The Ghost's Leavetaking
Enter the chilly no-man's land of about
Five o'clock in the morning, the no-color void
Where the waking head rubbishes out the draggled lot
Of sulfurous dreamscapes and obscure lunar conundrums
Which seemed, when dreamed, to mean so profoundly much,
Gets ready to face the ready-made creation
Of chairs and bureaus and sleep-twisted sheets.
This is the kingdom of the fading apparition,
The oracular ghost who dwindles on pin-legs
To a knot of laundry, with a classic bunch of sheets
Upraised, as a hand, emblematic of farewell.
At this joint between two worlds and two entirely
Incompatible modes of time, the raw material
Of our meat-and-potato thoughts assumes the nimbus
Of ambrosial revelation. And so departs.
Chair and bureau are the hieroglyphs
Of some godly utterance wakened heads ignore:
So these posed sheets, before they thin to nothing,
Speak in sign language of a lost otherworld,
A world we lose by merely waking up.
Trailing its telltale tatters only at the outermost
Fringe of mundane vision, this ghost goes
Hand aloft, goodbye, goodbye, not down
Into the rocky gizzard of the earth,
But toward a region where our thick atmosphere
Diminishes, and God knows what is there.
A point of exclamation marks that sky
In ringing orange like a stellar carrot.
Its round period, displaced and green,
Suspends beside it the first point, the starting
Point of Eden, next the new moon's curve.
Go, ghost of our mother and father, ghost of us,
And ghost of our dreams' children, in those sheets
Which signify our origin and end,
To the cloud-cuckoo land of color wheels
And pristine alphabets and cows that moo
And moo as they jump over moons as new
As that crisp cusp toward which you voyage now.
Hail and farewell. Hello, goodbye. O keeper
Of the profane grail, the dreaming skull.
The scene stands stubborn: skinflint trees
Hoard last year's leaves, won't mourn, wear sackcloth, or turn
To elegiac dryads, and dour grass
Guards the hard-hearted emerald of its grassiness
However the grandiloquent mind may scorn
Such poverty. No dead men's cries
Flower forget-me-nots between the stones
Paving this grave ground. Here's honest rot
To unpick the heart, pare bone
Free of the fictive vein. When one stark skeleton
Bulks real, all saint's tongues fall quiet:
Flies watch no reserrections in the sun.
At the essential landscape stare, stare
Till your eyes foist a vision dazzling on the wind:
Whatever lost ghosts flare
Damned, howling in their shrouds across the moor
Rave on the leash of the starving mind
Which peoples the bare room, the blank, untenanted air.
On the Plethora of Dryads
Hearing a white saint rave
About a quintessential beauty
Visible only to the pargon heart,
I tried my sight on an apple-tree
That for eccentric knob and wart
Had all my love.
Without meat or drink I sat
Starving my fantasy down
To discover that metahpysical Tree which hid
From my worldling look its brilliant vein
Far deeper in gross wood
Than axe could cut.
But before I might blind sense
To see with the spotless soul,
Each particular quirk so ravished me
Every pock and stain bulked more beautiful
Than flesh of any body
Flawed by love's prints.
Battle however I would
To break through that patchwork
Of leaves' bicker and whisk in babel tongues,
Streak and mottle of tawn bark,
No visionary lightnings
Pierced my dense lid.
Instead, a wanton fit
Dragged each dazzled sense apart
Surfeiting eye, ear, taste, touch, smell;
Now, snared by this miraculous art,
I ride earth's burning carrousel
Day in, day out,
And such grit corrupts my eyes
I must watch sluttish dryads twitch
Their multifarious silks in the holy grove
Until no chaste tree but suffers blotch
Under flux of those seductive
Reds, greens, blues.
The Moon Was a Fat Woman Once
They are always with us, the thin people
Meager of dimension as the gray people
On a movie-screen. They
Are unreal, we say:
It was only in a movie, it was only
In a war making evil headlines when we
Were small that they famished and
Grew so lean and would not round
Out their stalky limbs again though peace
Plumped the bellies of the mice
Under the meanest table.
