands--
Amber leaves turning brittle in his gaze,
Miscast winds reddening his small hands.
Long ago, he has seen them,
Gazing for the limits,
Bending and picking,
Under a drifting fixture of trees,
Standing in November, under absent skies,
Heard them calling, under framed doorways.
Now in his eyes the seasons fade,
Dead faces mar the leaves . . .
Why is he always standing here, in this
Unexpected clearing . . . recounting lives
That dazzle among branches, and disappear
Among one another, like thoughts of gloom,
Conversing of whether he’ll retrieve a
Jacket that lies in a bad of dark roses
By the foot of a withering apple tree,
Should he kneel in the pale, unfocused grass,
The weight of frail limbs curving his back.
His duty is nothing but to create
An ambiguous avowal,
The charmed, imagined others' withdrawal
Homeward, rarely glancing back . . .
Certain gestures, words, promises remain--
Perpetual mornings arise in refrain.
The lovely couple of the constant noon,
A rose castaway by the cellar window,
A space half-turned in the blackened earth,
Appear in rehearsal as he ascends
The porch overshadowed by the pencilled moon.
And in these leisures there is jury--
A sequence in thoughts or words that betray
The actions of children stepping in rhythm,
The autumn winds discoloring the grass,
Praying for dusk or a vague illustration.
The redundancy of laughter and tears,
Small hands of silence raised in a place
Upheld in the mind’s mute pantomime;
A theater of trees, spectacle of light,
Reverence in his eyes, riot in his sight.
A bicycle angling on Imlay Street, along
The knit road where two themes merge--
Time past, small feet still burning like
Cobblestones in the sun, time present
His presence on a fictional street.
There is landscape in his heal,
There are shoes strewn on natural paths
In the hills radial to his sight--
Where leaves clash their yellow feet.
Faces like storefronts pass in the rainbow
At his elbow of steel, like shavings of
Color mirroring young eyes, human suns.
His downhill shadow outraces the sun,
He hears thunderstorms in a marble sink,
The sepia road under turning feet,
The past--the past is
A bicycle coasting down Imlay Street,
Blue tiretracks across the sky,
The silent inflections on sun on sleeve.
Listen, he is listening for the sky,
His silence extended in circular hills
Where arch horses muse, where headlights
Scan written slopes in the perfect meter
And hoof, of chance. He steals a face when the
Sky looks--pale, from imaginary heights.
A glimpse of time, a glimpse made skies,
A bicycle angling on frequent streets.
He took her to the place where dead faces
Mar the leaves, where yellow leapt and fell.
Clipping their hedges, shears high against
The forenoon sky, residents of Inlay Street
Watching him, from the edges of reserve.
A patch of driveway extends too far
Until memory replaces at one end
A girl with a hoop of color that bends
Across the lawn made of marble dust
To the white house where characters of joy
Knit roads across the oaken sheen, while
They sit and discuss time’s simile . . .
Their legs merging with wood in hills,
In audiences of summer rain
Where faces appear with changeable eyes
Cast down like time casting down
Crowned acorns where a fender meets
A spot of earth, exchangeable-- Now
He runs to the house;
His life is a bicycle tire spinning
In green shadows of mirth.
The old man is leaning on garden gate,
Rust in his palm;
Now in the purple evening he enters,
Crisscrosses of sun on his back;
Now he holds a slender rose by the neck.
And I paint the billboards Persian night.
Who is this lady spying from her window?
And what strange plant hides her face?
Below the stucco wall in frenzied earth,
A man works in the shadow of her glance.
Sophy, they say, walks along in forests,
Twigs never cling to her checkered shirt;
And she returns with armloads of lumber,
Her voices crackles with the purple hearth.
This lady has a garden of watermelons;
Her cat has yellow eyes, has checkered fur.
Cyrus imagined his anemones as men,
Religion in the roots of his judas trees.
Water, he told me, is the first need
And first of things lacking in reality.
Averroes perished before a magic mountain;
Like as syllogism, he folded on stilts.
In the European streets of memory--
I am buying the last real Persian quilt.
The cat knows too well the measured garden,
The black bees, the plane trees;
She measures herself in a shaft of sunlight,
Man by the shadow of the evening gate.
At the instant of noon, she wrestles with fate
And my airplane is a silver flash in the sky
On the hot sidewalk two girls play marbles,
The marbles are their eyes, red, white
Red in the spring, their lungs are consumed
In the last height of autumn fires.
On the chipped porch, under a slanting roof
A man learns to rock in no wind
Enjoying his Sunday like paradise--
Children rolling over the chances of birth.
These girls also play in the river bed,
Webbed trees bend over their bent heads.
Dusk comes first in the private yard
Where a man makes diagonals in slippered feet
To save wooden chairs from possible skies.
The limbs of Malte Laurids Brigg are there.
I left the ladder leaning on the stucco wall;
I penned in small letters shadowless skies,
Memorable places, Montana, or Persia,
Grand Canyon, or the Gulf of Surprise.
Four rivers spread like a hand--
The circular bird is a solemn decree.
A spade turns, discovers fresh earth,
Tuned . . . to a desolate bird cry,
But the crooked man continues to work.
Dummy face in his alkaline hands, a
Strange coolness invades the private yard
And there he sits, a character in a book.
Why are these two girls always together,
And why don’t their roller skates make a
Sound? In the river bed they eat dry figs,
They smile at me, make pantomimes,
Flutter thin arms like imitations of snow.
In the oldest street, in imaginary snow,
The historical is the personal--
My shoes on the earth’s quadrangle.
Anger quartered in a garden of senses,
Silent amazement from my attic window
As I recall myself exactly, setting
The angle of the ladder on the wall,
Writing the line already in the poem;
And I sit down among my books, like
An old man first seeing the sky. In the
Checkered shadows, by a looking glass,
Dusk descends like the palm, soundlessly,
Of the crooked gardener;
In the garden of four rivers
My stride is the shade of the cypress tree.
On skyless days, in a grey and white
Apron the matron observes her
Natural museum, wonders who’s eaten
The vague leaves of the her thin ranunculi.
An easel is folded by the crackling wall,
As time spans again the small hills,
Stucco limits of the sacred village,
And its ember dies in her grey eyes.
A traveller's eyes are split in the sun,
Greek sun, or a word combination,
And his head goes round like Helios.
And I paint the billboards shades of
Magenta, and leave the paint can absurdly
By the road, the last thing the dying men
See, as they hurry on into magenta night.
I have painted the skies of lyrical flight.
The Persian king dies in the first sunrise,
His flesh in the sand of infinite color,
Describing small gardens in the twilight
Where the griffon stalks, wanders, and
Thinks he is an invention--but his garden
Is not, and the dusk creates another
Doorway, and now he walks--
Now he holds a slender rose by the neck.
What is thought? What is it? A copy of
Something you did? Why should you suffer
The encircling presence of thought? Oh
Thought may indeed seem sufficient only
To the pale estimate of nature wrought,
Of a scene half-absorbed
by the senses.
A ghost! A snorting monster in the hills
Where I did battle laughingly, for us.
That was I, wasn’t it? Shall thought
consider what is true?
And now, here I am, lying on the couch
In the funny living room, very fatigued--
And she moves beyond this scene
where thought cannot gather
Her up. Oh no, just what I imagined!
I would be sure. Yes. The past and future,
Are involved in some dreary deadly exchange.
I would be almost disappointed in nature
For its grandiose claims have only given
Me the image of everything that I think,
so thought is only feeling and
I am repeating the wars of creation, an
Estimate stale for the prophet in chains!
And only reminiscent, itself, of a
dusty plain, a distant past,
Like a past within the past, thought within
Thought, and so on . . . to despair.
That, and more, in the dialogue with the
Unconfessed. And yes, this is the opposite
Of what I really think and believe, as a
hero, commissioned of light.
But you want to be depressed, and unresolved,
And grow fatter in the spoiled afternoon--
And I can drive this to a test, and make
The hangers-on feel bad today, though I
Cannot make them
confess. For thought, oh
Thought itself, is caught thus in surplus
Sympathies, as if indeed we all
stood accused, as
If it were all of us who tore down like a
Mob the flapping sheets that hid the angel’s
Face. Thought is a presence, overwhelming
Even of emotion . . . it has drained your face
Of precious memories and put the vapour of
Dreams running in your blood.
And we have
Not begun, the table is set, and the radio
Is screaming, those rock and roll singers
Have no life apart, from their songs,
which are trilling on the
Wires, and we are neck and neck, in the race,
free enough, for fortune.
For what? For fortune, fortune rules the
Night within. For you, for no one, will avow
The truth established, no one can see
How nature carries her literal bearing,
How the seasons take her transparent wrapping,
Take her back, how nature and the world are
In the past, like a revelation; for no one
Can think, and only thought can grasp
what is yet
So exquisitely real, outside the window.
