the slime of all my yesterdays
rots in the hollow of my skull
and if my stomach would contract
because of some explicable phenomenon
such as pregnancy or constipation
I would not remember you
or that because of sleep
infrequent as a moon of greencheese
that because of food
nourishing as violet leaves
that because of these
and in a few fatal yards of grass
in a few spaces of sky and treetops
a future was lost yesterday
as easily and irretrievably
as a tennis ball at twilight
On storm—struck deck, wind sirens caterwaul;
With each tilt, shock and shudder, our blunt ship
Cleaves forward into fury; dark as anger,
Waves wallop, assaulting the stubborn hull.
Flayed by spray, we take the challenge up,
Grip the rail, squint ahead, and wonder how much longer
Such force can last; but beyond, the neutral view
Shows, rank on rank, the hungry seas advancing.
Below, rocked havoc—sick, voyagers lie
Retching in bright orange basins; a refugee
Sprawls, hunched in black, among baggage, wincing
Under the strict mask of his agony.
Far from the sweet stench of that perilous air
In which our comrades are betrayed, we freeze
And marvel at the smashing nonchalance
Of nature: what better way to test taut fiber
Than against this onslaught, these casual blasts of ice
That wrestle with us like angels; the mere chance
Of making harbor through this racketing flux
Taunts us to valor. Blue sailors sang that our journey
Would be full of sun, white gulls, and water drenched
With radiance, peacock—colored; instead, bleak rocks
Jutted early to mark our going, while sky
Curded over with clouds and chalk cliffs blanched
In sullen light of the inauspicious day.
Now, free, by hazard’s quirk, from the common ill
Knocking our brothers down, we strike a stance
Most mock—heroic, to cloak our waking awe
At this rare rumpus which no man can control:
Meek and proud both fall; stark violence
Lays all walls waste; private estates are torn,
Ransacked in the public eye. We forsake
Our lone luck now, compelled by bond, by blood,
To keep some unsaid pact; perhaps concern
Is helpless here, quite extra, yet we must make
The gesture, bend and hold the prone man’s head.
And so we sail toward cities, streets and homes
Of other men, where statues celebrate
Brave acts played out in peace, in war; all dangers
End: green shores appear; we assume our names,
Our luggage, as docks halt our brief epic; no debt
Survives arrival; we walk the plank with strangers.
Color floods to the spot, dull purple.
The rest of the body is all washed out,
The color of pearl.
In a pit of rock
The sea sucks obsessively,
One hollow the whole sea’s pivot.
The size of a fly,
The doom mark
Crawls down the wall.
The heart shuts,
The sea slides back,
The mirrors are sheeted.
The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat.
Sacrifices its opacity. . . .
A window, holy gold.
The fire makes it precious,
The same fire
Melting the tallow heretics,
Ousting the Jews.
Their thick palls float
Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out
They do not die.
Grey birds obsess my heart,
Mouth-ash, ash of eye.
They settle. On the high
That emptied one man into space
The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent.
It is a heart,
This holocaust I walk in,
O golden child the world will kill and eat.
Blameless as daylight I stood looking
At a field of horses, necks bent, manes blown,
Tails streaming against the green
Backdrop of sycamores. Sun was striking
White chapel pinnacles over the roofs,
Holding the horses, the clouds, the leaves
Steadily rooted though they were all flowing
Away to the left like reeds in a sea
When the splinter flew in and stuck my eye,
Needling it dark. Then I was seeing
A melding of shapes in a hot rain:
Horses warped on the altering green,
Outlandish as double—humped camels or unicorns,
Grazing at the margins of a bad monochrome,
Beasts of oasis, a better time.
Abrading my lid, the small grain burns:
Red cinder around which I myself,
Horses, planets and spires revolve.
Neither tears nor the easing flush
Of eyebaths can unseat the speck:
It sticks, and it has stuck a week:
I wear the present itch for flesh,
Blind to what will be and what was.
I dream that I am Oedipus.
