The World's Last Rose: Sonnets to the Prince of Twilight is a sequence of 72 sonnets written by Esther Cameron in 1996 and reflecting on the writer-reader dialogue from the reader's side.
The World's Last Rose
Sonnets for the Prince of Twilight
by Esther Beatrice Cameron
Onlie begetter of these sonnets! Quote
this who more aptly can, than I to you,
though Art can bear no children, as you knew,
nor my renownless voice increase your note.
Yet if in living minds your speech has stirred
not only admiration, but regret
for the root and matrix of your word,
for the brave sun, so barbarously set,
of a far town where books and humans lived
and Solidarity was often sung,
then might their flowering tree in fall revive,
the harp of their existence be restrung,
in that their memory makes the living just
to one who speaks, not as she ought, but must.
In many tongues I have essayed to speak
Of him who took all language to the grave,
Who all the instruments of song did break,
Since none had notes, with him his grief to grieve.
Poesy died with him, yet must arise
To sing his elegy, in his despite,
Lest this last triumph have his enemies:
To drown song's voice in silent endless night.
Therefore now I, to whom his word has lent
A life not mine, take up the dirge in this
No more than any other tongue forespent
To wrest him back from time's periphrasis:
Him do I praise, of him do I complain,
Who summoned me to summon him in vain.
This time, that tore so many things asunder
and made earth quake beneath the tramp of hate,
yet granted exiled love a single wonder,
in chaos' parliament one delegate:
one pupil of the earth, one troubadour,
one gatherer of names, one skilled in all
the mental paths that lead to the heart's core,
one master of the silent searching call
whereby mere words are cunningly aligned
so that the reader sees more than they tell,
one seer in the place where all are blind,
one speaker of the binding rightful spell.
That he might not have been -- O at that thought
the world's last rose dissolves to ashy nought.
That he was here, can make no difference
to those who died, their songs of love unsung,
their high deeds unaccomplished, every sense
tormented, and the mind by pain unstrung;
no difference to the masses who exist
exploited and suborned, bound hand and foot
and ear and eye by falsehood, human grist
for mills whose din renders the spirit mute;
no difference to those who write of him
to make their posts secure, and are not free
to bear love faithful witness, but must trim
and turn from one another and from me,
to whom he made a difference; but I
am less than nothing, in the wise world's eye.
Now that my love has gone where lost men go
and no one stands to witness he was mine
by the true rite of song, the holy sign
given from dream to dream, the unseen glow
of candles lit on ocean floor below
the deepest cast of any fisher's line,
by the far face of earth, the stars' design
which in his word's embrace I came to know;
since all my tokens, in this world's assay,
weigh light as spiderwebs, ring dull as lead:
shall I begin my own words to unsay,
undream the dream, and wish my soul unwed?
Oh, no; this nothing that my troth is worth
You could not purchase of me for the earth.
Yet I did not believe myself alone
when first confounded by my own consent:
I heard far voices answering in my own,
felt distant hearts with my heart consonant.
The name to which I answered was the name
of all who hear and answer, all who live
at sentience' center, everywhere the same,
identity shorn of all adjective.
I could not think but that we would convene
by day, or in some chamber council-lit,
and speak as friends of what this thing might mean
and see whether our broken tokens fit
to an earth-circling ring of hope made new.
So much I really thought that love could do.
As a lone mother looks into the face
of her one child, I scan this grief of mine:
my own resemblance I can clearly trace,
the rest is diabolic or divine,
the pledge of truth or mere delusion's fruit,
depending on whose word for it is taken --
the outside world's, that judges by repute,
or mine, who passion-blind might have mistaken
that form glimpsed in the shaken candle-glare,
but not by daylight, and in public never,
those intimations no one overheard,
the only contract an ambiguous word
so formulated that the obtuse and clever
can read, and find no mention of me there.
Lacking the means to give love's will effect,
to build a house for the understanding heart,
and thus employ the busy intellect
within the precinct of a sacred art,
which seeks not to account for anything,
but rather to use well all that is given,
to find its best arrangement, furthering
a motion that seems willing, and not driven;
balked by the dead weight of indifference
that greeted all I did or tried to do,
I too have fallen into wondering whence
came the pattern we are fettered to,
hoping, I guess, to find some saving flaw
in the vast grillwork of the Iron Law.
That we are cousin to our own machines,
the macroscopic dramas of our days
being staged and scripted by unwaking genes
taught randomly to run survival's maze,
brute impulse underlain by calculation
that is not thought, that knows no I and You:
of this our works afford scant refutation,
nor can faith's vapor much obscure the view
of a vast continental slope extending
from high-thrust peak down to the shingled strand,
with multifarious watercourses wending
each its own way, yet wedded to one end;
and probing my own motives, well I know
I am not the one to say it is not so.