It was during the long hunger-battle
They found their talent to persevere
In thinness, to come, later,
Into our bad dreams, their menace
Not guns, not abuses,
But a thin silence.
Wrapped in flea-ridded donkey skins,
Empty of complaint, forever
Drinking vinegar from tin cups: they wore
The insufferable nimbus of the lot-drawn
Scapegoat. But so thin,
So weedy a race could not remain in dreams,
Could not remain outlandish victims
In the contracted country of the head
Any more than the old woman in her mud hut could
Keep from cutting fat meat
Out of the side of the generous moon when it
Set foot nightly in her yard
Until her knife had pared
The moon to a rind of little light.
Now the thin people do not obliterate
Themselves as the dawn
Grayness blues, reddens, and the outline
Of the world comes clear and fills with color.
They persist in the sunlit room: the wallpaper
Frieze of cabbage-roses and cornflowers pales
Under their thin-lipped smiles,
Their withering kingship.
How they prop each other up!
We own no wilderness rich and deep enough
For stronghold against their stiff
Battalions. See, how the tree boles flatten
And lose their good browns
If the thin people simply stand in the forest,
Making the world go thin as a wasp's nest
And grayer; not even moving their bones.
Flintlike, her feet struck
Such a racket of echoes from the steely street,
Tacking in moon-blued crooks from the black
Stone-built town, that she heard the quick air ignite
Its tinder and shake
A firework of echoes from wall
To wall of the dark, dwarfed cottages.
But the echoes died at her back as the walls
Gave way to fields and the incessant seethe of grasses
Riding in the full
Of the moon, manes to the wind,
Tireless, tied, as a moon-bound sea
Moves on its root. Though a mist-wraith wound
Up from the fissured valley and hung shoulder-high
Ahead, it fattened
To no family-featured ghost,
Nor did any word body with a name
The blank mood she walked in. Once past
The dream-peopled village, her eyes entertained no dream,
And the sandman's dust
Lost luster under her footsoles.
The long wind, paring her person down
To a pinch of flame, blew its burdened whistle
In the whorl of her ear, and like a scooped-out pumpkin crown
Her head cupped the babel.
All the night gave her, in return
For the paltry gift of her bulk and the beat
Of her heart was the humped indifferent iron
Of its hills, and its pastures bordered by black stone set
On black stone. Barns
Guarded broods and litters
Behind shut doors; the dairy herds
Knelt in the meadow mute as boulders;
Sheep drowsed stoneward in their tussocks of wool, and birds,
Granite ruffs, their shadows
The guise of leaves. The whole landscape
Loomed absolute as the antique world was
Once in its earliest sway of lymph and sap,
Unaltered by eyes,
Enough to snuff the quick
Of her small heat out, but before the weight
Of stones and hills of stones could break
Her down to mere quartz grit n that stony light
She turned back.
Child's Park Stones
In sunless air, under pines
Green to the point of blackness, some
Founding father set these lobed, warped stones
To loom in the leaf-filtered gloom
Black as the charred knuckle-bones
Of a giant or extinct
Animal, come from another
Age, another planet surely. Flanked
By the orange and fuchsia bonfire
Of azaleas, sacrosanct
These stones guard a dark repose
And keep their shapes intact while sun
Alters shadows of rose and iris ---
Long, short, long --- in the lit garden
And kindles a day's-end blaze
Colored to dull the pigment
Of azaleas, yet burnt out
Quick as they. To follow the light's tint
And intensity by midnight
By noon and throughout the brunt
Of various weathers is
To know the still heart of the stones:
Stones that take the whole summer to lose
Their dream of the winter's cold; stones
Warming at core only as
Frost forms. No man's crowbar could
Uproot them: their beards are ever-
Green. Nor do they, once in a hundred
Years, go down to drink the river:
No thirst disturbs a stone's bed.
The Lady and the Earthenware Head
Fired in sanguine clay, the model bead
Fit nowhere: brickdust-complected, eye under a dense lid,
On the long bookshelf it stood
Stolidly propping thick volumes of prose: spite-set
Ape of her look. Best rid
Hearthstone at once of the outrageous head;
Still, she felt loath to junk it.