Oh, I am doomed to step--in sparkling ruins.
There is no wilderness, no northern land,
Or waters unsailed, the arctic explorers
Do not come back. That is the story.
People are lost
In episodes all over the globe, in cars
That sail on highways that approach the
Moon, on winding curves; and you have seen
Human life erased by the second hand on
A clock more deadly accurate than the
Brain. People are lost, in violent murders;
They are stepping right to the brink; and
There are zones where mild pacific winds
Open straightaway on swirling cloudlands,
And blue rocks at the depths of the seas,
And a kind of crust in mountains that is black,
Black pools in her eyes, when you disagree
With her, and a turbulent river in her arms.
The guiding principle, nobody is saying what
It is, but it is so obvious. The leading truth
That carries you through the day and night
Is that reality shall not brook
any magic interpretation.
You know this. As you lead yourself and the
Others down the path of ordinary mortals,
Where nobody’s obscure and human curses
Reach the room, the attic or the basement,
Where creation had its day,
where the rigged-up theater bloomed,
Where mystery was a chapter in the romance
Once, you thought, you conjured up, from the
Couch, rising up from a semi-exalted sleep--
But no, thought--it could not . . . hold sway.
The thunder arrives late, on the open
Porch, where we are living, for we are
Already assembled there. No, knowledge would
Be a transgression, it would kick this
Mood apart, and make some havoc in the brain,
And you will never be
willing in all of this
To include direct and lucid reference to
The God of light;
you are the unconfessed.
And you will never see a love that lasts
Forever, never hold her in your arms, for
You never made a promise,
and your memory is in tatters;
But it will be an act of kindness
that I say
Truth, yes, truth, and thought shall have
For you no salutary effect, at all, nor
Will they bother to ignore you, leave you,
You shall just slave in the seeming sun
Where the pale riders ride, ride by, ride
On, ride by you and on and back, for you
are next, and you can’t really move.
Destiny, which was a concept too, is
forestalled, by an act of grace--
And you are saved. You will fall, someday
In the open grave. It is already raining there,
White flowers come out of the rich earth.
That will be passion, and that the hour;
Then you will be accomplished,
some will say.
(1) Speech Before the
-----------(continued to end)
There is a world of the beginning, the modern
Epoch is in the present; there is a style of
Reminiscing . . . with a sweep of the hand
The nether regions are littered with
----------------lights and noise and crowds,
And in chains of moral thought we keep
The woe of generations affixed like a subset
To the passing day, the carnival night.
If a man were to walk alone, like a passerby,
He must be afraid of all those people
-----------------inside the glowing rooms.
Then in the rainy twilight, in the dark
Luxuriant neighborhood, the houses seem
All abandoned, waiting for the return of some
Former age, for the man who dozes high above
On an airplane, with his suitcase at his feet,
His hat brim turned down. We are asleep on
The chronology--whose first question always is
How are we going to get out of here?
Present is at the beginning of everything--
A baritone voice fills the background like
A roar, fainter and fainter like you were
Reading the progress of a distant war, as if
The heavens were on alert. Now the game in
The great stadium begins, without an anthem,
And the world--it seems so frightening, it
Could choke a child away from natural sleep,
Like a telephone that goes ringing endlessly
In an empty room, until a ghost picks it up.
No doubt, we are ghosts, each from another
Universe, where people are racing up and down
The stairs, mumbling and screaming. There is
An incoherent rumbling holding down the scene--
It’s dull winds in the ears. There is a world
Of the present that is nightmare unbound
When people start speaking out of the
Enclosure of earth and soul, as if the news
Of today were sufficient to the end,
And all the devils one could dream of
Are loosed as all you different kinds of friends,
A pair of animal eyes stealing out beyond the
Yard, that are carlights, coming closer,
Carlights that roam all night in the empty
Fields, carlights and the eyes within that
Browse the cemeteries sandwiched between
This highway to the black sky and that path
Down to the power-plant by the river.
The driver in the car forgets the weather outside.
In bad talk no one has traceable lives.
Child of the hour, there is nothing here
To amuse a gentleman stroller . . .
The high arches of the house prove falsely
Strung, not keeping out the night coming fast
Like a rain of ever driving darkness. I was
Out by the campfire, with my coat and wristwatch
Hung on a nail; I was part of a wild party
Of men in the bombed-out church, speaking in
Another tongue; I was standing on the green
Lawn motioning to the gables, then climbing
In to a tiny car; I was in the movie theater,
Flopped down on the sofa, writing in a tiny
Cramped hand, ecstatic in all misery.
Gain your freedom at the end of the excessive
Struggle. Then duty begins. We were back
In the lonely cottage, after breakfast at ten,
She kissed me good-bye, and I climbed onto
The bus, said a quiet benediction, each to
Each, passing down the aisle, to the doomed and
Voiceless people; and I sank into the seat
With great relief--for here i underwent
The miracle of a transition.
---------------------------------Outside, it was
The past, a panorama taking me back.
The landscapes were forlorn in the
------------------------early morning light,
Travelling out from the decaying cities
To the heart of the world, laying scattered
On the map of catastrophic youthful journies.
It was spring, way too early in the year,
When this freedom led me forward. In youth
One sees the future unbearably close . . .
But I think I explained with the air of real
To the girl sitting on the wooden pier,
By the beach in the moonlight, with the sound
Of people talking across the purple asphalt
In the restaurant behind her shoulder,
All about the morning that never happens,
Where we are helpless, just dark eyes beseeching,
Rich and extraordinary narration of life,
Already past belief.
-----------------------I was swept into the
Song of praise, summoned by the art of later
Dictation. In passion we are addressing
The state of truth which has already been--
Here in the evening that verges upon the exact
----------------------similitude of emotion.
Standing on the cliffs, I saw the tiny black
Ship, struggling against the waves, out
On the sunlit waters, far away and exhausted
At the sight of the horizon, succumbing
To the drag of the waters that long since
Have devoured every effort, every effort of will
Of the men who are on the deck with long poles,
The grey old men bobbing up in a nightmare,
Gliding insensible, sinking lower in the
---------shadows that move the bright water.
People talk of belief, but there is nothing
To believe. There is only what has happened,
And there is the widening circle that grows
In the radius of the dusk expanding, around
The old man in his garden.
--------------------------Time is a description,
The moral of which is that everything happens
For a second time, the second time received.
Time is the return of the truth to the mind.
In a quiet hour, thought will supply the end.
Maybe for someone else, I say all this. The
Little woman when knew this much walks quietly
On through the rooms, into a half-dark chamber,
And pulls the brass chain on the lamp.
Back into view is the history of the soul’s
mortification, or glory. For when it is
Given, life is shown to have existed before
In some plan of the God of magnificent
Assurance. More stealthy than a total stranger
Is the Lord, when her avowal
Takes the world. Gentle world . . .
When the lamplight spreads to the curved feet
Of the mahogany stand, now as she pulls with
Fingers made of porcelain the blue shawl
Around her shoulders to keep at bay the cold
Like an uncertain death around her--
Without anyone watching her, she needn’t
even be; so slight, like an extra presence--
And so her care provides rude justice
To the deaf and blind angels, to the
------------------------scaffolds of the earth
That couldn’t move a century, but for truth
And for her pity.
---------------------This is what you inherit,
Hands imbued with silence, hands that held a
Child, tears that stain the woollen sleeve,
Eyes worn out by fires, reflections of lamps,
A house of many generations, grey church spires
In the air of the heavy sabbath morning.
Every day upon the earth there is the
Orange dusk falling, the broken footfall in
The street. Every day upon the earth
The evening narrows to a triangle of light
That is the chapel window, or the space before
The walking feet, of the man become a monk,
Regarding his own speech
--------------before the ungathered assembly.
Time is a way of describing, time is the gospel
Muttered by the old lady with the crucifix.
You will not worship this.
------------------------------This is the modern
Epoch, this is the original and still present
---------No longer will the appointed churchmen
Call; we’ll only smile at the man of learning,
For what has he, but the shamefaced past?
Before the day of the parade we’ve already seen
The clowns and the white horses; I was there
When the politicians let up the balloons, to
The top of the coliseum, and I was back on
The highway before dawn. The infinite depth
Of suffering is blocked, by straight avenues
Of knowledge; and purity of heart is
----------------------revealed along the way
In acts of equivalent kindness. There is
Nothing to be added to the accomplishments
Of the human race.
----------------------------I intend to switch to
The style of pure eloquence, when the satire begins
To weep in earnest . . .
----------------------------Even prayer is too
Artful for the man alive to the little acre
Of green outside the diamond window. Oh,
There’s a difference with this mystery that’s
On the surface; it’s like the night is calling.
Facile man . . . someday, you will remember
Everything--for life is everpresent, life goes
On forever, when you keep fainting at
----------------------------the point of pain.
