PART II: MADISON, 1972-1979
What shall I tell you, child of my childlessness,
little fish swimming
downstream in my tears:
I don't know the riverbanks,
I don't know the rapids.
I don't know the tangles of the bottom-weeds
or the hours when the rivergulls hover.
I do know this:
such rivers meet no other rivers,
find no sea.
They circle back, they flow down
to their source in the highlands.
In the next season
the dart of your death will pierce my eye from behind.
A MON SEUL DESIR
I praise not love: a god like all the others,
As all the others treacherous, and to blame
For unendurable and lasting shames
That lie upon us, and the deaths of brothers;
I call not man my god, whose envious will
Was ever foe to his own loveliness,
Nor lady Nature, by whose leave much ill
Must argue; but one being let me bless
Whose name (herein concealed) is fragrant still...
My mother sighed, telling me of the blight
That fell upon the eastern woods to seize
Only the loveliest, the great chestnut trees,
That martial summer before she saw the light.
She knew them as those great trunks, weathered white,
Fresh saplings danced around; but even these
Sickened in few years of the old disease:
Lately we heard: some lived, in its despite.
Lives then the single Soul of man's great race?
-- A rain-bleached trunk, and yet a stubborn root
That keeps on sending up shoot after shoot
That we forget not quite the primal grace
But hope, and weep, and hope again, till one
Shall live, and strengthen, and attain the Sun...?
Listless I mourn, for my love was hound and hare,
And I the empty, the fern-hung, the unrevisited lair,
Cold, cold and forgotten, hollow to the notes of the horn
And the baying of hounds and the shouts of huntsmen deaf to prayer.
Listless I mourn; for my love was hare and hound,
What though the air is still now, what though the hunt is down?
Hound came under the hooves, as hare by the hound was torn,
And I am earthed in the silent lair and the sanguined ground.
As the wan priestess on the Taurian shore
Counted the waves and waited for those friends
To bear her home, as long-deserved amends
For priestly lies, that laid such trails of gore,
Then saw how truth and safety stood at odds,
How hate drew breath to sweep her from her goal,
And flung herself between, crying, "save me, gods,
Save me, and save your image in my soul -- "
So I, who pace within these chains of rhyme,
Shamed as a prisoner in a market-throng,
Cry out for trust against a truthless time:
Though the wrung soul speak through an empty mask,
Call me not false, do not yourselves that wrong,
Give me your hands, my journey, and my task!
Whippoorwill calls from the corn.
In the twilight my brother stepped in amongst the cornstalks;
the shadows clasped him, made him one with them.
Larger than last month, the gold round
moon is something removed from behind a saint's head;
it stains faint clouds with liquefied dust.
My brother moves behind me
along the rise; the moon moves behind
his head, in my right eye.
He says the burrows of darkness in green alfalfa
are deer-trails, says the air on the hills
is warmer, still, from day,
asks if I can focus the moon. I cannot.
This thought beats at my head like owl's wings:
that, blinded, my sense feel through his
the cloth into which they are woven.
When I pull, things come loose.
How can I tell him what number the angel jabbed
in green ink under the furrows of my backbrain?
How can I get the moon on my side?
from the German of Else Lasker-Schueler
I wander all lands, seeking long and late
A town that has an angel at its gate,
And often at my shoulder-bone
I've felt his broken wing's great weight
And from my brow his star, his seal has shone.
And always and again my steps are turned
Towards night . . . I have brought love into the world,
That every heart might blossom a blue flower,
Have as a watchman worn my lifetime's hour,
In Deity my breath's dark impact veiled . . .
O Lord, enfold me warmly in Thy cloak.
I know I am the lees in this glass globe,
And when the last of men pours the world out,
Far from Thy might suffer me not to grope,
But let a new earth compass me about.
AN OLD TIBETAN CARPET
from the German of Else Lasker-Schueler
Thy soul is worked in, with mine,
To this tapestry's Tibet design.
Ray in ray, enamored colors,
Star and star, that heavenlong were lovers --
See how precious where our four feet rest and ride,
Meshes meshing thousandthousandwide!
Sweetest Lama's son upon a muskplant throne,
How long has thy mouth kissed my mouth do you suppose,
And thy cheek my cheek, brightly-knitted times agone?
Take this pain, I said to the words,
carry it away.
And when I looked up
they stood again at my shoulder.
I saw then that they had come to conduct me
through unaltering twilights:
past where a man stood singing
alone in a field of grass,
past the dead crouched
like urns, like beggars
without hands, along the raw-ripped road
down to the blue underground passage --
There was a woman guarding your chamber,
I gave her a letter for you,
did you hear, O did you hear.
QUASI UNA FANTASIA
It seems as if someone set me here as a reminder
and then forgot everything. Was it you, you?
Does my hair grow from undiminishing thought?
I seem to consist of glimpses and discomforts.
I am still turned toward that spot on mind's horizon
where you went out, shutting behind you
the door that cast the one beam of light.
Something else has got to come back through, soon.
Is it true, prince, what I thought just now:
that time is just like a mud covering
flaking off a wall of pure gold?
Then eternity -- must be that fresco in Novgorod,
a patch of saint, the rest so clearly palpable
behind the veil of having been eaten away.
REHEARSAL, WITH ECHOES
On the stage before the scattered cast, Santuzza is singing.
Black as ebony, white as snow, red as blood.