I have not loved in ignorance. When the thought
"I love" expanded with a fireball's glare
in my stunned mind, that radiance also brought
a knowledge pitiless as the seared air
of how the damaged and the dispossessed
whom nature has cast off, are often prone
to the wish-fathered dream that names them blest
in front of the selected, Nature's own.
That this applied to me, and why, and how,
was perfectly apparent; and likewise
what hands upon his shoulder made him bow
to seek in dust for that dishonored prize,
"the love of the unloved"; that he and I
were laid in twin beds of necessity.
So be it. To the automatons we were,
artefacts of the spatiotemporal range
centerless, that allows no Here and There,
no Then and Now, to meet and interchange,
it never chanced that in some placeless place
where we were not, before we met we met,
and saw each other face to unknown face,
and gave each other signs, unguessed as yet,
that shadowed my first years and led me blind
through choices seemingly against my will
to where I found what I was meant to find,
though the answer seemed a riddle darker still:
what purpose? and why this to you and me,
if neither were you saved, nor I set free?
Half-conscious, on some scholarly pretence
I came, whom you so eerily had called,
and you -- you froze me with a stranger's glance,
then scattered hints I could not grasp for cold.
And how should I presume upon the night,
fearing I know not what the most: denial,
or stale fulfillment, cancelling the might-
have-been; truth's and reality's mistrial
in some chance venue, neither here nor there,
the sense' old short-circuit of the sense;
or death itself, which, tired of metaphor,
leaked through, corrosive, in your ambience?
Constrained from thought, from motion, I perceived
a small world sinking, not to be retrieved.
Awareness came much later, that when I
froze at your mute allusion to a name
which I had borne so most unhappily,
and could not find an answer to the same
until that eye in which I had seen pain
was closed, and I was left to speak alone,
we two were acting out a certain scene
that voice, with you as instrument, had drawn.
So poetry had its will, although that will
was self-defeat, suggested by the foe.
The old bards rise to mock us, crying, "The skill
is not to dream dreams only, but to know
the dream-conducted shapes when they arrive
by day, that both may speak their words, and live!"
Nameless are now the bards, their graves unknown,
their chants, unwritten, vanished into air,
into the keeping of the winds that hone
themselves at eventide on the menhir,
the obliterated signpost you saw loom
into the dusk, once, when the sun had gone:
it could not point a road back to the room
where they convened to meditate as one
upon the themes their universe propounded,
speaking their words in turn, attuned to hear
the note of wisdom whensoever it sounded
-- the place where Liadan and Curithir
were voices in the sacred counterpoint
till the Dark Ages made our loves disjoint.
Where did I get all that? From Simone Weil,
another paradoxic Jewish fate:
My talk of you prompted someone to say
that I would likely find her thought cognate.
Her dual grasp of beauty and affliction,
her bond with the oppressed, her need to find
in act a poetry beyond all fiction,
to trace on earth the pathways of the mind,
all breathed the native air of a pays
you too tried to reclaim from time and space:
the Druids, viewed somewhat selectively,
she thought might have inhabited that grace,
and the Albigensians, from whose severed tree
grew Kabbala and the great Comedy.
When in mind's eye most often you appear,
it is not the Quartier you led me through
nor the large office, booklined, dark, austere,
that gives your image background. Rather, you
move on a narrow path aslant some field
under an autumn sky of neutral gray,
conning the plant lore in which you were skilled,
pursuing in your mind an unmarked way
through the world of names, where everything is present
in absence and the lost await the word
that builds them flesh, helps them over the threshold
into our ken. Defiant of the absurd,
you sought that word of love and power addressed
to Comprehension, that holds all the rest.
As if earth had a mother, were indeed
a household, where all things fell into place
around the dwellers, ordered by their need
and hallowed by the household's sacred peace,
as if words too were heirlooms of that house,
each witnessing the touch of generations:
(you hold them in your turn and, speaking, rouse
the kindred dead in vast associations);
as if there were a mind, aware of all,
whose will is peace, whose insight is a law
we cannot frame, only attend its call,
listening for its decrees in joyful awe --
so you spoke, so I heard, when we forgot,
by some strange mercy, that these things are not.
This human faint desire toward harmony,
love, beauty, and the intellectual good,
seems a fair scion, only recently
engrafted on the fratricidal wood
and taken from a no less cruel stem,
for ingenuity was born a foe,
and this it was that lengthened out the time
the engine of predation took to grow,
the care it needed to become the dread
of all the earth. The circle of that care
was destined to be breached by the full-fed,
although its vision shimmers in the air,
breeding, by an ambivalent regret,
follies, all kinds of lies, and cruelties darker yet.