What I want back is what I was
Before the bed, before the knife,
Before the brooch—pin and the salve
Fixed me in this parenthesis;
Horses fluent in the wind,
A place, a time gone out of mind.
Meadows of gold dust. The silver
Currents of the Connecticut fan
And meander in bland pleatings under
River-verge farms where rye-heads whiten.
All’s polished to a dull luster
In the sulfurous noon. We move
With the languor of idols below
The sky’s great bell glass and briefly engrave
Our limbs’ image on a field of straw
And goldenrod as on gold leaf.
It might be heaven, this static
Plenitude: apples gold on the bough,
Goldfinch, goldfish, golden tiger cat stock–
Still in one gigantic tapestry—
And lovers affable, dovelike.
But now the water-skiers race,
Bracing their knees. On unseen towlines
They cleave the river’s greening patinas;
The mirror quivers to smithereens.
They stunt like clowns in the circus.
So we are hauled, though we would stop
On this amber bank where grasses bleach.
Already the farmer’s after his crop,
August gives over its Midas touch,
Wind bares a flintier landscape.
Gerd sits spindle—shaped in her dark tent,
Lean face gone tawn with seasons,
Skin worn down to the knucklebones
At her tough trade; without time’s taint
The burnished ball hangs fire in her hands, a lens
Fusing time’s three horizons.
Two enter to tap her sight, a green pair
Fresh leaved out in vows: ‘Come tell
How we shall do together,
Well or ill.’ Gerd slants a look at each: most dear,
Each to the other; fit fiber for stern weather.
Slowly she spins the ball:
'I see two stalwart apple trees
Coupled by branches intertwined
And, springing all about,
Staunch saplings; to this house, thriving days
Will bring crop’s increase, and harvest fruit
Follow on kind wind.'
‘No hardship then?’ he asks. 'We’ll take
Whatever trial’s to come, so say true.'
His bride echoes his word. At that,
Gerd whirls the ball ablaze: ‘Rough storm,’ she grunts, ‘ may wreak
Some havoc on tender limb, and yet
Strengthen that orchard thereby.’
Their small price paid, these wedded ones
Walk forth into sun—moneyed air, quickened
To savor their span of flourishing.
Aloof, squatting mummy—wise, Gerd scans
That clairvoyant quartz which once, at her own wishing,
Exacted her first simple sight for this strict second.
Then, a free—gadding hoyden, Gerd had craved
To govern more sight than given to a woman
By wits alone: to foresee her lover’s faith
And their future lot, she braved
Church curse to ken that crooked oath
Whereby one hires a demon.
A flash like doomcrack rent night’s black:
God’s work stood anchored in that glare
Focusing all time’s day—suns in one
So beggar Gerd might aim her look
At gorgon—prospects with power to strike to stone
Hearts of those who pierced time’s core.
What Gerd saw then engraved her mind ——
Plague—pitted as the moon: each bud
Shriveling to cinders at its source,
Each love blazing blind to its gutted end ——
And, fixed in the crystal center, grinning fierce:
Earth’s ever—green death’s head.
I walked the unwalked garden of rose-beds
In the public park; at home felt the want
Of a single rose present to imagine
The garden’s remainder in full paint.
The stone lion-head set in the wall
Let drop its spittle of sluggish green
Into the stone basin. I snipped
An orange bud, pocketed it. When
It had opened its orange in my vase,
Retrogressed to blowze, I next chose red;
Argued my conscience clear which robbed
The park of less red than withering did.
Musk satisfied my nose, red my eye,
The petals’ nap my fingertips:
I considered the poetry I rescued
From blind air, from complete eclipse.
Yet today, a yellow bud in my hand,
I stalled at sudden noisy crashes
From the laurel thicket. No one approached.
A spasm took the rhododendron bushes:
Three girls, engrossed, were wrenching full clusters
Of cerise and pink from the rhododendron,
Mountaining them on spread newspaper.
They brassily picked, slowed by no chagrin,
And wouldn’t pause for my straight look.