It is not enough to say she believes her emotions.
It is as though she had never been consulted.
Perhaps she isn't in pain. What a fuss she makes!
Shall we forget she was the farmer's daughter?
Aren't there enough worse things to cry about?
Is this the way she moved, behind Verga's story
of a sharp-tongued girl, a quick laconic revenge?
Watching her, one might say: here is man's folly
avenging itself through the madness it releases.
One could also say: she took him for this occasion.
She needs his coldness, to forget him as she sings.
Or: the split rock reveals unweathered minerals.
Her voice, her meaning pour from the gash in her existence,
how, without hammers, without wedges, would we have known this color?
But her cry flings itself beyond comment
and the orchestra gives full nineteenth-century support
like a cabinet that cannot tell its extravagant ruler
the treasury is empty, and out in the back country
they are hanging the tax collectors.
And in the audience sits Credulity,
that spectre Brecht threw how many inkwells at,
a worn girl sits there with tears in her throat,
no irony can kill her, watching her apparition.
(That time in the corridor, that voice,
not hers, and calling beyond him
to something whose approach
frightened her as she felt it
in the tremor of her own vocal chords --
if he'd only opened
that door in his back! His shoulders,
heavy and stopping, could have borne the wings;
but he shook himself,
the winged one turned back, the man fell from her sight
like pieces of mosaic off a wall.
It was not the time, it was not the meeting-place.)
Evening after evening . . . Turiddu's throat is sore,
he isn't here. Santuzza sings alone.
Should we, having read the Duino Elegies,
act surprised at the improvement? The other way
it didn't look right when she broke from him on the high note,
hands spread apart, eyes lifted,
but this makes it all clear, and credible,
even to you, Credulity -- may we hope?
Grief seeks not wholeness but a mate for Grief,
that is to say, Absence. Search without an object,
shall we not call you Vanity, and be done with it?
Smile at this dream. Nobody feels any pain,
and elsewhere everything is completely different.
Look, there's a break. In speech with the director
Santuzza is laughing.
(I hear you. And you too,
my Angel, will even you deny your words
chartered me as figurehead of all sorrow?
You filled my arms with ashes, and half smiled. But the eyes,
those eyes of the men in the photographs, were not gay.
Is it that the joy of this my willingness betrays them,
or that my tearful insistence wrongs you? What do I hold?
A slip of paper, and the script is fading.
Now I stand still, they surround me and fasten their streamers,
they dance, my eyes are covered over, my mouth,
only the hands are still free, for me to gesture with.)
Mask, chill and rapt, receptor of astral cries, interpret me.
As one whose soul is absent, so am I:
They ask me questions, and I answer slow,
They'd ask my name -- I'd say I do not know,
And recollect it with a doubtful sigh.
For on the scales of strangers' thoughts must lie
Today the words I wrote two days ago,
And I am absent where the arrows show
Whether in them my being I deny.
If these, once friends of him to whom I have sworn
Honor and life, receive me in his name,
Then from a hateful bondage I am freed;
But if they quit my words with silent scorn,
Deaf to my tears, averse to my high claim,
Judge me -- O love! this world is dark indeed.
THE PROMISED WEB
Time stands, accomplished, in a face
insistent twinges challenge me to mend.
Last night I dreamed we were in jail, with bars
between us; now, with you across the city,
thoughts toil along the nerve-ways, bringing yarn,
under the supervision of the dead.
I had not thought there were so many dead
as I saw yesterday, along your face,
twisted into each other, like fine yarn
How did your mother and grandmother mend
their lace together, in that time-bound city,
draw threads across the rents, in soft white bars?
-- Sunday morning. Across the street, in bars,
huddle our secret kindred, the long-dead-
to promises, marginal notes of every city.
One tunneled face leans to another face
and, into crevices no one thinks to mend,
dribbles bits of landlocked sailor's yarn.
Fat, dull-eyed, too dull to wind the yarn,
in my dream, behind the iron bars,
I cannot think what I came to mend.
Am I to pick the runner-trails of the dead
up off the snow, follow them to a face
where mistrust of me has built a strong city?
It's true I dreamed of trying to cheat the city:
forged a set of documents, concocted some yarn.
There was a look in the librarian's face
which said I deserved to be put behind bars
for taking out a book that belonged to the dead
and lying, when it got too torn to mend.
But it was the book that kept crying, "Mend,
with what you can tear out of me, this city!"
In my cell I frantically plucked the sleeve of the dead
man who unravelled, as though made of yarn.
Now I lay down my steps, crisscrossing bars --
how will the patch show up, and on what face?
Mother, signal me the face I must mend
beyond these gates that bar me from the city,
and help the bringers of yarn, help the dead.
Sister, sister, can you hear me,
Are you sure that we're alone?
Am I talking to your husband
Or the job you have outgrown?
You can go back to them later,
Be alone just now and hear --
All my words are shadows groping
In the hope that you are near.
Sister, sister, you are marching
On the road to God knows where,
There are chains upon your ankles,
And your head is shaved of hair.
I who run along beside you
Singing like someone who's free --
You are free and I am captive,
For they've hung your chains on me.
Sister, sister, if you're married
You must still know right from wrong;
You are married to a chained man
And he's got to move along.
Will he put his mind to planning
Against the man behind the line
Who still holds the whip and swings it
And drives us on like swine.
Sister, sister, do you know me?