No place, it seemed, for the effigy to fare
Free from all molesting. Rough boys,
Spying a pate to spare
Glowering sullen and pompous from an ash-heap,
Might well seize this prize,
Maltreat the hostage head in shocking wise,
And waken the sly nerve up
That knits to each original its coarse copy. A dark tarn
She thought of then, thick-silted, with weeds obscured,
To serve her exacting turn:
But out of the watery aspic, laureled by fins,
The simulacrum leered,
Lewdly beckoning, and her courage wavered:
She blenched, as one who drowns,
And resolved more ceremoniously to lodge
The mimic head - in a crotched willow, green-
Vaulted by foliage:
Let bell-tongued birds descant in blackest feather
On the rendering, grain by grain,
Of that uncouth shape to simple sod again
Through drear and dulcet weather,
Yet, shrined on her shelf, the grisly visage endured,
Despite her wrung hands, her tears, her praying: Vanish!
Steadfast and evil-starred,
It ogled through rock-fault, wind-flaw and fisted wave --
An antique bag-head, too tough for knife to finish,
Refusing to diminish
By one jot its basilisk-Iook of love.
On the Difficulty of Conjuring up a Dryad
Ravening through the persistent bric-à-brac
Of blunt pencils, rose-sprigged coffee cup,
Postage stamps, stacked books' clamor and yawp,
Neighborhood cockcrow - all nature's prodigal backtalk,
The vaunting mind
Snubs impromptu spiels of wind
And wrestles to impose
Its own order on what is.
'With my fantasy alone,' brags the importunate head,
Arrogant among rook-tongued spaces,
Sheep greens, finned falls, 'I shall compose a crisis
To stun sky black out, drive gibbering mad
Trout, cock, ram,
That bulk so calm
On my jealous stare,
Self-sufficient as they are.'
But no hocus-pocus of green angels
Damasks with dazzle the threadbare eye;
'My trouble, doctor, is: I see a tree,
And that damn scrupulous tree won't practice wiles
To beguile sight:
E.g., by cant of light
Concoct a Daphne;
My tree stays tree.
'However I wrench obstinate bark and trunk
To my sweet will, no luminous shape
Steps out radiant in limb, eye, lip,
To hoodwink the honest earth which pointblank
Spurns such fiction
As nymphs; cold vision
Will bave no counterfeit
Palmed off on it.
'No doubt now in dream-propertied rail some moon-eyed,
Star-lucky sleight-of-hand man watches
My jilting lady squander coin, gold leaf stock ditches,
And the opulent air go studded with seed,
While this beggared brain
Hatches no fortune,
But from leaf, from grass,
Thieves what it has.'
Green Rock - Winthrop Bay
No lame excuses can gloss over
Barge-tar clotted at the tide-line, the wrecked pier
I should have known better.
Fifteen years between me and the bay
Profited memory, but did away with the old scenery
And patched this shoddy
Makeshift of a view to quit
My promise of an idyll. the blue’s worn out:
It’s a niggard estate,
Inimical now. The great green rock
We gave good use as ship and house is black
With tarry much
And periwinkles, shrunk to common
Size. The cries of scavenging gulls sound thin
In the traffic of planes
From Logan Airport opposite.
Gulls circle grays under shadow of a steelier flight.
Loss cancels profit. Unless you do this tawdry harbor
A service and ignore it, I go a liar
Gilding what’s eyesore,
Or must take loophole and blame time
For the rock’s dwarfed lump, for a the drabbled scum,
For a churlish welcome.
On the Decline of Oracles
My father kept a vaulted conch
By two bronze bookends of ships in sail,
And as I listened its cold teeth seethed
With voices of that ambiguous sea
Old Böcklin missed, who held a shell
To hear the sea he could not hear.
What the seashell spoke to his inner ear
He knew, but no peasants know.
My father died, and when he died
He willed his books and shell away.
The books burned up, sea took the shell,
But I, I keep the voices he
Set in my ear, and in my eye
The sight of those blue, unseen waves
For which the ghost of Böcklin grieves.
The peasants feast and multiply.