I am apprised of all ambitions; and the
Recanting note of the philosopher roaming about,
That’s worth considering. He was jovial in
The presence of any upstart theories, and
Spoke of himself in a dreaming drawl, just
Audible enough to drown the interferences;
There was a guttural in the breath, as if he
Were beginning to moan or sing somewhere in
The back of his mind. And merely to see myself
Demolished by the application of rude laughter
Plucking up in the general air of the restaurant,
I kept hammering at him at lunch, until
Nothing made any sense, in the world so wholly
Pleasant--because as the weight of personality
Says, much evidence is lacking to pitch this
Theme . . . into reality.
---------------------------As if evidence there
Ever was for anything called true by name.
I had settled down to a real regular lectureship
At the corner coffee stand, where several of
Us used to gather; you could revel for hours
In the sight of the anonymous bunch, we
Were so old, grey, and drab--indistinguishable
------------------------in our jabbering.
There was a sense of privilege in talking
-------------------------------about life. Then
it would happen to one us, just like that,
The afternoon, that thundering air of certainty!
I knew we were all like peaked hats at the
Top of obscurity, right through the mirror like
Jesters, with our wise and futile sayings,
But exposed, at the bottom of our talk--
---------------------------jumping at the truth.
You get a sense, and you start staring at
Your neighbor, that you can recombine the data
Of memory, knowledge, and thought, and really
Make the story.
-------------------No longer do we imitate
The kings, with formal meditations. Merciful
Heavens! here comes the weather, like some
Old feeling; the wet air, the switch of focus
To the snow-bound fields beyond the road.
The scene of the little tale, slow in the telling.
As long as we can keep alive the running
Account, it almost seems circumstantial that
This man is hobbling over to a dark corner,
Or that one skipping right through the light.
Created out of the normalised sun and rain,
And I might walk in there and find them
Disbanded, the businessmen sitting in shafts
Of warm light, sleeping in their clothes;
And the old sinners who prophesied that
--------------------------nothing could change,
Except the windows get grimier, except the
Traffic get thicker at the money exchange,
Except the dance get slower and more ribald
On the television screen, except progress and
Decay, all that and more, feeding the dogs
--------------------------dogs on the floor.
Slow changes are not anywise less dramatic--
Nobody sees but a small minority suffer the
General woe; so when I saw their faces begin
To crumble inward, and their eyes begin to
Float, I said to my sad companion I’m sorry
Growing old is like a condition meant for you.
It was the native suspicion
That is darkness in the bone,
Long hours intermingled as in one long
Entrenched frame of mind; and the sternest
Face in the mirror stared back at you from
The water, the sky and water of clearest blue;
Until no longer was anyone tugging you by
The sleeve, and you were free, you were old,
You were ready to learn--
-------------------You had weathered that,
In keen responsiveness to the climate.
Speech Before the Ungathered Assembly
When death broke the spell in the orchard,
Glistening yellow and green apples fell
On the ground where, now, your feet are--
The earth is fixed, like a setting for truth;
There was death before the world,
Death hung over the world
When Christ came from the wilderness--
The immortal man clear from the God
Whose throne was like a mountain
Whose crown was like the clouds
But whose lap was literally the valley
----------------strewn with bones--
Into the populace rabid with bad talk.
Afraid to disturb the sleeping quail, the
Bed of leaves; not a hunter inspired by the
Far trajectory of birds in the level sky,
But a fellow on a stroll, an unimportant guest,
I only thought in unanimous terms (because
Indeed the world was established before me)
Of the cheerful and nonsensical winter,
In the spooky woods, by the lovely knolls,
In a mood of quiet, keen surmising--
Charitable, involved in amateur appreciations
In my tartan jacket and kalki scarf,
Slapping my palm with the lightweight pipe,
Disinclined to gather sacramental roots . . .
I was a stout figure, in a landscape mad
Miraculously after a childish winter,
A man involved with a wonderful deception,
The lopsided sun was frighteningly near,
Beyond stalks of snow and broken trees,
But gone, the clownish head, when I stood
Back to get a sighting--so I could only
Doomed in a fabulous erudition, all my
Sources unclear, wandering so far from the
Modern world, should I overturn with a
Some ridiculous abstruse piece of junk,
A headless doll or a burned tin can,
Looking up in the sunlight, crippled in flight
In the singing dusk . . . fatally grinning.
I was always liable to pretend to some intrigue;
The way we dressed, in the winter, the way I
Stood outside the store, clapping my gloves,
Meant that no one could catalogue these moods.
There was just the white iridescent glow peering
Everywhere in the woods, the streams and rocks
And banks disappearing in a snowfall that
Came to the air like a memory, in my eyes, on
My sleeves, alone in the forest, a winter
That seemed to be the mildest of seasons,
Melting the tragic tapestry,
Blue waterfalls beneath my feet,
Snow that collected and melted on my brow
In a touching semblance of tears, as I gazed
With new hilarity--like some madman awakening.
Tremblingly I saw how much things depend
Upon an unsteady witness, here in the forest
Whose center, off-track, I had suddenly
visited . . . at least in conscience.
We have more unspoken matter. Why is nature
So old, why is beauty so nostalgic? I was
Resigned, that if I spoke I perjured that faith
That is silence, more silent than the
-------------------------------silently held breath
In the personal world. I held the gaze of
The phantom sun, thre was a presence in the
Snow-filled air. And next week I gave the
Order for demolition. It was a relief to see
Houses clearing away the thicket. And nothing
Could wrestle me back from this place in
My thoughts, where my final prayers are
Mixed with the jeapordized lanes.
Nature is in the past; what happened out of
Time, you have pushed into the memory. Now,
Eternity is where we are, and only episodes,
Like from a gospel, roll like the local wind,
Over this same grass plot, that backdrop of
Grapevines, the blood-red flower and the tree
Stump leaning like a sun-dial in the yard,
Rocks in the water, ruddy animals you’ll not
Find in any fable of creation.
-----------------------------------Nature is not
Here, because it happened out of time. I saw
The sun was a flaming magnet, like a hole in
The sky, I saw the footprints on the beach--
So ready for the conjecture. Like a violent
Youth I stumbled back onto the highway, my
Head full of such dreams. The rocks that tumble
Down as you scramble up the cliffs are waiting
Right there for the return of the stranger.
All this--outrageous proof--it would suffice
For someone’s glory.
-------------------------The trees are in the
Past, the flowers where you find them, they fly
Into the past, they wilt upon the table. The
Fire is more alive with memories of the
Universe, than all the inhabitants of the
Flimsy ten-room shack, where, whenever we
Move, we only multiply the deed--
Is what you learn, once you take down
This strong enchantment. It was a saviour
Beckoning, faint-hearted on the hill . . . and
When I stood there, stark-cold and unconcerned,
In a deep dilemma, I was thrown forward.
Nothing can be answered with the wailing
Voice, but even these flames too die in the
embrace of the martyr and saint.
There is nothing shaking the foundations of
Life, when in the day with broadening vision,
Boastful, certain, most hopeful for anything,
The man walks out across the city square.
We’ve heard this so many times before, it’s
Passable narration; it’s not time
-----------------------------to veer into a crisis--
He is not called upon to explain himself,
Why should he be? His mind is a roaring of
Winds in which clashing of fabulous things
Rise and sink like the arms of machinery.
Mothers with babies, and girls with dark eyes
Lost in dreams, look down at him. And he
Is only walking in the idea of himself walking,
Because that is where thought arrives.
Is favorite conversation, sitting back in the
Chair, in ranch houses, hotel lobbies,
Speeding trains and novel dwellings that
Resemble squirrels' dens, and in high apartment
House containing windows to the heavens,
Where she is dreaming in a cozy limbo,
In a state of mind of the popular times,
The wide museum murals and old movies to
Draw off the atmospheric charms, the rich
Nostalgia, the perfumed air, the polish on the wood.
------------to be continued-------------
If one could think of setting out, closing
Behind him the door of the house, on a journey
From this night window, if one could think
Of being lifted up! Washed clean in the grey light.
Take hold, my audience, for this has been my
Witness. The scene is starting up, it stays, it
Never vanishes . . . for this is in eternity
Where truth is caught in the finite expression.
So one could not set out in the night,
Cannot walk the terrain like an apostle--
But is kept with staring eyes, kept in thought
About the world. Unruly world! Like a host
Of angels . . . dire repetition in the winds.
Such is the humour of the quiet hour,
The moonlight on such an unswervable course,
Drawing out of the leaning trees all their
Taking back the color from the whimsical
--------------------------------stalks and weeds,
Asking the spectator at the window--what
Has he saved? What autumn day is this to be,
Breathed upon the morning glass, returning
Like the ravaged body to the memory?
Ah, these trees are an ancient, spectral witness!