Does this ring some kind of bell?
I was told one man once saw us
Outside man's self-created hell.
When they lift their arms to heaven
It's to us they really pray.
Bow your heads and say the words now --
If we remember, so might they.
Sisters, sisters, speak together,
Tell each other all you know.
We can build the town of Wisdom
That shall have no earthly foe.
Speak the word just to your neighbor
Till one thought in every brain
Builds the city we inhabit
At the breaking of the chain.
SUNG AT UNCERTAIN HOUR
The screen of vision, wet with inward tears
And fogged with weariness, does not allow
Clear seeing; but among the hidden spheres
I think the Wedded Saints are rising now
As once on Escher's page, where brow to brow,
Each is the other, and the bond between.
Their eyes are fixed upon some nether scene --
Surely united wisdom sees our grief,
And twice-paired eyes, with vision doubly keen,
Track beneath clouds the pathways of relief.
When to the canopy the minds are brought
To make for hopes and fears a common name,
Each moves, the echo of the other's thought,
And in their various fields intend the same,
And hand in hand, unarmed, go gentleness and fame,
That love no more may blunder in the dark
Which loveless ingenuity diffused,
Nor intellect's devising miss the mark
For love's one counsel in the aim unused --
I keen the long delay: that love must still
Make bulwarks, chiefly, against those without
In the dark wasted landscape round about.
-- Did no gleam fall on me, across that sill
Before which I remain in blindness and in doubt?
I walked through this world
as one of the dead.
Your eyes were mirrors
in which I was not reflected.
I feel the sinking year, and hear that voice
That will not sound again for mortal ear;
To a cold mouth I speak this: do not fear
I ever could regret my ancient choice.
I only grieve that in your praise my voice
Is faint and soundless, finds not living ear,
And I am still the captive of their fear
And the condemned of their most ancient choice.
The day is dark; and now all floral crowns are sere
Except that one of asters, which you wove
And placed upon my hair, while I knelt low.
You dreamed that lifted up one would appear
Dream-crowned, amid the battling frightened droves,
and they would drop their weapons and be lulled; was it not so?
A CAROL WITHOUT SONG, FOR WINTER TURNING
Another year -- we'll fix
a star with one more point
atop a small pine,
but leave it in the woods.
Another year -- we'll search
our minds for stories,
for new truths not yet told,
and give them to each other, in a corner
where nine or seven candles burn.
Another year -- we'll take
the boards away from the opening
to the highest attic.
The dead will descend,
something in their hands:
We'll trade them smiles jeweled with tears
for their dreams of quiet crystal.
The unborn, tall, will turn
like angels above candle-flames.
We'll clasp hands with the holly
and with the ivy.
Between brows a pure mirror
will be unveiled,
and the doors behind foreheads
swing inward --
My love is wandering still.
The world alone is the mother.
in the shattering of a mosaic.
Her hands -- empty of hands!
Her eyes -- empty of eyes!
Lift this stone, sister, brother.
Light -- the effort is in bending.
here -- the bit of darkness,
so she can see.
Don't care for me -- care for the world
and help me find my place in it.
I love you as I love the ring on my finger,
the menorah in my front window,
the pattern of which you're a part.
Keep what I give you,
later you'll find what it matches,
what you lost before.
congruent to one another,
we gaze through each other at strange
On all ways
you can still hear the humming of light
from a center outside the air.
There is still, on a bookshelf, the shell --
sign of the inner ear
in the outer air.
the shell, the moment
when the eyes flared up in answer,
the sound that unrolls like a clew
when you walk from this door:
You will return,
the door out of space, we will find it,
look you, the inner ear
is the way.
You invent strange returns.
On landings where only your footfall
stacks tread on riser through the spiralling dark
your hands shuffle receipts for how many worlds.
Deal. Elsewhere, hands at the dial, tilting
you into focus, turn
transparent to the elbow,
the room, burst into by a congruent solid,
staggers and gets its footing in a crouch,
-- they freeze into sleep in a box
on the shoulders of a troll striding.
O morning bright and calm. All that, confined
to a package delivered on the doorstep,
the ground is printed in sunlight
with bracts of locust. Flats
of maple leaves stir for the last time, camps
of the dying. But blindsight primes the eye with storm,
stomps the mind in rhyme,
and the stories will whirl up, to inscribe
the missing lighthouse.
Everything is explainable, like the sun.
Time has stopped, but things keep on turning.
Unnoticed something has slipped behind your will
which whirls round, but the holsters are empty.
At the threshold of your heart did you pause aghast?
Did you not remember it as an empty classroom?
A blind friable with sun, a tapping of flies --
where are the drapes, the dark paraphernalia?
The first snow, and a memory of music lessons
and acorns on the playground, perhaps suffice
to explain this; but more important is the fact
that the contracts are written into the palms of our hands,
we see each other all the time without looking,
and I know you well, without being introduced.
"C'EST LA CONSIGNE"
Orders. On this small planet
My light blinks on and off.
The orders do not change,
My arm does not get tired,
The oil does not run out.
They don't tell whether
To the vast planetarium
I see in the night-times
This says, "Can you hear me?"
this white stone, which I place
on the brink, it is still
THE HATE STORM
They were swept away from me
in the hate storm.
I held onto them,
I called to them, "Hang on,"
but they were swept away.
The high wind came,
the dark water
my calling could not quell,
my singing could not calm,
or was my calling the wind?
or was my singing the water?