Eclipsing the spitted ox I see
Neither brazen swan nor burning star,
Heraldry of a starker age,
But three men entering the yard,
And those men coming up the stair.
Profitless, their gossiping images
Invade the cloistral eye like pages
From a gross comic strip, and toward
The happening of this happening
The earth turns now. In half an hour
I shall go down the shabby stair and meet,
Coming up, those three. Worth
Less than present, past - this future.
Worthless such vision to eyes gone dull
That once descried Troy's towers fall,
Saw evil break out of the north.
Arena dust rusted by four bulls' blood to a dull redness,
The afternoon at a bad end under the crowd's truculence,
The ritual death each time botched among dropped capes, ill-judged
The strongest will seemed a will towards ceremony. Obese, dark-
Faced in his rich yellows, tassels, pompons, braid, the picador
Rode out against the fifth bull to brace his pike and slowly bear
Down deep into the bent bull-neck. Cumbrous routine, not artwork.
Instinct for art began with the bull's horn lofting in the mob's
Hush a lumped man-shape. The whole act formal, fluent as a dance.
Blood faultlessly broached redeemed the sullied air, the earth's grossness.
It is a chilly god, a god of shades,
Rises to the glass from his black fathoms.
At the window, those unborn, those undone
Assemble with the frail paleness of moths,
An envious phosphorescence in their wings.
Vermillions, bronzes, colors of the sun
In the coal fire will not wholly console them.
Imagine their deep hunger, deep as the dark
For the blood-heat that would ruddlr or reclaim.
The glass mouth sucks blooh-heat from my forefinger.
The old god dribbles, in return, his words.
The old god, too, write aureate poetry
In tarnished modes, maundering among the wastes,
Fair chronicler of every foul declension.
Age, and ages of prose, have uncoiled
His talking whirlwind, abated his excessive temper
When words, like locusts, drummed the darkening air
And left the cobs to rattle, bitten clean.
Skies once wearing a blue, divine hauteur
Ravel above us, mistily descend,
Thickening with motes, to a marriage with the mire.
He hymns the rotten queen with saffron hair
Who has saltier aphrodisiacs
Than virgins' tears. That bawdy queen of death,
Her wormy couriers aer at his bones.
Still he hymns juice of her, hot nectarine.
I see him, horny-skinned and tough, construe
What flinty pebbles and ploughable upturns
As ponderable tokens of her love.
He, godly, doddering, spells
No succinct Gabriel from the letters here
But floridly, his amorous nostalgias.
The Beggars of Benidorm Market
Nightfall, cold eye - neither disheartens
These goatish tragedians who
Hawk misfortune like figs and chickens
And, plaintiff against each day, decry
Nature's partial, haphazard thumb.
Under white wall and Moorish window
Grief's honest grimace, debased by time,
Caricatures itself and thrives
On the coins of pity. At random
A beggar stops among eggs and loaves,
Props a leg-stump upon a crutch,
Jiggles his tin cup at the goodwives.
By lack and loss these beggars encroach
On spirits tenderer than theirs,
Suffering-toughened beyond the fetch
Of finest conscience.
The bay's sheer, extravagant blue,
White house and almond grove. The beggars
Outlast their evilest star, wryly
And with a perfidious verve
Baffle the dark, the pitying eye.
For Leonard Baskin
To his house the bodiless
Come to barter endlessly
Vision, wisdom, for bodies
Palpable as his, and weighty.
Hands moving move priestlier
Than priest's hands, invoke no vain
Images of light and air
But sure stations in bronze, wood, stone.
Obdurate, in dense-grained wood,
A bald angel blocks and shapes
The flimsy light; arms folded
Watches his cumbrous world eclipse
Inane worlds of wind and cloud.
Bronze dead dominate the floor,
Dwarfing us. Our bodies flicker
Toward extinction in those eyes
Which, without him, were beggared
Of place, time, and their bodies.
Emulous spirits make discord,
Try entry, enter nightmares
Until his chisel bequeaths
Them life livelier than ours,
A solider repose than death's.