I understand and do not understand
how what is not can yet exert a pull
upon what is; can like a living hand
strew a few gifts to waken and console.
The locket with our two initials came
before I knew that one of them was mine,
before I had agreed to wear the name
you gave your secret sharer. Thus design
glints from the downward-plunging flux of things
subject to time and to numeric fate,
jerked round by lifeless power's puppet-strings,
nameless. De-named. Rendered inanimate.
The seas of vanished eyes. The voice that cried
to me from matter itself, the year you died.
When I consider all that I have lost --
friends, progeny, repute and livelihood --
by yielding blindly to the spell you cast,
it's in me then to wish I had withstood.
But memory answers that before you came
I felt much like a ghost, and so was seen;
my lostness needed nothing but a name
which you supplied, affixed a seal whose sheen
illumined all that I could still hold dear:
the poets' words; my mother's gifts, too long
despised; the beauty others did not dare
to cherish in themselves; earth's ravaged song:
All this I held, my dear, with phantom you,
to whom, therefore, only my thanks are due.
Looking toward you as toward my second source
and would-be mender of the fair earth's ring,
yet I am checked in love; I see perforce
you as co-author of our shattering.
You built upon my silence, and you sought
the praise of my ignorers; at their bidding
you scarified your language and unwrought
your Yea and Nay, in the end, by too much riddling.
You served the text-vultures, the final guests
of Poesy (though you abhorred them too),
while I, "come from afar," was half a jest
told to a last companion, one who knew
your double heart even to the hour of death:
She understood, she could not share my faith.
How could I blame her, since in you I have seen
the horror at the dark heart of the world:
a thought that linked you with the most obscene
burst in my head, while round me four walls whirled,
after that interview. Since then, to live
perhaps the mechanic breath at most excuses,
the craven body holds a fugitive,
the mouth keeps eating what the soul refuses,
and love is but a crown of self-deceit,
plaited of pretty marguerites of evil,
upon a death's head not quite clean as yet,
at which the demon laughter well may revel.
Nor have I ever truly thought the name
you clothed me in, was proof against hell's flame.
Against my will I thought that hideous thought
that did you wrong, and suffered pangs for this,
and to this day I am not certain what
was shown me in that glimpse of the abyss.
Evil I saw; but was that evil new,
your reaching for a share of evil power,
or was it the old evil done to you,
of which your pain was angel in that hour?
Or was it my own evil that I saw,
my envy, greed, resistance to compassion,
my ruthless keen desire which, beyond law,
strove toward you in a deathbound fascination?
If I too chose your death -- to sear my eyes
that knowledge might have flashed in such a guise.
As on the lava-flow that hid Pompeii
the sweet rains leaching fall, and airborne spores
find crevices wherein to work decay,
till the green host returns in all its force,
waving red banners of oblivion,
followed by grazing herds and husbandry,
the cottage smokes beneath the smoldering cone
and children caper in Abaddon's lee,
so love upon the ruins of revelation
replants the old illusions, vine by vine,
brews from despair elixirs of elation,
and soothes rough grief with measured anodyne;
so we each sang of love when first released --
O not for long -- from the almighty fist.
I am a place where something came to die
without which earth is barren of the good.
"You should not live" -- that message in each eye
I read -- the ancient doom of widowhood.
They should have burnt me quick and got it over:
I am no good to them, nor they to me.
Yet if I had one wish, my never-lover,
I mootly still debate which it would be:
the presence of that flesh from which the word
came that drew from mine the answering cry,
or the reunion of all souls that heard,
that I might come into the company
of those who speak of you as one who loved.
From such a place the world might yet be moved.
It's common to describe oneself as "moved,"
but without any motion. Readers seem,
by spiritual habit long-ingrooved,
to lick the poem coldly, like ice-cream,
savoring urgency as one more flavor,
instead of rising to report for duty
at some night-station. If I found it braver
to let myself be mobilized by beauty,
there's epilepsy on my mother's side,
and this may be a falling-sickness too;
I was weary of my life, I might have died,
so that I jumped at some mad work to do,
and the name called, and caught my vanity.
Now therefore I go bound, while they are free.
Transported by the dream of our embrace,
I later woke and found myself alone,
as usually occurs in such a case,
by an untraveled road in an unknown
land that seemed outside time, for all seemed ended
that linked me to the march of humankind,
yet in that wilderness I was befriended
and led on labyrinthine paths of mind.
I witnessed many versions of the tale
which we had lived; on many a former page
the cycle of encounter and betrayal
was cyphered; I beheld the lineage
of the Gestalt that I seemed meant to play,
although I stumbled in it, being clay.