A darkness came
bigger than my arms and full of snakes
"Hang on," I cried.
I held onto them,
but they were swept away.
BIRTHDAY OF A COURIER
The high-relief of something in the mind
almost forgotten, remembered not by name
but rising, shedding water from bright flanks:
Follow the trails of water to their source,
enter the source, and speak. Let your eyes
protrude from tree-trunks, your hands
appear over intersections, in the air.
You companion is a thought that keeps pace
with you, dodging among the mirrors of the air,
surfacing in eyes, in eyes, ringing
voice after voice like a set of untried chimes.
Your credentials are: the constellation and the leaf,
the tokens under the tongues of the unborn,
and you are shod in thankfulness of the earth.
We gather here to see
faces from which we need not hide our face,
to hear the sound of honest speech, to share
what dreams have etched upon the sleeping brain,
what the still voice has said, when heavy hours
plunged us to regions of the mind and life
not mentioned in the marketplace: to find
and match the threads of common destinies,
designs grimed over by our thoughtless life --
A sanctuary for the common mind
we seek. Not to compete, but to compare
what we have seen and learned, and to look back
from here upon that world where tangled minds
create the problems they attempt to solve
by doubting one another, doubting love,
the wise imagination, and the word.
For, looking back from here upon that world,
perhaps ways will appear to us, which when
we only struggled in it, did not take
counsel of kindred minds, lay undiscovered;
perhaps, reflecting on the Babeled speech
of various disciplines that make careers,
we shall find out some speech by which to address
each sector of the world's fragmented truth
and bring news of the whole to every part.
We say the mind, once whole, can mend the world.
To mend the mind, that is the task we set.
How many years? How many lives? We do not know;
but each shall bring a thread.
NICE LITTLE POEM
A nice little poem
and a sad little fact
at opposite sides
of a table sat
One hid a tear
the other a smile
and the sun looked down at them
all the while
One thought abandon
the other thought hope
though neither reached a hand
Neither hid a smile
nor a tear
they sat reflecting
as mirror and mirror
What came of that
is still unknown
to the sad little fact
and the nice little poem
HOW YOU KNOW
If the horse's leg is really healed
If the prisoners are really freed
If the woman gets her man and he doesn't hate her
If the sisters look at each other and smile
If your best friend says I can't deal with this
If acquaintances give you strange quick looks
If a stranger comes up to you six weeks later and says he's started bleeding
If you find yourself turning to stone after you've spoken
If the king really relents
If the people are really saved
If the bureaucrat tells you a secret passageway
If a statistician starts dream in words
If you noticed the gorgon was crying
If a man made of water advised you
If they found the buried treasure by your map
If you've started thinking of things for people to do
If you can make out the city in the distance
If presence and absence no longer confuse you
If the whole thing begins to make sense
Your poem is good.
Supine in the rough grass,
above you gray-white emptiness.
Around you the smoke-trails climb the sky;
some optic makes them seem
to converge before vanishing.
Somewhere, not far off,
there is shouting,
they are sorting the others,
some to the right, some to the left,
some to gradual, some to immediate death.
How is it they overlooked you,
lying here like old iron,
like a piece of slag from their ovens,
unidentified object with fused glass eyes?
Those whose faces in the archived
photographs will show grainy,
neither horrified nor stigmatized
but like any crowd in transit,
and who will be bent, broken, injected
with foreign substances, taken apart --
they are the extras, the properties.
It's those others who are the persons of this drama,
they are acting out the lives of the gods
like battered children who break their toys,
like children who act with their dolls
what they see done around them, in all loud
parliaments were mute life is disposed of.
Will you rise, throw yourself between?
You know when you walked among them
you had neither hands nor voice.
Lie here for dead. Stare upwards.
If your mind can bear the emptiness no longer
let your madness rioting in the clouds
create gods to slaughter, instead of human beings.
This lying here pinned by knowledge, this staring upward
into gray-white emptiness where the smoke-trails
seem by some strange optic to converge before vanishing:
this is your destiny, your vigil,
THE PEOPLE WHO SOLD THEIR EYES; OR, THE NECESSITY OF NEGATIVE THINKING
Have you heard about the town where the people sold their eyes?
It was not a backward town nor a town of extraordinarily foolish people. It was simply that one day in the market square there appeared a man in a handsome blue wagon in which there were trans and trays of eyes, all the same deep, bright blue. A display of these wares very soon attracted a crowd, and the man began to praise the virtues of his product. Not only, he said, were these eyes of such an attractive color, but one could see twice as well with them as with one's own natural optics. Indeed, if one looked through these eyes one would never see anything bad.
The people listened, tempted, but a little uneasy. All day they hung back, discussing the matter among themselves; from time to time someone would wander over to the wagon where the merchant of eyes stood, genial, to pressing anyone to buy, but on the other hand not looking as if he intended to stay for a very long time. Toward evening a man in late middle age, who was mayor of the town, walked over to the merchant's cart, and made his purchase.
This broke the tension, and one by one the other townspeople followed his example, finally standing in line beside the wagon of the merchant of eyes. The price asked was very reasonable: one's own eyes, and a small payment in addition which, the merchant made clear, scarcely more than covered the cost of the fitting. And they color of the eyes was so beautiful: just the color blue that everyone had always wanted to have, only even a little bit finer. And then, never to see anything bad would certainly be a considerable gain.