What blessing can he give? In the soul
There is a voice, shared in alliance with
The whipping wind, the shoutings of devils,
There is a voice without warning, way beyond
Recall, a voice that could fill the stadium with
Awe, the vocalised prayer with the power
Of atonement, the martyr in the sheet of fire,
To let the angry sky recall its host of
Winged horses, its cloud-heads and riders,
The columns that came to expunge the desert
Sands, the nightmare pagan history and its
Lurid folio pictures, the gaping crowds and
Gameboards, stacks of ornaments and mementoes
Piled uselessly in the attic, these strange-shaped
Utensils--all of this we conjured up like a
Spectacle of doubt haunting the heart of the
Beast, these glittering rows of lights on the
Highway shooting through the eternal night,
All brought to the present scene.
What blessing can he give? To the trees
Caught like this in the wind and the light,
But to enact a wordless plight, in a
Pantomime of grief, and lift his face from
His large hands and let fall like the husks
Of some animal life, that had hung from black
Boughs, this gesture of renunciation--
He was fighting in the act of desolation,
Walking back down the road to the white
Gas station with the rotating red sign, with
His jacket in his hand, and the sky overhead . . .
From afar it seems the memory has a cause,
Determined in such obscurity, pitiable like the
Roadside flowers, or the rank flowering of the
Grass blown askance in the hot summer wind.
With the irony in his position he would rip
The sheet from the very stars. But he is languishing
In the heroism of the moment, he is alive.
For we care nothing about our origins, the
Totality of vision is like an instrument with
Without use here. There is always something to
Do, because the earth is totally lost in the
Wide universe, it is travelling in the sunbeams.
How else catapult this strange man here,
Who is a party to no mystery? The whole
Cosmos is derived from these local conditions,
Utterly finished in the greeting--
But we care where we are going, and
Therein lies the desolation of the field,
Upward to the sky from the blue cornflower;
Until a rarefied springtime you will see
The trees fly away, and the clouds come down--
The picture of the road, like a snapshot, yearning.
In a different way, life is being kept,
Like in the locked drawer of talked-about
Reminiscence. Constantly, my most constant
Piece of advice was this, headlong in praise:
To sit down in the wreckage; but no, you
Never cleared the space, in the wretched,
Wrecked and never-visited dwelling places,
But cruised on into a dilapidated autumn.
The cloud in the glass twisted into a fierce anger.
You are the master of an unruly mob--
Voices claim you from every room. People see
You from across the street and don’t even
Come across, so well do they know
-----------------------------what you will say.
And it isn’t long before some ghost of a fellow
Breaks you at the knees, or you imagine
Birds conversing in the trees.
It is the world that is deep in perdition,
Experience that counts and though you’re handy
With the image . . . down you go --
Into the time-locked arena.
(to be continued)
And so when they stormed
The barns, broke through the door (leapt with
Lances through the dark square), they found
Old window sashes, leather straps for horses,
Which were like personal possessions that
They could not remember the struggle with,
Iron wheels lying on beds of yellow hay.
The light of the afternoon was drifting at
The dooryard, there, when, bruised in the
Battle with pitchforks and shadows, they
Turned around. Then it became clear to them,
Time was like a medium all around them, time
Was a passage, it could bequeath moments like
No others known before or expected. When
Was this! Like a page ripped off and thrown,
Like a horse that disappeared over the ridge,
And was gone. They were old. It was all
Before, the scene so longed for,
This atmosphere of the past,
The late afternoon, the swinging barn door,
Like a memorial of the world. So when
They spoke the syllables formed a gospel.
And the wind kept blindly tracking, and
There was fear in their hearts that someone
Was missing . . . someone was among them.
Sometimes when I listen, I know you are
Telling truly the story of long affections,
And I think how deep already, between us,
Is my transgression; have I only to lift my
Bowed head, for us to rise right into heaven--
To see the ecstatic face? How we are pale,
In our small glory, how wide is made the sceptre,
The dark path we’ve made the children tread
Upon . . . Now the children are standing taller,
Addressing what has been. How much to
Acquiesce, how many deaths will stalk the
Family? You are in company with the truth,
Just in the pretty attendance on these my
Chosen words. The memory walks--among those
Things consigned from life to another realm,
A tender hand has taken this bereaved one,
And that white flower. An elder gentleman,
Who is that family type, has kept this pair
Of hands, folded on the table--or curved around
The cup of precious water that, rushing from
the mountains, is our last sustenance . . .
In company with the truth, you keep
Fitfully questioning the calender; as if
These days did not dance in September light,
And the people not languish in the hour
And what will happen to us might be like
Rushing through September in the sky.
When I am alone and the great house silent
That is when I am least alone, nearly afraid
To move . . . A great presence is with me,
Bidding me take thought. How small and
Precious the drama of humankind! I know
When I look down from the porch to the quiet
Lawn it’s as if in this remoteness, so
Close within this stillness, a dreaded judgement
Waits, or a joy is overturned. Before me,
As I speak, the task lays incomplete; and
The moonlight steers my gaze to a dead halt
Upon the scene, upon the objects, like the trees,
The patterns, like the flower gardens,
The fence whose fallen stripes beckon forward
The lustrous white quality of a field--never
Seen before, but known, toward which the
Reaching hand of shadows would perilously cling.
And it happens in the inspiration,
What begins to take shape in the night
I know, when I look down from the porch to
The quiet yards beyond, that the earth and all
Of us were created from far away,
Flung away by the rueful angels, cast out
In a day of colossal mirth, lost by a girl
Pinning away for a century in a dim attic room--
I know the story of severity and hope, and
Am positioned, remotely, at a point in the long
Dialogue--immune to these dark whispers.
So that when you come back, it will be at
The table. Truth will greet me here, where
I am bowed in thought, and the landscape
Consigned to that other dwelling place
Where God has sent the sacred face of the moon.
(to be continued)
(THE MODERN EPOCH, continued)
Now we dwell among the fabulous half-truths
Of the fabled century; now we live by
Revelation, intuition, fear unnamed. And
The past is an embarrassed reference to
The old man in the other room, who is
Darkly eating a snack, who peers out the
Diamond window toward the ancient winter
Scene. I take up the unmanageable thesis--
And then I see in the morning of reality,
How touchingly attached to this brightness
And clutter, you are, child of the hour.
Only to retrieve in adoration,
To light the picture in her mind, she
Smoothed the curtains in the quiet room,
Regaling the winter lawns as if with her
Hands in gentle remonstrance she were
Folding a sacred cloth, as if to walk
Back through the house, to the kitchen,
To the calendar peeling off the walls,
Were to be swept into the violent April
And the chorus of the Easter song.
Though she could never name
The source, deep in the days that penetrate
The order of learning to move, blithely,
More blithely than the wind and its
Trenchant host, the silent ministry of woes
Are passing into her outward form.
It is when I talk, the words roll back the tapestry,
Under the nexus of ceiling lamps, in the
Sudden arena, when the people turn around
And speech is unguarded. When I stroll past
Dark by the many dark mansions, where no one
Is at home . . . it’s simply thoughts
And their radical contents
That carry along the strolling description
Until, like a preacher, I deliver the song.
Sculpture? It’s historical, there is no
Image in the stone. I think you’d have to
Have a good idea in mind, like a man
On a horse, or victory itself. No one makes
Statues anymore. Pyramids? They need
Distance--such distance as to overwhelm
The man equipped with the London guidebook.
And these acoustics in the cathedral!
The streets were very silent, silent processions
Were going past, when inside the church
The music swelled, fell through the
Draperies of the air.
Only cartwheels outside, a family of gypsies;
And inside, droning, a language larger than the
Tongue of man. Dead languages? To us
This is a rough hewn, like the stone that stops
The mad sculptor with its new heiroglyphics.
And the longer they comb the hills of the northeast,
The more Indians appear more, the more
From knowledge there is no return. We’ve crossed
A barrier in time, we’re looking back; now
A strictly human voice sings, murmurs,
Enchanted, like a listener made
Vocal by some evil overflowing.
Man? Man has no past, Only the world,
Only the world . . .
Christ cast out the demons, the son of man
Was a famous breed above, rare powers
He could give out of friendship and love.
But the Son of God is unanswerable, he has
Nothing to do with these powers over life.
There are things discoverable in thought,
And it is the beauty of the light
That is a fact unveiling the sacred torn world.
You’ll do anything but discover that an
Injury suffered to yourself, yesterday, has
Its source, its answer, is a partial clearing
In pain, to the wide devastation of blood
And sacrifice, with which the world was won--
In the past. In the past it was
The whole mystery was solved.
You saw brush fires on the prairie, soldiers
In the mud of foreign jungles plugging on.
No chorus sang to us instructions in the street.
And at home, he came nightly to maturity,
Gathering the strings of a thesis so slowly--
It was hard not getting dull.
I know the secret that has exploded in the
Heart of the common man (retracting his gaze
From the injured plain, to the interior of
His own travelling wagon).