There is a knowledge gathered in the cold
of scientific equanimity,
where things appear as artefacts controlled
by laws that are set forth explicitly;
and there's a knowledge only gained through love,
a code that lights the sentient depths of things,
their mutual inner bondedness, unproved
save by the certainty that presence brings,
imparted by such words as in the abyss
of fevered night two lovers might exchange,
without reserve breathed between kiss and kiss,
in sheer oblivion of dawn and change,
of separation and unending war --
the mind of love one instrument the more.
To live through others is a woman's gift --
so seldom are we granted our own lives;
and now our liberators grudge us this --
"Live for yourself" I've heard a hundred times
if I've heard once. But poetry as well
means being, through the word, in many places:
wherever the echo wakens, there I dwell,
however circumstance may cinch the laces.
And hearing you, I heard not you alone:
I heard the voices you had heard, and in
those voices were still others, known, unknown,
as if borne on a wind from the origin
to my assembling mind, which from the feel
of what they said, one day beheld the real.
There was never anything I could have done
about what I saw happening, although
I tried it; went to this one and that one
and in the market made a kind of show.
Always I spoke against the gradient
by which your sapience had flowed to me,
who thirsty to divine your least intent
had fixed on you all senses constantly,
and might not have so done, if not deprived
of converse and esteem; that lack I needed,
and at your sign to lose my place contrived,
so that, you heeding, I should not be heeded,
like the Dead Sea, to which all waters flow,
but never thence, there being none below.
That water may be taught to flow uphill,
the sun to rise out of the western ground;
that lively ichors from cold stones distill,
that our lost years may somewhere yet be found;
that roses blossom at the arctic pole,
that freshets purl across the desert path,
the swift-sent arrow will not find the goal,
nor the slow tortoise feel Achilles' wrath;
that there may be two hills without a dale,
that lions may be taught to draw the plow,
that moth-wings make invulnerable mail,
that war-ships founder on a drowned man's brow:
all these false things true lovers must believe,
for the world wears worse, when these illusions leave.
I have a harsh and tenebrous desire
which at its burning-point your image holds
and dustily replies when I inquire
what portion of dead falsehood it enfolds:
what hankerings for my own and others' pain
disguised as ruth; what envy, greed, dull lust --
enough to make it hard enough to scan
my heart's anatomy without disgust.
Yet you have sown another love in me
that lets me see, unsmirched by all hell's smoke,
somewhere a wise and gracious company
and somewhere Her whose presence they invoke,
and the tree that shelters such as you and I,
met beyond sorrow and the evil eye.
Because your love had found me in the cell
where I had languished many years, I thought
that presently another miracle
would give me power to teach what you had taught.
But with each year more formidably immured,
like moated Marian, or some former earth
in a black hole that has for eons lured
light that cannot emerge to herald birth,
so I live undelivered, although seen
by many a one who did not care, nor dare,
to run the gauntlet-walls that hemmed them in
and breach, or merge, the circles of despair
to find, even in this pit of dark disgrace,
the only true and sure assembly-place.
I heard it said that on the seventh day,
when tools of livelihood are laid aside,
a light shines forth from the eternal Way
that shows the world as deep as it is wide
in space and time, for true minds to perceive.
And this recalled the light or atmosphere
of landscapes the receptive mind conceives
wherever you were least oppressed by fear.
Moreover it recalled how, reading you,
I seemed to see you walking on a road
that circled earth and time, plain to the view,
though tongue could not tell all that vision showed.
All fates bound up in one you showed me there,
all minds convened, in one who walked aware.
When round me loud opinions deafly vie,
each uttering not what the heart holds for true,
but such phrase as may faintly justify
whatever mischief they intend to do;
when I hear folk, not speaking their own minds
but tamely seconding a wether's bell
that clanks somewhere ahead to lead the blind,
though at whose bidding nobody can tell;
when I attend to those whose trade is thought
making a property of difference,
cancelling what their predecessors taught,
erecting barriers around good sense,
methinks I know why truth cannot be found
unless by those who seek it underground.
How many causes I have longed to plead
in pity for earth's household goods misspent,
for honest work discounted, honest need
spurned, while the bough toward thriftless greed is bent;
for kindly custom champed by trade's steel tooth,
for hueless souls misprised in tinted mask,
for laws that nurse iniquity, till truth
shuns the dark sunlight where the cruel bask:
All these within the ancient lute resound
and knock to rouse the servant of the Muse,
by whose deep grace some counsel might be found
were not the art of counsel out of use.
For all of these I would make argument,
but the plea's hushed in my own banishment.
I cannot be political, deny
one half of truth until the other swell
to a great simulacrum of a lie,
then let the vacuum draw into that shell
a horde of refugees from consciousness
who leave for rhymeless act the post of thought
and, not to know that they are powerless,
perform on history's stage that which is not.