By the end of the day everyone in town had the new eyes, except for one little girl who refused to be fitted. Everyone spoke to her angrily: did she think her own eyes were so remarkable, that she wanted to hang onto them while all the rest of the people were exchanging theirs? But she was afraid of the new eyes and raised such a fuss that they finally gave up. The next day the merchant of eyes had left town.
For a while things went on quite well in the town, really much better than before. Because they could not see anything bad, the people were contented and did not quarrel with one another. If a man had been hired to paint a house, and he left a few spots, the owner of the house did not see them, but cheerfully gave him his wages. Similarly if the hem of a dress someone had ordered did not hang quite straight, or the horse someone bought was not quite as young as the seller had said. In fact the whole town looked brighter and neater, the people healthier and happier, because only the good things were visible.
Of course, the little girl who had wanted to keep her own eyes remained to them as a constant source of irritation. They could not see anything bad; but they could see her face, and they could tell when she was seeing something bad -- which happened oftener and oftener. Pretty soon they started throwing stones at her whenever they saw her coming. It got so that she could no longer live in the town; she had to go and hide in the forest. Every now and then she would come back to town under cover of night and make her way to her parents' house, and her mother would give her some food. Her mother, of course, had bought the new eyes, because she did not wish to be different from the others; but she could not refuse to feed her. So she survived.
With the little girl driven out of town, the townspeople thought they would finally be completely happy and content. It is true that shortly after that someone came and cut down the fine grove of trees that stood just outside the town, near the main road, and carted away the lumber and built something hideous there in its place. But the people did not see that, because they could not see anything bad. Where the grove had been there was simply a blank spot in their vision, but they could not even see the blank spot; it was just as though the grove had never existed and nothing was there now at all. So it worked out quite well. It also happened that someone came and asked the mayor if he could buy the handsome statutes that adorned the front of the town hall, and the mayor, after visualizing all the good things he could do with the money, saw nothing wrong with it. The removal of the statues left quite an ugly hole in the facade of the town hall; but again, this was not noticed.
After that there was quite a parade of strangers -- afterward no one could remember what they looked like -- passing through town and getting things. They got the remaining trees in town, the decorations on the front of people's houses, the things they had inherited from their ancestors, sometimes for money and sometimes because no one saw what they were doing. I don't know what had happened to the people of the town. Perhaps the new eyes had some property of which the merchant had not informed them: perhaps along with the ability to see bad things the people had lost the ability to see really good things, or to see them for what they were.
At any rate things went along in this way, until one afternoon somebody got a ladder and climbed up and took down the sun. Stole the sun right out of the sky and put in its place another sun, a sun of inferior quality that showed everything in a very bad light. Then no one in town could see anything at all.
By calling to each other they managed to assemble to talk about what should be done. But no one could think of a way to get the sun back, if they could not see to search for it. Finally the little girl's mother spoke up: perhaps her daughter, who could still see bad things, could be persuaded to undertake something, if she returned to town soon.
At that moment the little girl herself arrived. She had seen the man steal the sun and put a bad sun in its place, and she had come back to town because she was worried about her mother. The person who had stolen the sun, she said, looked very much like the merchant of eyes, and she thought she knew which way he had gone. She offered to go and look for him and try to persuade him to give back the sun, and also to give the townspeople back their own eyes.
The townspeople agreed that they had to have their own eyes back they perceived what a trick had been played on them. But how, they asked each other, could they persuade the merchant to return the eyes? They had little left to offer him. So they told the little girl to tell the merchant that if he would give them back their eyes they would work for him for a number of years. And with this the little girl set out.
The merchant of eyes had left a fairly easy trail, and it did not take her long to find him; and after a certain amount of bargaining he agreed to take back the new eyes, and give the people back their old ones, and return the sun, on condition that the people pay him a certain sum of money over the next twenty years. The eyes he would return immediately, he said, but the sun only after the sum of money had been paid. Meanwhile they would have to live with the sun he had given them, by which, after all, one could see to do one's work.
The people had no choice but to agree, little though they liked the bargain, and over the next twenty years the sum of money was paid. Those were hard years, for they now had to see all the bad things that had happened during the time they could not see anything bad, and there were few good things, because everything had to go toward paying back the merchant of eyes. And when the twenty years were over and the sun was finally restored to the sky, they were still poor and the town was still a mess; it was a long time before things were the way they had once been.
As for the little girl, she lived for a long time, and she worked with the townspeople to help put things back together again. It's safe to say that with the exception of her mother no one ever really liked her; she was a constant reminder to them of how foolish they had been, and sometimes they muttered that she really could have driven a better bargain for them with the merchant of eyes. But when it came to important matters they always asked her advice; and it was generally right.
Not wide the chasm was
Though none could leap it,
Richly the harvest grew
With none to reap it,
Not false the promise was,
Though you did not keep it.
Now, my sister, you are free,
Free to be the same as me.
Free to conquer, free to tread
On the victim's bloody head.
Free to ravish all the earth
Till you come to your own hearth.
Free to coin your words for lies,
To compete and advertise.
Free to turn aside and sneer
When a sister sheds a tear
For such foolish things as love,
Childhood shelter, roof above.
Free to tear yourself a piece,
Banqueting on other's grief.
Free to grow a pseudopenis
Like the female hyenas:
Thus shall you assert yourself.