It is so many years refining a notion of time,
So many years to see memory, overwhelmed,
By the plodding march of history, by truth
Never held, dead stones along the highway,
By the depth of silence and its sad epigraphs . . .
When everyone knows from a visit to the museum,
That the past is not a previous time, but
A different place. Their faces show the
Captured lives of brave children. I say
We’re duly charged with a new rhetoric, that
We’ll all look recognisable to one another,
When triumph dawns over the land forsworn
By the Lord of history.
(to be continued)
Speech Before the Ungathered Assembly
The sun is fixed in permanent awe, today
The light falls as it fell in yesteryears--
Unexplained in its duration. It is the
Present of the world, outside on
The gravel highway,
Where the sunlight sparkles on crushed glass,
The violent riggings of a judgement ignored,
Enacted already . . .
It is we who are moving
Toward truth long sought in blind expression,
The sky of burning embers, the dark memories
Compiled since the time we were on earth.
The earth turns into the shadows of its
Grief-born days, when the face of the sun shone
Through the flesh, making radiant the arm
Of the man approaching the veiled eyes
And cavern of forms, stumbling out of the sky
Toward the hamlet, white church,
The settled green valley.
Men were of less substance than the air--
The heart strained and worked out its tedious
Magic, in the form of imperishable objects,
An amulet around the neck of a ghost-like priest,
Whose face breathed in the sky. And those
Who died in grief, those who suffered the
Wild cruelty of winds that were like harp strings
Tearing at the throat of the salt seas,
Of wild horses on the prairie, running like
It was creation, they suffered
Exaltation in the fire of the spirit
And their temporary human bodies lay as
Metal figurines or alabaster statues,
Trying, in the wretched gaze, in the breath
Of the noble race, to survive the whole
History of the wind--coming fast, now,
As it did, out of time, fast like
Radiant heat from the fixed sun.
History is right before us, like the sequel
In the story of fabulous rare exhaustion,
Pyramids of dust, the night of cooling rains,
Where again we are collapsing, in a
Storm-tossed vessel, in sight of the fiery
Dawn mist, the burning shroud in the capital--
Walking back down the highway
In the middle of the afternoon
With the sky overhead, toward the junction,
The hotel, where the wind blows in the grass,
Toward the gas pumps and store, rising up
Like in a dream . . . Paradox has grown
Bold in the distances of the world, the
Farthest reality of night has without
Complicity of thought sharp galaxies
Of light, to uphold it here and there--
The future is open even to parallel lives.
And soon you will preside
In the living paradise of memory,
Light shimmering on green fields of grass
After a day of troubling rains. It was in
The modern epoch that I learned the style
Of reminiscence. Immediately, as if formed
Out of the atmosphere, the man I speak of
Is walking---he is walking, he just starts up
Already in the scene, always in the same
Scene, coming forward across the city square,
Walking by the trees. Thought is sweet
Confusion, juggling moods is what you do,
And remembrance of a nature so unresolved
that here, in the world where things are made
To scale, where life is so tuned to a
Busy activity, no statement of truth can
Gain a title in the mind.
She said something
Of this type, when she declared all the books
Were dead, driving through the countryside
And its beautiful dying scenery, like an
Autumn long lost in looks she threw across
To the driver of that car--but it was
Her exotic, ghost-like pallor,
Her black and white eyes
That really said to let the music play out
Its heart in the space created here. For though,
The thought of life, rings clear like a beginning;
And by this he could escape the story cold.
He just continues to walk by the great tall
Trees, nourished from underneath, through
The days and nights in the unremitting
The weather is so familiar!
It’s like an encouragement to disband your
Coat and carry it on your shoulder, and stop
Like the little birds picking at invisible
Fruit . . . To be absolutely attentive
Would be to forget what you were doing, as
If nothing haunted the briefest narration,
And signal the flames and magnets in the
White sky overhead, or lean dangerously
Over the table, trembling with emotion,
To see the contents of the book offer up
Its bulging words--and strike a final meaning.
. . . .(to be continued) . . . . .
Long ago, the children in the street
Gazing past the smoke hae seen
Us, standing in November.
Before the year he chaotic leaves
Drift from the trees and into
The hand that remember.
Ride past the yards in the burning streets
While the family bends and picks
Under the magic autumn sky.
Before the dog barks and day is gone,
Familiar voices will call
From the doorway of home.
The chld is taught of the ancient root
To lead the people to the orchard
Where apology hangs from the trees.
Apart from what is a passing use in some
Prose piece assembled artistically for
You, who have retreated cozily with the
Book to a corner bathed in yellow light
In a mountain-top ski resort, with your
Friends who ski alot more than you, or
Wherever you are presently--apart from
Any use, the use I mean of a word--and
Again I’ve jumped in at the wrong place
In the sentence, and can hardly climb back;
Apart, I say, from the fixed place in a
Printed page that a word (or even a phrase)
Comes unblinkingly to seem to occupy
For the reader, it’s true that the the author
May have stared in the face more a thing
Of multiple associations, maybe chaos,
With several meanings and all meanings
Maybe crippling him in a forest of never
Before explored contradictions, and that
No reader can peer below like did the
Author, for all the seedlings.
Well then! With some irony, which may be
Madness, or a genius liking to embrace the
Obscure, I am going to drop all placidity,
And put an asterisk on the word asterisk,
Ah, dig and plunge therein head on
Into the demonstration of what a dullard
Thinks futility. I have a vision--that I
Can find truth and humility, right in
The face of exploding meanings,
And that maybe, if we right now digress with
A footnote dealing with the word asterisk,
As if bogged down greatly just by a title,
Yes, we might overwhelm eventually
Both the scholar who uses
Footnotes in an attempt to clear things up,
And the prose writer, who is usually glib,
Overwhelm all timid employers of the word
With--well, probably--the universe again,
Where artistically there are no
But only revelations, overwhelming reason.
So this is for the reader of poetry, and
I shall laud it, the asterisk, gloriously.
Now was this term (a single world, remember!)
Ever employed with full discretion, did
Ever a writer yet work with dictionary at
His elbow? Yes, you say, precisely, with
Care one can differentiate its meanings,
Which have accrued to it from different
Intended uses; surely a word represents
An intended thought--this is common wisdom!
Why it’s the dream of the space-age century
That the aggregate history can be taken
Apart, and the author be accused where he
Spoke; you can pluck the word from his mouth,
And even strip away what looks like mere
Style, to come up with one literal use
For this word . . . or any other. Well, no!
And no again I say to this plebeian science,
I say the word was originally sprung with
All power, with a latent ambiguity, sprung
First unassailable by its first speaker.
Oh yes, half-patient, half-peevish exercises
Said to disentangle the star-cluster of
Notions contained in this artfully simple
Term, this one word asterisk, have
Already notoriously failed!
Were criminally plotted by mean intelligence;
Though they, the researchers, have fattened
The provincial literature most horribly,
And made the kind of searching like that
Because so futile seem almost heroic--and
All the more necessary to a mind bent
On squelching natural paradox, even here,
Like in the language--the poet’s very refuge!
Oh, I suffered education in the academy, I
Nearly went deaf with the piped-in music
In the hallways, and blind in the library;
I saw philosophy turn into linguistics,
Heard all dialogues end with the
Appeal to semantics,
Saw so many pretend not to be awash in
Real confusion, ah, like victimized by beauty!
But I escaped, with my vocabulary intact.
The word asterisk itself does not partake
Of all that degradedly lies before it
From the time of its invention,
Surely. It is enabled in origin to survive,
Like a prophecy, to resound, mockingly--
It has a simplicity that denotes
Nothing less than enormous complexity,
I mean it is directly inexplicable, from
The start, has the ability to protect
Under one umbrella
Some notions too fragile to survive alone,
Notions that have at least incidental
Quite spectacular, life under its cloak,
But quickly fall to being a sub-species
Of some botanist or astrologer,
Academician or novelist,
If left to languish in a private scrutiny--
I mean a scrutiny ignorant of public truth,
And of the words that are a record of
Survival for pale human thoughts, words
Larger by far than what one of us can make
Of them. This is a system of divine origin;
We can speak, when thoughts are perishing.
So, now that we know the word is uttered
In freedom, that to be pontifical and
Cite some mundane origin, for the word,
Is only to indulge in a mean and modern
Scorning, we will ourselves explore, let’s
Say, adjacent uses, corollary miracles
All wrapped in the seeming single glitter
Of the word spelled for our title; then
We’ll see what prophesy lay already
Enshrined in the . . . oracle--
For after a certain point, like after a
Gospel that plays to every audience, the
History of man is a long backward striving,
An even half innocent, but half conniving
Attempt to recall the sound of a choir
Of angels. We better sing, now, and not
Worry about resuscitating the great arts.