The Disquieting Muses
Mother, mother, what illbred aunt
Or what disfigured and unsightly
Cousin did you so unwisely keep
Unasked to my christening, that she
Sent these ladies in her stead
With heads like darning-eggs to nod
And nod and nod at foot and head
And at the left side of my crib?
Mother, who made to order stories
Of Mixie Blackshort the heroic bear,
Mother, whose witches always, always,
Got baked into gingerbread, I wonder
Whether you saw them, whether you said
Words to rid me of those three ladies
Nodding by night around my bed,
Mouthless, eyeless, with stitched bald head.
In the hurricane, when father's twelve
Study windows bellied in
Like bubbles about to break, you fed
My brother and me cookies and Ovaltine
And helped the two of us to choir:
"Thor is angry: boom boom boom!
Thor is angry: we don't care!"
But those ladies broke the panes.
When on tiptoe the schoolgirls danced,
Blinking flashlights like fireflies
And singing the glowworm song, I could
Not lift a foot in the twinkle-dress
But, heavy-footed, stood aside
In the shadow cast by my dismal-headed
Godmothers, and you cried and cried:
And the shadow stretched, the lights went out.
Mother, you sent me to piano lessons
And praised my arabesques and trills
Although each teacher found my touch
Oddly wooden in spite of scales
And the hours of practicing, my ear
Tone-deaf and yes, unteachable.
I learned, I learned, I learned elsewhere,
From muses unhired by you, dear mother,
I woke one day to see you, mother,
Floating above me in bluest air
On a green balloon bright with a million
Flowers and bluebirds that never were
Never, never, found anywhere.
But the little planet bobbed away
Like a soap-bubble as you called: Come here!
And I faced my traveling companions.
Day now, night now, at head, side, feet,
They stand their vigil in gowns of stone,
Faces blank as the day I was born,
Their shadows long in the setting sun
That never brightens or goes down.
And this is the kingdom you bore me to,
Mother, mother. But no frown of mine
Will betray the company I keep.
Now this particular girl
During a ceremonious April walk
With her latest suitor
Found herself, of a sudden, intolerably struck
By the birds' irregular babel
And the leaves' litter.
By this tumult afflicted, she
Observed her lover's gestures unbalance the air,
His gait stray uneven
Through a rank wilderness of fern and flower.
She judged petals in disarray,
The whole season, sloven.
How she longed for winter then!--
Scrupulously austere in its order
Of white and black
Ice and rock, each sentiment within border,
And heart's frosty discipline
Exact as a snowflake.
But here--a burgeoning
Unruly enough to pitch her five queenly wits
Into vulgar motley--
A treason not to be borne. Let idiots
Reel giddy in bedlam spring:
She withdrew neatly.
And round her house she set
Such a barricade of barb and check
Against mutinous weather
As no mere insurgent man could hope to break
With curse, fist, threat
Or love, either.
Parliament Hill Fields
On this bald hill the new year hones its edge.
Faceless and pale as china
The round sky goes on minding its business.
Your absence is inconspicuous;
Nobody can tell what I lack.
Gulls have threaded the river's mud bed back
To this crest of grass. Inland, they argue,
Settling and stirring like blown paper
Or the hands of an invalid. The wan
Sun manages to strike such tin glints
From the linked ponds that my eyes wince
And brim; the city melts like sugar.
A crocodile of small girls
Knotting and stopping, ill-assorted, in blue uniforms,
Opens to swallow me. I'm a stone, a stick,
One child drops a barrette of pink plastic;
None of them seem to notice.
Their shrill, gravelly gossip's funneled off.
Now silence after silence offers itself.
The wind stops my breath like a bandage.
Southward, over Kentish Town, an ashen smudge
Swaddles roof and tree.
It could be a snowfield or a cloudbank.
I suppose it's pointless to think of you at all.
Already your doll grip lets go.
The tumulus, even at noon, guards its black shadow:
You know me less constant,
Ghost of a leaf, ghost of a bird.
I circle the writhen trees. I am too happy.
These faithful dark-boughed cypresses
Brood, rooted in their heaped losses.
Your cry fades like the cry of a gnat.