Buy this freedom, lady -- OR ELSE!
You speak of sisters marching strong.
In the dim light
on an unbounded surface
the women with battered bodies,
to drag herself
to a quiet
YIGDAL ELOKIM CHAI
that’s you, Mona –
you’re the only living God I can see –
that’s going to upset them, like the joke, you know –
I heard the door clang shut and the key splash in the moat,
Then in the dark I heard your laughter starting up like a motor.
VRROOM! Did we get the hell out of there! […]
No, I can’t believe it, just can’t believe it
Even that I would dance again –
But you put on your music
And drew my soul out through my fingertips –
I saw you coming down through the hole in the gallery ceiling
Along those spiral glass stairs
With a black cat by your side,
You perched up there instructing the dancers,
The only person I know who can talk of love
Without a speck of falsehood showing.
And in the gallery there’s this shelter
Crammed with holy images –
Masks, ithyphallic crucifixes,
A picture of someone meditating by a lake
That lights up,
Bearskin on the floor,
Whoever comes here has to tell the truth.
Outside – portraits on the wall,
Souls scrawled in black lines and primary colors,
Faces. If my face were half that rea.
And idols, idols,
Saints and Buddhas, totem figures, monsters out of nameless rivers,
Beasts like continents –
You burn incense before Buddhas,
You will put one in the front window to bless the world
You are Jewish, African, Buddhist, Catholic, American Indian –
Come one, come all –
Here these are all given up for safekeeping,
Live again, like dolls in their own houses;
When we borrow and think to buy them, they play dead
It’s the inside of the memory of the world,
Stocked with images dense as jungle fronds.
Oh Mona, how could they go out of here
Build those gray halls
Made of forgetting and ruling everything out…[…]
Things talk to you –
You touch one and know who has touched it.
You read our minds like an eye_chart.
You command the angels of coincidence,
We arrange ourselves around you
In a pattern of meetings,
You are the web and the rock.
And you too have seen, seen the worst,
Couldn’t eat in the vicinity of Dachau,
Saw – saw – the past could not hide from you,
Screamed your head off getting out
Of materialist university barbwire round the braing,
Known liars, seen people cross the street to avoid you,
Been to cities where they don’t believe in ghosts
Though they’re so thick you can hardly see anything else,
Got people out of crazyhouses, helped psychiatrists,
Stood by helpless while beautiful humans killed themselves –
Helpless. You too. And yet – even so – the stronger.
You climbed the stairs after telling us the news,
Step by step with your pain like an adagio partner:
“Sing. There is no sorrow.”
If you leave us, Mona,
You’ll have a fiery chariot.
We’ll beg for a portion of your spirit.
No one will touch your home.
Instead it will hunch down, bunch together
In the dark of some night, tugging at the city
From within, like a moon it has swallowed,
And long before morning
We shall all be inside of you.
THROUGH A GLASS, CLEARLY
I'm on the outside,
You're on the in.
You're with the people
Who think they can win.
I'm on the inside,
You're on the out.
I'm in the truth here,
You ramble and doubt.
If I could become
would break, and the distant
TO A NEWBORN DAUGHTER OF ISRAEL
May you grow free.
May superstitious slanders never darken
the clear light of your inheritance.
May the world be pretty for you,
extend to you warm winds and flowers.
May you see its flowers and its sorrows
as a pattern woven by the Divine Presence.
May you know what sorrow is
without tasting it.
Even in the city where the buildings
tower over you with the might of ingenious ignorance,
even in the shadow of war,
even if human faces should show you
fear or ignorance or coldness,
may you not be afraid.
May you remain serene in the knowledge of your nature,
steadily shining until eyes can gaze steadily upon you.
May you never bend your mind for favor
nor darken truth by speaking it in anger,
but be the truth before them as the blossoming branch,
as a tranquil blue-veiled sea.
May the wise of all generations address you,
and forgive their ignorance, child, if they knew you not.
May the old stories teach you the name of every pain,
and where the herb grows that cures it.
May the dream instruct you.
May the word flower soon on your tongue.
O may you find friends who speak and listen gladly,
answering song with song, wise words with wisdom.
May those who do not understand you trust in you,
may you heed and be heeded in counsel,
may the one you love behold you unchangingly
in the mirror of his soul.
And may you bear yourself to yourself again,
planted in the world like a tree
that cannot be uprooted.
And may you not forget what was before you,
this the ones who dwell in darkness have spoken:
even the ones who still lie bound in sorrow,
even the ones whose silence warns the living
from deeper night:
and the light shined in the darkness,
They live in houses shuttered blank and gray.
They study nights on how to never give.
They do not let the children out to play.
You can't get through. Whatever you may say
Lies like a stone against an iron sieve.
They live in houses shuttered blank and gray.
From house to house computer wires relay
Reports on every passing fugitive.
They do not let the children out to play.
Their window-blinds admit the light of day
The way a coat of mail admits a shiv.
They live in houses shuttered blank and gray.
Despite their armor's cumbersome display,
It's rumored that their young are born alive.
They do not let the children out to play.
Friends, let us deeply swear that, come what may
We will resist their chill imperative.
They live in houses shuttered blank and gray.
They do not let the children out to play.
to one outcry
leaving something floating
(from the Russian of O. Mandelstamm)
In the mists ahead my eye could not quite seize
your wavering, tormenting shape.