Their acts turn counter to proclaimed intent
by the momentum of the time and scene
upon an axle compromise has bent
before the automatic race began.
I saw you see this, and heard you protest
with words deep-spoken, as into your own breast.
And yet I cannot say that you did right
by taking refuge in obscurity,
hiding your words from those in deepest plight.
Listen: I have studied law since you went free,
I have considered statute and contract
whose tortuous if's reverse their stated aim,
word-thickets where the simple mind is trapped,
long arguments that balk brief honor's claim.
Thus toward the nets your commentators spread
you were led by your clinging to renown,
until yourself supplied the sticky thread
that now enshrouds you, known and yet unknown
by those who prize your skill and slight your theme,
even the deedless drones of academe.
In Berlin, on some day of that last spring --
if spring is ordered there as it is here --
when you might have seen orchards blossoming,
they let me take your first book with a chair
into the garden of the seminar.
Those verses awkward as a bird's first flight,
beats of a heart unused as yet to fear,
those leaves still fresh beneath the touch of blight
I read, and from the page most sorrow-torn
glanced up to see white petals coming down
--"as in that Japanese film," chimed with faint scorn
the critic voice, accompanied by the sound
of those late modern-tortured lines. I ask
you now as then: did love set such a task?
Love's work and time's who will sort out for me?
Time plumps the bud and brings the autumn rain,
while love delivers to captivity
the souls it made with little thought of pain.
Into a world whose murderous will was plain
love sent you with the chrism of a kiss
to be her own word-bearer and witness
and build a sanctuary for her slain.
But time's a powerful current, that can bend
the will of anything that tries to ford it
and bears our hopeful counsels toward an end
which had we seen at first, we'd have abhorred it.
Striving to influence a world that laughed,
you grew ashamed of love, and cruel in craft.
Because I have seen love's first and final port
in combat and in rank cupidity,
of which the imagined good is but a sport,
a sterile shoot on ill's too-fruitful tree,
shall I contemn the moment of the rose,
that scatterable In-One, that kingless crown
which between sharp and bitter briefly shows,
to waken song cold mockery must drown?
I know the universe around is waste,
void of the thought by which it is beheld,
and will be nameless in that longest last
when every thought-born image is dispelled.
Yet shall reflection in itself be prized,
although by all unmindfulness despised.
It is the anniversary of that day
when we two met upon the stair of time,
of the redeeming word we did not say,
but acted the pre-scripted pantomime,
you, as man captive of his consequence,
I, as woman bowed by man's disdain,
I could not break your death-bound walking trance
nor you unfasten my millennial chain.
And many there were lost, who might have stayed
and stood by me, if they could but have seen
upon my shoulder your high accolade;
and lost, with them, the rose that might have been.
Wise, kind and beautiful they were; if you
had owned me, they'd have strengthened and proved true.
They tell me some Sephardic families,
descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain,
have for five hundred years preserved the keys
to houses that they never can regain,
whose stones perhaps were scattered long ago,
the pathways to whose doors few might refind,
yet still those wardless wards possession show
of goods to time and violence unresigned.
Even so I keep your word, though the domain
of meaning and of act which it subtended
is wrested nothingwards, with my true name
and all of good and glad that it portended.
Yet while I breathe that house of truth will stand,
build whole and breachless, though upon no land.
Of Love and Death, those rival puppeteers,
Death is by far the better businessman:
Love's reasonings offend so many ears,
while folk digest Death's gibes as best they can.
Being too deep in dealings with the one,
you were foreclosed upon; and I too late
remembered to present the other's dun,
which scarcely will be paid by your estate.
But if I cast these sad accounts of law,
it is because my words cannot convey
the pulsing core of language that I saw,
led out beyond the He and She and They
to where the irradiated mind perceived
worlds in the word begotten and conceived.
When first your page lay open to my sight
I saw words scattered, images I sensed
pushed, crushed apart by some tremendous might
which still, striving to mean, they strained against.
Then, among these dispersements wandering,
I heard how each invoked the absent others,
the sphere that they remembered, the great ring
beneath whose circling shadow they were brothers.
And last I came to where all words are joined
into a single vast, articulate Name
expanding from, contracting to a point,
consumed and unconsumed in self-fed flame
where turned a dual stair of thoughts combined:
desire resolved, subsumed, in ashless mind.
Suppose it true that I have been misled,
I have the excuse that every faculty
against more prudent reason was arranged:
the sensual nerve, the ear and inner eye,
the mind that longed to understand and build,
even conscience, that desired to keep some faith
and had assurance that this thing was willed
where orders lay that antedated breath.
How should I not believe so bright a source
was pouring into other eyes than mine
the anti-tear, the life-instilling force
that seemed to flow against the clock's decline?