I have the knowledge (like a vision!) of
The asterisk that was, or will be, a
Little star-shaped instrument
Put above the chalice to keep the veil--
In a familiar religious ceremony--from
Contact with the elements prematurely--
These represented by a fiery painted dome;
Well even this, one archaic meaning, can
Be referenced in a thick dictionary. But
Then, like to make the task tremendous and
Explicit, we must attach the notice that
More asterisks (the modern use) are
Immediately here needed--
Needed to keep us in close contact with
Every word in the ancient definition! What is a
Chalice? What is a veil? What is
A religious ceremony,
And what are these figures in the fiery
Dome? What is this asterisk? No more
Than a technical term? Or is the
Star-shaped instrument a symbol,
The making tangible of the mystery of the
Word? I mean, chalice contains the cup,
And the cup the wine, turned from water
Which even the hands can hold. And the
Wheel, in the dome, is a figure born
By circular motion of the moon. And the
Universe may have begun with a scene
Like this, with some few elements or things,
A scene half painted and put now in relief.
The edge of a sofa, the curtains half drawn,
The sound of hoofs, a rider in the sky . . .
You see, all these words may contain what is
Gone, and beyond us still--
What we have to take up in thought;
When all we have to start with is a little star,
Roughly shaped at that, or--to produce it
Right now--a pinpoint of light made by a
Closed fist held up to the lamp. But this can
Demonstrate the shape of what can barely
Be seen, make a point of reference to
What might be the rule of God,
As we kneel here in this vale of tears.
Then again, and here we go into the
Conjured up by the word in our hands, the
Asterisk as it comes to us is not so
Sharply defined as a star, a bright star--
No I will not be led away to worship a
Bright star; but the asterisk, as a star,
Has more vagary and makes blunt rejection
Of the long gaze of the too serious eye,
Like real stars that refute the
Of where they really are, or what they are
Made up of. The word asterisk serves better
As a regular cluster of stars, I see
That is an ancient association too; stars
In a vague group never yet set asunder,
And producing necessary confusion to that
Eye, receding finally in a nebular haze--
Like just the signpost or dashed marking
For an area (like the night) that one
Always has more checking on to do. And
Thus, nearly magically, this symbol can
Be made with any handy writing tool,
And can relinquish its religious status
Altogether for a time, or its part in
The creation, and become a playful part
In a game of dots invoking
Yea, and serve the flight of imagination.
Now with all that, no one will be shocked
To find asterisk, well-travelled anciently,
Secondly in association with the flower.
We can praise the actual light; the light that
Shows in the dew on the grass has still
The strength of the sun. Ah yes, and the
Stars that fell littered more than
The apron of a saint
Lit more than the taper of the monk in a
Cell. And the flower aster, or the exotic
China Aster, retains the shape, why of the
Star! bringing all the kingdom of heaven
Into temporary focus for the stroller
In the autumn of the world.
We don’t know everything, we don’t know much,
And we may never know in a lifetime, it
Might be wise to say, whether this aster
Plant, or that aster star, and all that
Proliferates in various other notions
Of asteroids and aster pods, and astronauts,
Yea all borderlands for thought,
Whether this one or that
Was once preeminent and therefore is now
The ruler, like in a delirium
Of chance perception.
Truly, to learn anything is to swoon with
The sense of what a perfect mystery life is.
And now the modern, ironic value of the term
Asterisk, thus come to us in a wild frenzy,
Is, per se, like some fitful entertainment,
A new meaning that seems nearly separate
And is merely dutiful to a use, set in
Concrete, a symbol pretty shapeless, nearly
Ugly in fact, a typographer’s tool, or
Anybody’s fast marking method with a pen,
With nothing at all behind it--just to
Indicate a little addition to the regular
Text, or a supra-explanation, or a
Reserve for a place for a vaulting piece
Of rationalization, or credit to a mentor,
Or shameless apology for lack of logic
Above, or whatever . . . all optional
Instructions to a half attentive,
Half frightened general reader.
Good Lord, we know this is no diminution
Of the asterisk, but the humblest use yet
Devised for its immemorial sacred freedom.
This literary asterisk is still more than
What is used by editors galloping in on
The text; the text full of words still drew
Us by the magical act of persuasion, and
Is everywhere enjoining true ambiguity;
We should not automatically think that
The reference to the margin is always a
Bad effect, or has broken up the dream of
A seamless text, or is only a housekeeping
Measure, or--in other words-- we should
Not resent it, the asterisk, for various
Ways that it aids in the organization
Of books, which are all in process;
But now cautioned by
The word itself, from our own pausing
Over it to hear the word behind the
Symbol, see the complex face behind the
Deliberating mask, and always react
With delight like it were a runaway star
Or the first in a trail of new flowers,
Ah yes, inviting comparison to our own
Readerly marginal notes, gazing up at
The ceiling, glances out the window, all
Suspiration for what aids being alive.
The use of asterisks should denote . . .
There is a tension between thought
Threatening to swallow first impressions
Altogether by unloosening a flood tide
Of neighboring associations. Well, yes,
Like revelations are expressions that
Enable the reader to leave the page; it is
The word bearing witness to thought,
Thought that has a trail of glory
That once seemed to it ineffable, even
Seemed to it like it should quit, relax
In a deep silence. But then the never spoken
Is the essence of what the spoken word gives.
I think probably an image, lately had
By a generation grievous of their sources,
Of a masterwork piece of art all seamless
In its construction, like a genius man were
God representative, like an icon of the
Modern age were to be flashed before them
On the screen of a neurotic awareness,
All surface symbols and submerged structures,
All very deep in its metaphors, like
Diagnostic of the wary brain that cannot
Find reference to truth in ordinary things--
That this image was raised like an awful standard
To rule out with its hogging of the page
The other grander, most humble; more common
Method of straight telling, with stops--
Straight telling always has these stops--
For wayside ruminations, in wonderful
Recognition of the fire of language in
The trying author’s hand. For the author
Was never a god, but only trying his hand.
It was something like that, colossal
Mistrust of the process of life, that made
The asterisk grow even plainer in the sight,
Plainer and plainer, until nowadays,
The asterisk is, well, kicked aside,
Like stars and flowers,
As archaic, historical, a thing understood--
Without being looked at. I mean the asterisk
Proper, the great risk of a digression
Over matters embarked upon with some cause,
The rope thrown to a visible craggy tree
On the mountain slope while climbing,
Not the asterisk; more mechanical
And idiotic, ambitious progeny!, the footnote
Plainly reactionary, dear God. A real
Asterisk only lunges within reach of the
Page it’s on, which allows the reader to
Leave the room anytime, of course. The
Mere footnote is a device developed by the
Academy, to keep forever employed the
Dull-witted professor, false brother to
The artist of the sublime.
But then if these be asterisks, stripped of
All reference finally to God, which all
Things once had (we know from our reading),
These footnotes we see fairly littering
The outcropping of a certain type of book,
Like so many clovers (another image alright!),
No longer representing actual leap of thought
But mere downright admission of dependence
On sources only politically bound up with
The corruption of a new thesis trying to
Remake the world--well then, obviously,
These footnotes can be lifted, or harvested,
Easily, they have not root in any soil
Anyway, are just filed at the back, and
Known by the number, they can march off to
Hell in quite regular order, or be the
Never looked at confession of little sins
Provided by the author even--from within
His prison. It is funny; no it is sad, to
Watch these fakers counting their indebtedness
And usually to one another, like a group,
To see them open wide the gaping scene of
The omission in the patched together
Review of common, so common, wisdom, as
They develop in their careers--or later
Under the lash of a publisher, ah yes!, who
Must know the warden in the hall of lies,
Yea better, personally and closer, than the
Man just in the dust jacket, the man in the
Photo, though he, the victim of the illusory
Death of the asterisk, the sucker sold out
To the idea that this is progress, be
Cursed with fame and fortune forever.
I say we better prize what we have,
Without benefit of that system. I want to bring
On the real masters of the friendly old
Asterisk--my old masters, like DeQuincey,
Who only descended to the infinite margin
When he thought to talk within the
Apparent great outline
Of the article under his command, (while
Knowing by inspiration that could lead him
Anywhere) when it was a question of
Delineating something truly fascinating
To the mind engaged in the actual topic
Of life before and beyond the consciousness,
Like (and he would!) digressing on the twilight,
The twilight seen in experience, known
Therefore as a composite truth to be further
Learned, or on the mysterious dualities
Themselves at work in an actual word-
Employed at risk,
Like we have tried to do right here, in
The asterisk on the word asterisk,
All the while perambulating, like
From Bridgewater to Grassmere.
The rule of the asterisk, the honoring of
The history, the gesture containing love
Of subject and recognition of the reader,
The humility in the face of all meanings,
Is like the law that governs aviation of
Any type. Do not try to float without
Keeping the ground somewhere in
Sight. It’s only a fear of life, and the
Illusion of the spage-age century, that
There is another zone inhabiting the
World marked off by . . . stars and flowers.