When I said "My God" I did not mean
to say it -- said it by mistake.
But the name of God, like some huge bird,
struggled from my lungs and flapped away.
Ahead, once more, the mists thicken and swirl.
Behind -- a cage, its door agape.
There are two who return and are always returning,
as if they stood on a wave when it breaks.
They are teachers who come at the end of our learning,
they are gamblers who come with impossible stakes.
I try to recall: do they speak to each other
or are they just spoken, like shapes in the wind?
I call them my sisters, they call me their brother --
a mistake which no one remembers to mind.
What it's actually like when they come for a visit?
Everyone's with you and no one is there.
They divided a cake with a care so exquisite
Each child at the ends of the earth got a share.
It is all somewhere else -- they have told me to tell you --
The wave broke, the word was lost;
but there's a change in the look of gray billows
when you know that the sea has been crossed.
They do not come. This is only a groping
in fable. Neither by night nor by day.
Then why am I constantly flinging doors open --
"Osip and Paul! Can you stay?"
Eternal People, my life is yours.
You princes, whose crowns the Torah wears,
I stand before the holy Ark,
the testimony of G-d's speech to me,
and, laying all rebellious will aside,
subject myself to His will, and to yours.
O may it be your will, and His, to look,
not to disdain the gifts of one who comes
Well I know these gifts must seem
a toy of peace proffered in hour of war,
this hour when crowding hates possess the earth,
man's soulless creatures fill the skies,
the folk disperse, its elders have no counsel
but day by day to bargain, at a loss,
with what reveres no right, can hear not word,
and none would know, to contemplate this world,
that the word Wisdom ever pierced the night.
Now it behooves us all to pray for might,
not listen to a song that seems
a dream of lonely hearts in separate nights,
an unarmed man's delusion as he falls;
who heeds it takes a moth's wing as his shield
and makes a blade of grass his spear.
so it may be; it is not mine to say;
I go where you go, share even to the end
this people's doubt, its fate.
To Israel's G-d I offer up a voice
that came -- from whence I do not know -- to say
those towers of hate, those arms of doom are not
more invincible than the slighting smile
with which men heard me; and what seems to frail
--Beauty -- is G-d's mercy and power combined,
the mother of Discernment, Judgment, Skill:
the gift without which prayer and righteousness
are as a scepter in a sinking hand --
and with this thought shall Israel's strength renew.
A SONG OF SONGS
You would touch me, but I am silent,
like an instrument whose strings are broken.
The strings are the souls of the faithful,
that should be tautly strung and tuned together,
each giving forth its own true note to your fingers
and causing the others to sound in sympathy.
Brutal hands have raked across your instrument,
it has lain outside in the rain,
and the faithful have broken away,
those that remain are slacked from their pitch,
loosened so that they give no sound.
O love, you are the player,
and you are the master craftsman; in your hands are skill and wisdom.
Mend, I pray you, the strings that are broken,
make them as new,
re-join them to me, re-tune them.
Then your hands will move upon me and I shall respond,
and your voice too will be heard singing --
the voice of mirth and gladness,
the voice of the bridegroom and the bride.
The sound of papers being counted
and women's voices, subdued
laughter, our comments
like computer messages, always
the names people choose, the carelessness
of doctors, slips of strange pens,
the prices of things and the reasons
of decisions somewhere higher that sift down on us.
We order the numbers of the nameless,
the names of the soulless;
we keep track of what is not understood.
In the hot afternoons time swells,
eternity knocks between the typewriter rattle,
and the high fans turning this way and that, like heads,
have within their soft whirring a ringing sound
like bells chiming no hour, far off in the wind.
The doors here open and close
each day at the same hour;
we are here;
we leave to give birth, we return
to tend the vast memory that forgets us
and await the coming
of the Messiah.
TO A FRIEND, BEFORE HER MARRIAGE
I struggle to remember you -- not now
but as you will be, in a future that will not be;
for I must take the full flower and the spreading bough
from this first faint green that's scarcely there to see.
I saw you among women -- O no toy
of vain desire, but wise and making wise;
I saw you in the shadow of a boy,
softened and wary, shrinking from my eyes.
Man sees but part of woman; but he takes
that part for all, and will not hear of more;
she shrinks herself to fit his grasp, and makes
small timebound wiles of her eternal lore.
So Wisdom's forests vanish from the earth
and the fair world's destroyed before each birth.
What ails you, Cassandra? You're young and beautiful,
a child of the royal house, loved and protected,
your sleep is curtained with gold, your tunic is purple,
your hand never touches a needles except in pastime,
when you've tired of your women's tales, or the song of the handsome young men.
Isn't all this enough? Must you court notoriety
by such outrageous conduct at public sacrifices,
tearing your hair and ranting about Apollo,
who certainly never mentions your name to his priests?
Ridiculous! As for this band of Achaean marauders,
who've been with us now so long they're almost like neighbors,
their taking this city is just about as probable
as that pretty story you tell about being sought by a god.
It would be foolish to think they're the cause of your trouble --
no, there's some other reason, deep in your troubled soul;
perhaps the diviners could tell you, or some wise physician; I cannot.
But this a simple person like me can say, and I know it would help you
if you could only hear it: Stop thinking so much of yourself.
Look around you each day. You live in a wonderful city,
where thousands of people, far less well off than you,
tend to their business, morning and night, and make the best of it.