How could I cherish what I stood to gain
on the assumption that all this was vain?
Say that I tried to draw another's bow
and missed the mark by a good universe;
take as established that the error flowed
from vanity, which makes us err the worst:
no different from poor devils I have seen
who cannot bear that they are powerless
and so project on heaven's empty screen
portents of recognition and redress.
I have let go the good I might have done,
much as the flattered crow let go the cheese
which soon was snapped up by the crafty one --
thus do our passions serve our enemies --
and for my reachings have no more to show
than the rede I would not grasp, long years ago.
One bade me speak more clearly, and again
methought I understood the reason why
you darkened counsel: not to speak of pain
to those who will not understand a sigh;
who do not, hearkening, themselves descend
into the cellars where their bitterest wine
awaits the sapient palate of a friend
who'll know how it was brewed, beneath what sign;
for whom your silence is no vacant space
but echoes with the footfalls on the road
by which you traveled to the meeting place:
only in such a way are secrets told.
For the rest, you may show the world your mind,
but though the book lie open, most are blind.
There is a world that cannot see the rose,
only the mud, the bitten leaf, the worm
which they ransack the petals to disclose:
they see the flaws, they do not see the form.
So they investigate your past, unseal
the ear of confidence, the lip of spleen,
uncovering what you labored to conceal,
unmaking, thus, the carefully blank screen
of pure unknowingness where you appear
as Infinite Man, at last aware of all,
armed, strengthened by the Intellectual Tear
in love's resolve, which might redeem the fall,
the man unborn, the man whom history slew,
most mad and wise, most fabulous and true.
"Who speaks here?" I, your Mental Counterpart,
the one whom you projected and beheld,
the mirrored one, whom you with deepest art
opposite you in equal likeness stelled;
your follower in the wilderness of thought,
the echo of your footsteps on the stone,
the listener whom your secret servants brought,
desired and undesired, known and unknown;
a thing cast up from the abyss you stirred
with wild appeal, a jug of tears you filled,
an artefact of speech that will be heard,
of word that will be fleshed, and that will build
with hands you said were yours, for all to see.
Few bards can boast such living poetry.
I have raised high the roofbeam of a house
that is not built of stone or brick or wood:
whose floor is insight, rooftiles are true vows,
the deep foundation is the love of good,
of mutual acknowledgments the walls,
discernment is the threshold of the door,
that none may here give ear to counsel false,
nor bear within the implements of war.
Here hang the portraits, and here hangs the chart
of faithful reading, plain as your lost hands,
and all the undissevered mind and heart
can murmur to the one that understands,
from the court's inner well flows without pause
to rectify the names, and mend the laws.
Within this nutshell of a form I live
in the wide space of Wisdom's book unpaged,
fixed to my place, and yet a fugitive,
revolving in myself, yet unengaged
with that which moves the world -- not love, I know --,
ears stopped against the supersonic whine
of processed words, the colloquies that show
how folk sip up the poisoned anodyne
of conscienceless distraction. Nevertheless
it moves, the sphere we are plighted to, it grows
that city in whose hall the bards assess
the dream, and cut Time's emperor better clothes.
Whatever work they set me to, I am free
while I refuse to say this cannot be.
Last night, an hour before the sun went in,
I thought while walking in a quiet park
that I had come to years that have no twin
on your sheared lifeline. Into double dark
of my own age and of the age I go.
But after thinking this, I raised my eyes
to white clouds massed around white-yellow glow
in semblance of the Rose of Paradise.
Then a wide-browed, wide-mouthed young girl went past,
caught me smiling, and with her own smile
asked what I saw. I gestured toward the west,
and, though she did not stay to hear a tale,
held hope that she had gleaned some spark of light
from there, from me and you, for her own night.
Three roses did my true love give to me
when he ordained me witness to the unseen,
to wear upon my soul perpetually,
to breathe, and with life's fluid to maintain.
The first is red--the rose of love and war,
of multitudes resolved to claim their right,
of hearts conjoined by severance the more.
The second is the pure and candid white
of faithful souls that gather in the word,
cling the good and so to one another
in radiance manifold. Ah me, the third
is the black rose wherein no one says "Brother,"
the rose of those brought in against their will
to agony, and knowledge of all ill.
At Lag b'Omer, in Jerusalem,
a bonfire they had built up wide and tall
drew me near, nearer, like a house of flame,
till the heat stood against me like a wall
I could not pass. A limit of my being
gave notice, as when pain and fault and fear
make plain the bounds without which I am nothing,
the strict and shrinking smallness of my sphere.