The rule of the asterisk is that all
Asterisks should be kept in reach
Of the world that flung them into being.
from "STORMING THE ACADEMY"
Actually, we’re all zealous in pursuit of
Religion. I was pretty eager, on my way
Across the parking lot, though puzzled at
My own alertness and suspicious, as usual,
As stark in my fears as the
Cold, white moonlight
Was clear on the black tarred surface of
The parking lot, there, outside the church-like
Buildings of the Divinity School. Like I
Was bounding forward but still halting
Between every step, like I had hoped to
Lose track of my gray car right where I
Nuzzled it up against an immense tree that
Night and take on foot a moonlit path
To truth, or the sense of truth, again--
That’s my recollection of going to the
Lecture Wednesday night,
To hear Raymond Brown, scholar, on
“Jesus and the Kingdom of God.” And this
The preserved address, may be all my own,
To the scattered, the innumerable, whom
I will never know except by the analogy
Of shared experience,
Like we were forbidden to meet and talk--
And this occurs as the content of thought
Between two steps coming out, with the
Rest of the people streaming about me, and
Seeing the moon over the parking lot--
Dark heads, and hands reaching for the keys.
I thought, well the dead are all believers,
We here are awake to minor enactments: A
A scholar in trouble, as if jealous of history;
Or a baseball player, sliding into home plate.
A modern entertainment,
The rapid footsteps.
I am pretty certain God rewards the fanatic,
Say, the helpless, deluded slave committed
To a fixed idea, before He rewards or even
Slightly encourages the
Author of a . . . commentary!
I mean falsehoods, trenchantly held or
Passionately stated, are more the order of
Our Father who is in heaven, than
Scholarship that takes no stand,
Oh, yes, the weakest song is the critic’s song.
It is always a song of self-defense, surely.
Mediocrity yet shall whine and challenge
Everything, and even to cite a tradition
In the halls of the modern academy
Is to increase the complaint and grovel
At the feet of the fundraisers and their
Literary wives, who built the place and
Put the books all in air-conditioned stacks
To make the librarians dream they have
Conquered Babylon. I’m pretty certain not
One single question currently posed
Upon the ancient Bible
Will ever be answered--for analysis is
Nothing but evasion, evasion, nothing else.
Even the rank, hard-hearted atheist who
With scissors and paste cuts up newspapers
And harasses the heads of State, is more
Likely than the professional lecturer,
Parking one observation after another like
Cars, to have revealed to him (the lunatic, I
Mean) the broadly grinning or frowning
Face of truth. For God is merciful, yes--
I’m pretty sure of this, God favors the
Lunatic first, and from on high, not because
(God forbid) of a theory I have, but
Only judging from specific examples!
I mean, I’ve seen all family quarrels and
Intramural squabbles and rasping debates,
Seen Christianity discussed by believers,
And I don’t think hell could be more
Interminable, nor could the devil more
Completely miss the . . . point of a religion,
Than to skirt it, so nicely, with opinions.
Good evening, said Dr. Raymond E. Brown. Amen,
And amen. Thank you for the sterling kind
Words of introduction, he said to the
Current President of the Divinity School
Who had just sat down in the chair angled
In the melancholy shadows behind the podium
And who was now looking up at him sideways
Like at the darling speaker of an era. And
Now I must say, Dr. Brown intoned, all it is
Is . . . here I am. Many times he’d tried
Not squeaking, at that moment, but there
He was again, hardly sounding like himself!
Again, he said, in the position given me
By kinder colleagues, than I--I mean
By the more deserving--
Damn this style, but I guess it’s necessary,
Said Raymond to Raymond. Ah, so, I repay,
And give back, make public testimonial, I
Digest, and speak, and publish now I must--
He turned his head like someone was
Signaling him from the wings,
And in his head a boy went out for a fly
Ball. God, I mean if God ordains a little
Understanding, that comes by no means without
A good deal of pushing and prodding from
Folks like you, oh yes, the Christian
One of manifest good intentions and
Multiplying laurels and multicolored ribbons
And I thank you, really, sincerely, yes
I mean it. I do. Thank you. And the hush
Here is deeper, more reverential than any
Prayer. Though banish that thought! Well?
He says, consider me as one with laudable
Good intentions merely. Well, Brown plays
Good on the open field or in the public forum,
He acts like the whole world were watching
Him, watching him, well, wind up before
The delivery. And well, again; he’s almost
Played that word, well, like a harpsichord
Over the years.
It has . . . tonality. Well,
Before I get into the subject of my talk
Tonight, I want to reassure you that your
Car is still there, in the parking lot, where
You put it. And it shall be, when you leave.
Amen. “Jesus and The Kingdom of God,” the
Lecture, is adapted, well, from an article
Published in “The Christian Quarterly”, in
The issue appearing, in mailboxes, next spring.
What? Did he say that? “Appearing in the
Mailbox.” How refreshing, I mean--how odd!
Words can quickly paint a scene in the mind--
I see so many quiet suburban lawns, so
Many postmen skipping on, and flags and
Markers of the future, like. Oh no, it must
Be my imagination, at least to carry it that
Far. Raymond Brown is a man of
Really, here the Doctor of Biblical Theology
Only paused most grandly, or seriously,
And severely gripped the teakwood, or oak,
The cherrywood, the slick-stained--podium!
Like he was about to be hit by a train.
Well. Inwardly, yes wholly inwardly, he
Reeled for some reason he wasn’t clear on,
And nearly revealed that he was tempted
To tell an anecdote highly amusing
About something that happened
In the page proofs of the Christian Quarterly;
But he skipped it, and took a sip of water
Preferably. Like it were transitional--
The wetting of the lips--to his embarking
On the crisp, no sagging, pages of the
Article authored in his hands.
If you think
This ceremony is merely idle preliminary,
You are wrong. It is vital to have a
As vital as the modest reception following.
For the great middle part, the lecture or
The bulk of the time spent, before you,
Containing all the doctor’s misgivings,
Is lacking enough in drama to make
You long for life.
To make you long for life, on this cold night
In October, nineteen hundred and eighty-six . . .
It is a symbolic and necessary move, the
Pause in which Raymond, I mean Brown, stands
Before you. Before I mean us (myself and
The others) in the audience captured quite
In metal chairs in the half-light of the
Auditorium at the Divinity School, in
Late October--I think I
Said that. Oh right, I know what is wrong
Here---I don’t know whether you were there;
When I said “myself and the others” I became
Vitally aware, that you, of course!, were
Probably not there, for I seem to have the
Burden of the report entirely on myself, I
Mean I must be recovering this for someone
Else. And surely I did gather the scene,
Surely I was there only to make a true report.
Now the burden of the report says it was
Clear Raymond was profoundly fumbling. I
Mean, I had the piteous thought, watching
The lecturer begin to begin his
Portentously only beginning
Exploration of “Jesus and the Kingdom,”
That the article, the text all typed out
And held now in his hands, struck him now
As the concealing of ineffable wisdom.
Not a broadcast, but
An apology really. This is awfully sad--
This is the never expressed emotion, ah
The invisible sweat of many hours, years!
Of thinking and reading, reading and thinking,
Or rather, to be really honest, going slowly
Blind and maundering finally to the effect
Of a few, or rather countless, subtle
Excretions, little teased out observations;
Plus the total squandering of all his youth--
Here was what Raymond really had to confess, I
Thought as I stared at him so cruelly.
You can see the bodily frame on exhibit;
He is ghostly pale, his hair is thinning,
As he delivers the slow and wretched boring
Lecture to a few hundred students and
The whole host of admiring faculty,
Various wives and husbands, maybe friends
Pulled along for one reason or another,
On a Wednesday night--and the same night,
As luck would have it, that the
Boston Red Sox and New York Mets,
Two baseball teams, were meeting in the
First game of the World Series. Baseball
Is a game somewhat schematic in the
Memory; it is a game about to . . . begin;
Every autumn, if you watch, the basic
Storyline is overlaid, and the weather
Well, when we were young,
Was perfect like the blue skies were not
A factor. Baseball takes place in the
Without suppositions. On the way driving
In from Philadelphia Raymond Brown thought
Up a casual reference to the feeling he
Had had that, well, his somewhat weighty
Lecture was taking place in, well,
To the diamond with the players in their
Spaces. He could say like, well, thanks
For coming out to hear me, I know there’s
A big game tonight. And yes the baseball
Game caught more of the autumn air; and
This reference he should save for the
Question and answer period, poignantly
For a friendly farewell gesture to the
Crowd attending him, tying this like a
String to the kite of his high-flying thesis,
Or something. Just making himself a
While the moon rode high over the Divinity
School, and the moon rode over the stadium
And the people were able to remember the
Night, and feel the night air, and know the
Season and year, and keep attuned to the
Baseball game like a basic religion, and
Hasten their steps to the car radio--
And I was there,
And I felt crazy, I was bouncing in my chair
With successive revelations, hearing again
The admissible history of Jesus Christ,
Saviour and King, raked over by the
Skeptical, kindly, most thorough
Speaking scholar of the current era,
Yes! All dealt to us with a hearty dose
Of current wisdom and prevailing good intent,
Conforming strictly to a view of this
Pleasant reality we all inhabit. For you
Can have both, the study of scripture and
The lively static of the airwaves. What
Is there now not open for broadcast,
)r seizable for review,
All items of strange poetry of the modern day,
Yea, all emotion, and news, and song, and
A quotient of very interesting
And novel commentary . . .