Look at the blind man, his hand outstretched for an alms,
consider the women who stoop at the mill and the loom
all day, and come home to ragged children at night,
the men whose backs are bent from the buckets of water they carry,
even the prisoners, who do their labor against their will.
Not one of them all wears that hunted, tragic expression
or ends every conversation with dreadful foretellings.
No wonder you feel alone; and of course that makes everything worse.
Cassandra, I'm not saying this to hurt your feelings;
you know I'm your friend and would like very much to help you;
but friendship has limits. You're not going to get me thinking
you're really a prophetess, sought and inspired by Apollo,
and those stragglers from Aulis out there will soon be killing and plundering
within these walls, unless we all go as crazy as you!
Be calm, Cassandra, and smile. See how the children are racing,
excited and solemn at once, to take their positions,
while to the music of flutes the priests come solemnly pacing,
all dressed in purest white, followed by dancing maidens,
leading a heifer in garlands to far-designing Apollo.
They are more bound than I,
that tread me down;
they that would not be valor's slave
are fortune's clown.
They that would stop the ear to golden words
must fill it with the listless din
of news and numbers, hollow tunes that pall
while nightmares cage them in.
What they have made of Your great world I must,
with eyes the sight wounds, see;
and yet this pain is memory of the good,
O G-d, amid their worse than futile work,
their faithless talk,
their homes that have become as market-squares
where sellers hawk,
grant them one hour to know Your wisdom is,
for all they do,
a source of counsels, flowing from Before,
which perils but renew,
and though for many years they still must toil
in falsehood's pay,show them even now Truth's sanctuary in time,
Your Sabbath Day!
Aye, they would know, could they but cross that sill
and leave all lies without:
Your Presence fills the world from end to end
and leaves no room for doubt.
And from that insight is endurance born,
and joy, and awe,
and constancy, and truth from mind to mind,
and acts which speak Your Law.
O LOVE RETURN
O love return, love return and comfort those who await thee,
O love return, love return to faithful hearts that wait thy coming.
Dark is the night, without a star, without a moon, the sun forgotten.
This night is long, is morning near, O send a ray to those who dwell in darkness.
Shall we forget and be as those who never knew thy shining vision
But walk in fear and live for gain and never feel thy springtime breath upon us?
Shall earth be bathed in blood and tears once more and drown all hope of better?
Is there no light on some far shore to guide us home across these waters?
Show us one thing we can believe, one rule to guide, one path to follow,
Show us the pearl of such rare gleam we'd gladly give for it our mortal burdens.
O make us glad to do thy will, not rebels stand where the ground is burning,
O help us trust in thy sure hand that gropes for ours amid our blindness.
O let us see thy face at last, and in thy light let us see each other,
O let us dream and let us wake to make this earth the temple of thy dwelling.
O love return, love return and comfort those who await thee.
O love return, love return to faithful hearts that wait thy coming.
for Pesach ben Freide
The promise that brings you through sleep
and remoulds your hands each time, out of nothing,
is the breathing of the dead, which our own covers,
is a candle burning down in the airless chambers.
Absent guest, amid feasting and singing
the day of your going opens a dark eye.
Into your name you have gone. Let death, then,
divide like the sea! Let us, dryshod,
walk the way of remembrance
toward your vigil that beckons
in the radiant, knowing Beyond,
while that voice, which is yours still, proclaims:
for Sam Gordon
The old man's voice was like an ancient scream
wrought into words by years of brooding rage.
As if from beneath blows the words still came
and still might issue, age on lightless age.
What they had done to him in that far land
he told; then, prophet-like, he turned and roared
against those here who lent no helping hand,
who saw his need, but coldly it ignored.
The audience said nothing. As of old
when prophets chided them, their silence said:
"The human heart is frail, it cannot hold
the massive sorrow of the living dead.
"Where is the G-d of might, that promised aid?
It was not we that made, nor we that broke
that covenant. Our dues of guilt are paid --
why are we more rebuked than other folk?"
But from the service, still, a young girl's prayer
"A better world -- to work, and not to die--"
though she herself had vanished into air,
perhaps returned, a listener, and stood by.
Grown now through years of death to angel's height
and Wisdom's form, it pleaded with the throng:
"Sisters, brothers, hold fast in man's despite
To hope; abandon not the world to wrong!
"Know: Love still speaks, and still gives laws to men;
These heed, and save what yet remains of worth --
O Israel, lift your arms and gather in
The suffering multitudes of all the earth!
"Wherever flower struggles against stone,
Wherever song through brutal shouts is heard,
There seek us, Israel, and find again
Your hidden G-d, Who mends His broken word!"
But in that hall to every mind discoursed
Another shape: "You fools, why gather here?
The master of this world -- his name is Force,
To him you bow, and him alone you fear.
"And have you come to weep what he decrees?
Weep not too much! beware!
Or have you come to plead that what he is
He ought to change (and also what you are?
"What will you offer to this King of Kings?
Your hearts in prayer? He seeks but to destroy
Whatever hopes, or prays, or blooms or sings,
Till all the earth is like him: bare of joy.
"Shall tears deter him, who delights in pain?
-- Go to your homes, avoid each other's eyes,
Shut out the world, forget as best you can
Those upon whom the sun no more can rise!"
Dark was the April night, when they went out,
No star discernible, if any shone --
A night that shrouded Heaven's gates in doubt
And veiled with tears the glory of the Throne.