I lose sight of you on your blind journey,
While the heath grass glitters and the spindling rivulets
Unspool and spend themselves. My mind runs with them,
Pooling in heel-prints, fumbling pebble and stem.
The day empties its images
Like a cup or a room. The moon's crook whitens,
Thin as the skin seaming a scar.
Now, on the nursery wall,
The blue night plants, the little pale blue hill
In your sister's birthday picture start to glow.
The orange pompons, the Egyptian papyrus
Light up. Each rabbit-eared
Blue shrub behind the glass
Exhales an indigo nimbus,
A sort of cellophane balloon.
The old dregs, the old difficulties take me to wife.
Gulls stiffen to their chill vigil in the drafty half-light;
I enter the lit house.
This is the city where men are mended.
I lie on a great anvil.
The flat blue sky-circle
Flew off like the hat of a doll
When I fell out of the light. I entered
The stomach of indifference, the wordless cupboard.
The mother of pestles diminished me.
I became a still pebble.
The stones of the belly were peaceable,
The head-stone quiet, jostled by nothing.
Only the mouth-hole piped out,
In a quarry of silences.
The people of the city heard it.
They hunted the stones, taciturn and separate,
The mouth-hole crying their locations.
Drunk as a foetus
I suck at the paps of darkness.
The food tubes embrace me. Sponges kiss my lichens away.
The jewelmaster drives his chisel to pry
Open one stone eye.
This is the after-hell: I see the light.
A wind unstoppers the chamber
Of the ear, old worrier.
Water mollifies the flint lip,
And daylight lays its sameness on the wall.
The grafters are cheerful,
Heating the pincers, hoisting the delicate hammers.
A current agitates the wires
Volt upon volt. Catgut stitches my fissures.
A workman walks by carrying a pink torso.
The storerooms are full of hearts.
This is the city of spare parts.
My swaddled legs and arms smell sweet as rubber.
Here they can doctor heads, or any limb.
On Fridays the little children come
To trade their hooks for hands.
Dead men leave eyes for others.
Love is the uniform of my bald nurse.
Love is the bone and sinew of my curse.
The vase, reconstructed, houses
The elusive rose.
Ten fingers shape a bowl for shadows.
My mendings itch. There is nothing to do.
I shall be good as new.
Lady, your room is lousy with flowers.
When you kick me out, that's what I'll remember,
Me, sitting here bored as a loepard
In your jungle of wine-bottle lamps,
Velvet pillows the color of blood pudding
And the white china flying fish from Italy.
I forget you, hearing the cut flowers
Sipping their liquids from assorted pots,
Pitchers and Coronation goblets
Like Monday drunkards. The milky berries
Bow down, a local constellation,
Toward their admirers in the tabletop:
Mobs of eyeballs looking up.
Are those petals of leaves you've paried with them ---
Those green-striped ovals of silver tissue?
The red geraniums I know.
Friends, friends. They stink of armpits
And the invovled maladies of autumn,
Musky as a lovebed the morning after.
My nostrils prickle with nostalgia.
Henna hags:cloth of your cloth.
They tow old water thick as fog.
The roses in the Toby jug
Gave up the ghost last night. High time.
Their yellow corsets were ready to split.
You snored, and I heard the petals unlatch,
Tapping and ticking like nervous fingers.
You should have junked them before they died.
Daybreak discovered the bureau lid
Littered with Chinese hands. Now I'm stared at
By chrysanthemums the size
Of Holofernes' head, dipped in the same
Magenta as this fubsy sofa.
In the mirror their doubles back them up.
Listen: your tenant mice
Are rattling the cracker packets. Fine flour
Muffles their bird feet: they whistle for joy.
And you doze on, nose to the wall.
This mizzle fits me like a sad jacket.
How did we make it up to your attic?
You handed me gin in a glass bud vase.
We slept like stones. Lady, what am I doing
With a lung full of dust and a tongue of wood,
Knee-deep in the cold swamped by flowers?
They are the last romantics, these candles:
Upside-down hearts of light tipping wax fingers,
And the fingers, taken in by their own haloes,
Grown milky, almost clear, like the bodies of saints.