Afloat upon a northern marsh I saw
white petals gleaming round a saffron heart,
and comprehended in the selfsame awe
all that would tear the ivory globe apart,
which seemed to trust as strength, in form's strange pride,
the fragile spell that cloaks the frail untried.
Some stirrings of a maker's pride I knew
before it had been given me to guess
(as if the figure glimpsed the hand that drew!)
your shaping thought upon my consciousness.
This bred in me a striving to stand forth
as workmanship of yours, for piety
shone its own pride, translumining self-worth,
until a deepening vision showed to me
myself in the shadow of that mother-mind
which by song, tale and saying, instinct-led,
impressed on me an image it divined
in me, whom her hands clothed and combed and fed.
You and I -- we were works of that same art
which the world pulls so carelessly apart.
Dear Chiron, not the ingenious word alone
could make the withered bardic tree renew,
although a word may to itself be true
and sound (as Yeats said) in a place of stone:
Retrieve man's troth from whither it has gone,
give love safe-conduct in the public view,
watch over the most generous, lest they rue
the frank exposure of their mirth and moan.
For verse is but a form within a form,
a shining-forth of the invisible
weft of our dealings and our sightedness.
I've known seeds germinate in firestorm,
but none that flourished long where no rain fell
or grew more beautiful where love grew less.
From seas of ill we praise the light of good,
we love best what is gone beyond recall.
The frame house in the hostile neighborhood
endeared to me the matriarchal hall
"a thousand miles away" -- the first refrain
of a child among strangers. As for you,
fate taught you to regret, if not regain,
the nest from which so eagerly you flew
toward the art-capital where never rang
the name of that far town, so full of wit,
of dreams, of kindred warmth for those who sang.
That city fell; and then we heard of it,
though never by its name, from one who fled,
that it might be the city of all our dead.
In Berkeley, in a brief and generous hour
when once again the rose of freedom blew
-- granted, a tortuous bud-bitten flower,
but still it was the best I ever knew --
I met with many poets, whom I heard
and answered, and who answered me again,
till almost we seemed caught up in one word,
where each one's wingbeat drove the other's pen.
There, from beyond the sea, I heard your voice,
which as the burden of its solitude
bore a remembrance of communal joys
on which no brunt of history could intrude,
whose essence seemed preserved perpetually
in the word-swarm glad of its own company.
Because my parents took a wise delight
each in the other's mind; because my peers
could not admire their work, but put a blight
of persecution on my early years;
because I had a Jewish look; because
I had been reading Mandelstamm and Plath,
because I met one Jew who'd left the laws
but tried to lead us a Utopian path;
because I loved a Danish lad who played
Valerio, and muffed his lines, while I,
the promptress, dreamed about him in the shade
that hid me, while on him the lights were high,
the riddle of my life before you came
seemed answered in the riddle of your name.
I have seen you, friend, in many different lights,
with many different senses apprehended,
as flesh and blood, as soul and archetype,
as light in which all I have seen were blended.
I sensed you in the music of the Pole,
in the aspects, enigmatically dear,
of first friend, first love; in a dream's drum-roll,
a verse of mine, its provenance unclear.
Then, on the street, the small man, unprotected
and inaccessible, the one who died;
the ghost whose bidding drove me, half distracted,
through tale and text to Zion's stony side;
and still the fleeting beast that roams your line,
born of the flicker of your nerves, and mine.
As when a beam of infrared is trained
upon an object, and a plate exposed,
developed, and a photograph obtained
on which a different image is disclosed
from that we view by ordinary light,
even so the landscape of my history,
when viewed beneath your language's day-night,
luminesced as a tale of mystery,
where sequence could not hide the armature
of correspondences, foreshadowings,
a symbolism obvious and obscure
propagating like ripples through all things,
though at the Dark Tower's dread simplicity
all quests appear to break, and glamors flee.
Once I had dared to make your dream my own,
I thought that others would make my dream theirs --
the levelling exchangeable pronoun,
believing in itself, ignored the stairs
of rank down which I fell precipitate.
And yet, that year in Berkeley, when I spoke
with good Tsippora, the Utopian's mate,
I saw us characters of one great book
vast in plot and rich in metaphor,
as Dostoevsky deep, subtle as Proust,
of which Tolstoy was but a miniature,
from which no episode, no word is lost.
Upon that book I see your mother's hand
rest, in that photograph from Neverland.
In the most desolate places of the soul,
where nothing lives but the wan ghost Despair,
I found your word, as on a canyon wall
crude petroglyphs, proclaiming you were there.
Does somewhere now on earth some other wight
review those lines upon their bed, and weep
dry tears, and speculate upon the plight
of someone else whom grief will not let sleep?
Could there be ten? My distant comrades, may
the kindness that exhaled those lines renew
and give my words a chance to pick their way
over the rubble of human trust to you.