Yes, I was naive to think, as I always do
That a lecture entitled “Jesus and the Kingdom,”
Should undo the timing of the pastry. I
Guess God chose me . . . to write the satire.
So, they were taping Raymond Brown’s talk,
But I never bothered to get a copy, nor, I
Know, did the news reporter who captioned
Him in a photo the next day. A photo tells
All, from a familiar angle, the meditative
Angle. Only a part of the mind is
Listening, the rest is in the eyes, which
Are staring without blinking like trying
To get the knack of seeing, trying not to
Ask any questions, or rather trying to believe.
Well, I am playing this back from memory.
I thought, this is Christianity--for believers.
And I want to sweep right off the moonstruck
landscape where high school lovers walk
This shadowy Jesus of the historians berth--
I mean his bed of study, of foam rubber
Pillows and facts collated with paper-clips,
This history that fits on file cards and
Is indexed, conveniently, to a scholar’s dream--
This anachronistic bum who floats from town
To town, and stays in other people’s houses,
Telling them he is really the right-hand man
Of God. Oh yes, and then I’d stage the drama
Of CHRIST THE KING, soldier of mercy.
Soldier of mercy!
I’ve always thought people know alright
That whatever God was doing sending his
Only son down into history in Galilee,
Two thousand years ago, it would still be
Crazy to think life was over yet, when
It is right before you--life I mean,
Despite all this mystery.
Whatever the story is, even if the basic
Story were tenable in a rough outline,
Which it isn’t, you can’t even think about
It, it’s constantly needing to be pared
Down and put in proportion--there's the
Service it seems the gentle scholar was
Born and trained for! Well, it’s poetic,
The task of the speaker, or at least his
Listeners, you’ve got to synchronize
the incredible with the twilight,
With the moonlit, real October night,
The crisp cold and the sound of footsteps,
Going back to the car--where you parked it.
Ah, Raymond, he’s a dealer in rugs, a buyer
Of the sky, a doctor with a bottle of pills.
Believers are only those who manage to repeat
The terms of belief every ten minutes or
So, through any artificial means. Nothing
Is in conflict, we have learned to believe
Anything looming in the shapes of the
Everything is an entertainment, under the
Moon, an intoxication, like with details,
An injection, and a thinning of the blood,
And another reminder, when it’s said and
Done, of the absolute futility
Of a demonstration, now,
Any outward show . . . of the inward faith.
Faith in God, who rules unseen. Faith
In procedure, faith in the calm and
Of the man with the microphone tonight,
Who might be--this is all so erratic,
The devil in close company!
In the ears you hear the crack of a bat,
Not a whip on the back of a Jew in a
Faraway century. Nothing is on trial now,
Nothing lost in an evening of watching.
The minor enactments of modern knowledge
Are all non-threatening, we know, just
The ganglia of some footnotes, some trivia
Very interesting, even pleasing, to see--
No one has to take any deeper interest
Here, or actually play baseball for a living.
A chair is all you need in later life,
And a car that stays where you parked it!
The moon doesn’t cry, when they pave the
Earth over. The moon is a watchdog, the
Moon knows true sorrow.
When the people are
Inside the auditorium with big windows, or
Inside the stadium, under the dome lights,
The moon reigns free in the parking lot.
The speech only lasts an hour in the ear,
Or less, and the game only lasts
In the imagination--
No one needs to have that game going in
The autumn year after year more than the
Scholar, who was a preacher in a former
Era, maybe twenty years ago in a small town,
And who now (oh, I thought about him) is
Riding in his car on the black highway
Back to Philadelphia listening to the
Post game show, and the interviews with
The new national heroes.
The moon has no
Face, the moon is erased of all lyricism
And emotion, the moon has been there
Well nigh four thousand years, or more.
This is the dawning of infinite appetite,
The dawning of clear-headed statement of
Fact upon fact, and the shimmering surface
Of total nonsense.
I am the only lunatic
Left, I know; looking for the combinational
Magic or the mood formerly caused by
Religious fervor. I’m putting too much
In, even now, I know--for you and I. You
And I, like witnesses of the disappearing
Terrain of the creation with only
Words that catch in the throat.
No one in particular is guilty of that
Which the satire, in a sharp-tongued style,
Will bring home--the indictment that says
All this is the behavior of people afloat
In the place, or in the hour, or in the
Century just liable to be missing
In the record of truth.
It is only a flash, a summary, a slip
Into total expressiveness that just passed
Into my mind, between two steps, barely
Halting, as I went back to my gray car,
And caught--and tried to hold--
The moon in the awareness.
from "Storming the Academy"
The Persian rug fades far into the corners of dusk
To the edged of the inverted stariway,
And from its cellar the darkness crawls, as it
Crawls defining the table where I write.
The promises recovered in dawn,
A memory of fresh snow, bells on
My heels, the first steps, a chariot.
A jacket of roses lies across the naked chair.
My finger traces a thought along the border
Of a tapestry; a single figures awaits command,
In the lonely borders of descending heavens.
Some Etrusan trumpt calls--
The poor devil has never slept
For life, it seems, is a waking dream.
He parks in the car in the bare lot
Near the corner below the pencilled moon,
And stiffly, hearing the gravel talk,
Follows the walkway into the sun.
The river that divides the city’s heart
Is lined with spectators--
Children in rags,
Women in bonnets,
And the catalogue of time goes by us
In its various and precise history.
Now it is April, not a moment in time
But time itself, immutable;
A burlesque face,
An immovable body
Gone to a source having once lived, now
From the wooden skiff having us singing,
Drowning like memory.
In the background stands the imperfect city
Once hoisted from humanity’s shoulders
By winter’s perfect, reticent light.
Known of no triangle whose apex is sky.
Now the boatswain has red eyes,
His dog heaves the river’s slumber.
Death assumes no veil but simplicity,
Waters colored by myriad eyes.
Sing, sway, they long to be forgotten.
Remember the life they long to sing.
The child breaks the frayed rope,
Escaping the forearm of a crowd,
Runs the angle to the muddy shore
And finds it sand, finds them all again
Letting the years sift through their hands.
The dream continues on the beach,
Where the wind is kneeling.
So comes the accolade . . .
The child runs with heavy legs,
His heart sinks with the bay,
Arriving only one life too late,
On the last stetch of land,
To shield his eyes,
At the sea’s navel.
In a ship consumed in waves of sight.
The dream has continued, the people resume.
Recognition, and time, like an encore, passes.
Spreading the map of seasons full size
My fingers like pins know internal journeys.
And it is true what the mind tells you,
You have been everywhere as a child.
We built a wooden ship in the backyard,
Layed it with straplings, stood on the keel.
And the rain erased it one afternoon.
The neighors stood still as harbor lights,
And the day moved around them, clumsily,
Until they went down to the river with its gowns.
And April carried even paper boats
To their source, an outstretched hand--
When water was a miracle, a child in rags
Saw suns in tiny mirrors of sand.
Time would never dissolve the faces
That line the shore, like it dissolves itself.
Water is immune to change. A child
Runs to see the year break his stride,
And April is a prayer again.
His fingers dare not touch, so
Gentle is this night, so
Terrible would be soft light.
He dare not speak for fear of
Shattering sound like ice,
In the mercy of light.
Because he is not alone, he lives
To watch himself--
Opening the glass, peering into the
Depth of cities, souls, or their mirrors.
Sounds drop like icicles and disappear
Into the depths of infinite ponds.
His eye’s angle penetrates
The folds or the ripples of sounds
On curtains opened faraway,
Letting the night onto a balcony
Where her image fades, her
Steps resounding singily, rising
On the stairway like piano keys.
You have already heard; why do you stare
At the slammed garden gate?
At the chipped red rail, at the
Last wisp of sky?
You decided; head bowed, knuckles firm
On the ancient table,
In the assumed shroud, as she
Turned from the porcelain stove.
Winter knocks gently on the pane.
There was storm already in your head,
As you gathered miles in a glance,
Saw them running with sleigh dogs--
Turned down your collar on chance.
There is pity in nature. Why else would
Snow hold so fast, in diverse worlds?
But walk halfway round the room,
You have already turned your back.