It is touching, the way they'll ignore
A whole family of prominent objects
Simply to plumb the deeps of an eye
In its hollow of shadows, its fringe of reeds,
And the owner past thirty, no beauty at all.
Daylight would be more judicious,
Giving everybody a fair hearing.
They should have gone out with the balloon flights and the stereopticon.
This is no time for the private point of view.
When I light them, my nostrils prickle.
Their pale, tentative yellows
Drag up false, Edwardian sentiments,
And I remember my maternal grandmother from Vienna.
As a schoolgirl she gave roses to Franz Josef.
The burghers sweated and wept. The children wore white.
And my grandfather moped in the Tyrol,
Imagining himself a headwaiter in America,
Floating in a high-church hush
Among ice buckets, frosty napkins.
These little globes of light are sweet as pears.
Kindly with invalids and mawkish women,
They mollify the bald moon.
Nun-souled, they burn heavenward and never marry.
The eyes of the child I nurse are scarcely open.
In twenty years I shall be retrograde
As these drafty ephemerids.
I watch their spilt tears cloud and dull to pearls.
How shall I tell anything at all
To this infant still in a birth-drowse?
Tonight, like a shawl, the mild light enfolds her,
The shadows stoop over the guests at a christening.
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot's in the door."
Berck - Plage
This is the sea, then, this great abeyance.
How the sun's poultice draws on my inflammation.
Electrifyingly-colored sherbets, scooped from the freeze;
By pale girls, travel the air in scorched hands.
Why is it so quiet, what are they hiding?
I have two legs, and I move smilingly.
A sandy damper kills the vibrations;
It stretches for miles, the shrunk voices
Waving and crutchless, half their old size.
The lines of the eye, scalded by these bald surfaces,
Boomerang like anchored elastics, hurting the owner.
Is it any wonder he puts on dark glasses?
Is it any wonder he affects a black cassock?
Here he comes now, among the mackerel gatherers
Who wall up their backs against him.
They are handling the black and green lozenges like the perts of a body.
The sea, that crystallized these,
Creeps away, many-snaked, with a long hiss of distress.
This black boot has no mercy for anybody.
Why should it, it is the hearse of a dead foot,
The high, dead, toeless foot of this priest
Who plumbs the well of his book,
The bent print bulging before him like scenery.
Obscene bikinis hide in the dunes,
Breasts and hips a confectioner's sugar
Of little crystals, titillating the light,
While a green pool opens its eye,
Sick with what it has swallowed -
Limbs, images, shrieks. Behind the concrete bunkers
Two lovers unstick themselves.
O white sea-crockery,
What cupped sighs, what salt in the throat....
And the onlooker, trembling,
Drawn like a long material
Through a still virulence,
And a weed, hairy as privates.
On the balconies of the hotel, things are glittering.
Things, things -
Tubular steel wheelchairs, aluminium crutches.
Such salt-sweetness. Why should I walk
Beyond the breakwater, spotty with barnacles?
I am not a nurse, white and attendant,
I am not a smile.
These children are after something, with hooks and cries,
And my heart too small to bandage their terrible faults.
This is the side of a man: his red ribs,
The nerves bursting like trees, and this is the surgeon:
One mirrory eye -
A facet of knowledge.
On a striped mattress in one room
An old man is vanishing.
There is no help in his weeping wife.
Where are the eye-stones, yellow and valuable,
And the tongue, sapphire of ash.
A wedding-cake face in a paper frill.
How superior he is now.
It is like possessing a saint.
The nurses in their wing-caps are no longer so beautiful;
They are browning, like touched gardenias.
The bed is rolled from the wall.
This is what it is to be complete. It is horrible.
Is he wearing pyjamas or an evening suit
Under the glued sheet from which his powdery beak
Rises so whitely unbuffeted?
They propped his jaw with a book until it stiffened
And folded his hands, that were shaking: goodbye, goodbye.
Now the washed sheets fly in the sun,
The pillow cases are sweetening.
It is a blessing, it is a blessing:
The long coffin of soap-coloured oak,
The curious bearers and the raw date
Engraving itself in silver with marvellous calm.