Here is my hand, dear comrade. If it finds
yours, there is still employment for true minds.
I know the dream did not show you my face
nor anything that could be mine alone:
the name I answered to, a commonplace
that rose, an inescapable silent groan
from the infernal landscape of your seeing.
And as for that image, woman or shade,
was she an X-ray of my inner being,
or just a role another might have played?
I do not know. And glad enough I'd be
if someone else would rise and say "I too."
There can be little ground for jealousy
In the abyss between non-I, non-You.
Wherever you are, my Duplicate: rise, shine,
and by your witness make my love more mine.
There is a certain herb of ill repute
which, smoked or eaten, leads the mind amaze,
ties prudence in a sack, makes swift the foot
of mind through far associative relays,
estranges the familiar, lets you eye
your doom, as if another were concerned
in some done thing of ancient days gone by --
brings on, in short, the state that they call "stoned."
You spoke of stone. I could not help but try,
one day, the combination. Then the zone
of outcast thoughts received me, who may die
in exile, in the shade of things unknown;
and yet it was the common home I found,
a place not meant to be built underground.
With you I have gone down into the mine
of dream and wisdom and most deep desire
where transiently the miner's headlamp shines
light into many an abyssal star.
"These are the names," I seem to hear you say.
"Yours from this wall with toil and pain I won."
You handed me the hammer. I chipped away,
but could not free another from the stone.
With you I have gone out into the night
and from a crossroads with the infinite ways
looked back on the foundation of our sight
and apple of the sightless cosmic gaze.
You, being lighter, have escaped, while I
must circle still, bound up with earth and sky.
Through the clear air the constant cricket shrills,
the blue sky deepens into infinite,
the hickory-nuts lie pale amid their hulls
like knucklebones for play, or like the white
stones let fall along the random way
to your noplace. If true that every year
our sphere attracts the dead for just one day,
perhaps you drink with me this vintage air,
observe that hint of bronze on yonder trees,
assist my straying memory to gather
old autumn-words of yours, whose frequencies
carry well in the calm receptive weather --
So fair a day forbids me to believe
that earth could lack you, or that you would leave.
Many have worshipped idols, this I know,
have given to effigies of man or woman
the royal due of the untouted human,
have fed daily affection's healthful glow
to the foxfires of notoriety,
have merged their seeing with the general,
forsaking love's obscure discovery
and the sole acre given them to till.
And this, I know, against me will be said:
you were not mine to tent, not mine to aid,
and I have not lived well in following you.
But never (it will be said in my defense)
did vanity so put on excellence,
was the obscure so famed, nor fame so true.
"Every poem is the anticomputer, even the one
the computer writes." -- Paul Celan
My father has upgraded, at long last,
his old computer. It was overdue;
the one my brother finally brought him to
is equal, I would say, to any task.
The screen came up showing our Tellus Mater
hung with programs like a Christmas tree.
Two speakers let you listen to a CD
while working. Brother, for a demonstrator,
put on the Chopin nocturnes -- an odd choice,
but he'll surprise you. The quality was clear;
only, what could that ever-fading voice
still betoken to us now and here?
Was it a sign the electronic way's
galactic turn will bring you back someday?
Last night I got to play the tambourine
at the "Rejoicing of the Law" -- by all
traditional accounts a curious scene.
We sang the Hebrew songs we could recall,
turning around the table with the scroll,
men, women, children and Wichita
the working dog. One youth did a good three-ball
juggle. But one child touched the Torah
thoughtfully and, as if she sensed my sight,
slipped her hand into mine as we went round.
Then out into the street, into a night
of alien fall. The light of some stars found
a way to us. We did what we could do.
I thought of Mea Shearim; and of you.
When in the press of time I have forgot
Thine influence; when thine idea seems
No more to fulminate with dangerous gleams
Over my mind with other matters fraught;
When all the tumult which thy words once wrought
Seems mere besottedness to reason's eye
Which like the rising sun laughs to descry
The wreck of revels it remembers not;
When I high questions chase beneath its light,
Hewing with pen a path through ways o'ergrown,
Myself as well as thee forgotten quite,
Then pause and read, and find the thought thine own --
Then it is proved again self cannot flee
From self, nor I estrange myself from thee.
There is someone -- upon earth they stand,
at the center which is everywhere,
to other selves alerted, and aware
of distant thoughts which, listened for, expand
the single consciousness, till they have spanned
a sky-wide tent, a space in which all share
who are willing to admit that others are:
These are sacred, these shall understand.
And for receptors of meridian power
we fashion crystal-sets: vessels of rhyme
and ritual, custom and meeting-time,
sifting the new, recasting what is old,
shaping the senses and the heart to hold
the promise that the tree will yet reflower.