The grey sky lowers, the hills like a green sea
Run fold upon fold far off, concealing their hollows,
The hollows in which rock the thoughts of the wife -
Blunt, practical boats
Full of dresses and hats and china and married daughters.
In the parlour of the stone house
One curtain is flickering from the open window,
Flickering and pouring, a pitiful candle.
This is the tongue of the dead man: remember, remember.
How far he is now, his actions
Around him like livingroom furniture, like a décor.
As the pallors gather -
The pallors of hands and neighbourly faces,
The elate pallors of flying iris.
They are flying off into nothing: remember us.
The empty benches of memory look over stones,
Marble facades with blue veins, and jelly-glassfuls of daffodils.
It is so beautiful up here: it is a stopping place.
The natural fatness of these lime leaves! -
Pollarded green balls, the trees march to church.
The voice of the priest, in thin air,
Meets the corpse at the gate,
Addressing it, while the hills roll the notes of the dead bell;
A glitter of wheat and crude earth.
What is the name of that colour? -
Old blood of caked walls the sun heals,
Old blood of limb stumps, burnt hearts.
The widow with her black pocketbook and three daughters,
Necessary among the flowers,
Enfolds her face like fine linen,
Not to be spread again.
While a sky, wormy with put-by smiles,
Passes cloud after cloud.
And the bride flowers expend a freshness,
And the soul is a bride
In a still place, and the groom is red and forgetful, he is featureless.
Behind the glass of this car
The world purrs, shut-off and gentle.
And I am dark-suited and still, a member of the party,
Gliding up in low gear behind the cart.
And the priest is a vessel,
A tarred fabric, sorry and dull,
Following the coffin on its flowery cart like a beautiful woman,
A crest of breasts, eyelids and lips
Storming the hilltop.
Then, from the barred yard, the children
Smell the melt of shoe-blacking,
Their faces turning, wordless and slow,
Their eyes opening
On a wonderful thing -
Six round black hats in the grass and a lozenge of wood,
And a naked mouth, red and awkward.
For a minute the sky pours into the hole like plasma.
There is no hope, it is given up.
The Surgeon at 2 A.M.
The white light is artificial, and hygienic as heaven.
The microbes cannot survive it.
They are departing in their transparent garments, turned aside
From the scalpels and the rubber hands.
The scalded sheet is a snowfield, frozen and peaceful.
The body under it is in my hands.
As usual there is no face. A lump of Chinese white
With seven holes thumbed in. The soul is another light.
I have not seen it; it does not fly up.
Tonight it has receded like a ship's light.
It is a garden I have to do with --- tubers and fruit
Oozing their jammy substances,
A mat of roots. My assistants hook them back.
Stenches and colors assail me.
This is the lung-tree.
These orchids are splendid. They spot and coil like snakes.
The heart is a red bell-bloom, in distress.
I am so small
In comparison to these organs!
I worm and hack in a purple wilderness.
The blood is a sunset. I admire it.
I am up to my elbows in it, red and squeaking.
Still is seeps me up, it is not exhausted.
So magical! A hot spring
I must seal off and let fill
The intricate, blue piping under this pale marble.
How I admire the Romans ---
Aqeducts, the Baths of Caracella, the eagle nose!
The body is a Roman thing.
It has shut its mouth on the stone pill of repose.
It is a statue the orderlies are wheeling off.
I have perfected it.
I am left with and arm or a leg,
A set of teeth, or stones
To rattle in a bottle and take home,
And tissues in slices--a pathological salami.
Tonight the parts are entombed in an icebox.
Tomorrow they will swim
In vinegar like saints' relics.
Tomorrow the patient will have a clean, pink plastic limb.
Over one bed in the ward, a small blue light
Announces a new soul. The bed is blue.
Tonight, for this person, blue is a beautiful color.
The angels of morphia have borne him up.
He floats an inch from the ceiling,
Smelling the dawn drafts.
I walk among sleepers in gauze sarcophagi.
The red night lights are flat moons. They are dull with blood.
I am the sun, in my white coat,
Grey faces, shuttered by drugs, follow me like flowers.