But gave me pause, my rose a charge,
Whether nicety stood confounded by love,
Or petty thievery by large.
This man makes a pseudonym
And crawls behind it like a worm.
This woman on the telephone
Says she is a man, not a woman.
The mask increases, eats the worm,
Stripes for mouth and eyes and nose,
The voice of the woman hollows——
More and more like a dead one,
Worms in the glottal stops.
The thought of a baby——
Stealer of cells, stealer of beauty——
She would rather be dead than fat,
Dead and perfect, like Nefertit,
Hearing the fierce mask magnify
The silver limbo of each eye
Where the child can never swim,
Where there is only him and him.
The winter landscape hangs in balance now,
Transfixed by glare of blue from gorgon’s eye;
The skaters freese within a stone tableau.
Air alters into glass and the whole sky
Grows brittle as a tilted china bowl;
Hill and valley stiffen row on row.
Each fallen leaf is trapped by spell of steel,
Crimped like fern in the quartz atmosphere;
Repose of scultpure holds the country still.
What coutermagic can undo the snare
Which has stopped the season in its tracks
And suspended all that might occur?
Locked in crystal caskets are the lakes,
Yet as we wonder what cam come of ice
Green-singing birds explore from all the rocks.
They called the place Lookout Farm.
Back then, the sun
Didn’t go down in such a hurry. How it
Lit things, that lamp of the Possible!
Lay over the leaves like a clear cellophane,
A pane of dragonfly wing, when they left me
With a hundred bushel baskets on the edge
Of the spinach patch.
Bunch after bunch of green
Upstanding spinach-tips wedged in a circle—
Layer on layer, and you had a basket
Irreproachable as any lettuce head,
Pure leafage. A hundred baskets by day’s end.
Sun and sky mirrored the green of the spinach.
In the tin pail shaded by yellow paper
Well-water kept cool at the start of the rows.
The water had an iron taste, and the air,
Even, a tang of metal.
Day in, day out,
I bent over the plants in my leather-kneed
Dungarees, proud as a lady in a sea
Of prize roses, culling the fullest florets;
My world pyramided with laden baskets.
I’d only to set one foot in wilderness—
A whole sea of spinach-heads leaned to my hand.
Fired in sanguine clay, the model head
Fit nowhere: thumbed out as a classroom exercise
By a casual friend, it stood
Obtrusive in the long bookshelf, stolidly propping
Thick volumes of prose—
Far too unlovely a conversation piece,
Her visitor claimed, for keeping.
And how unlike! In distaste he pointed at it:
Brickdust—complected, eyes under a dense lid
Half—blind, that derisive pout –
Rude image indeed, to ape with such sly treason
Her dear farce: best rid
Hearthstone at once of the outrageous head.
With goodwill she heard his reason,
But she– whether from habit grown overfond
Of the dented caricature, or fearing some truth
In old wives’ tales of a bond
Knitting to each original its coarse copy
(Woe if enemies, in wrath,
Take to sticking pins through wax!)—felt loath
To junk it. Scared, unhappy,
She watched the grim head swell mammoth, demanding a home
Suited to its high station: from a spectral dais
It menaced her in a dream—
Cousin perhaps to that vast stellar head
Housed in stark heavens, whose laws
Ordained now bland, now barbarous influences
Upon her purse, her bead.
No place, it seemed, for the effigy to fare
Free from annoy: if dump—discarded, rough boys
Spying a pate so spare
Glowering sullen and pompous from an ash—heap
Might well seize this prize
And maltreat the hostage head in shocking wise
Afflicting the owner’s sleep –
At the mere thought her head ached. A murky tarn
She considered then, thick—silted, with weeds obscured,
To serve her exacting turn:
But out of the watery aspic, laurelled by fins,
The simulacrum leered,
Lewdly beckoning. Her courage wavered:
She blenched, as one who drowns,
And resolved more ceremoniously to lodge
The mimic—head– in a crotched willow tree 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 hag—head, too tough for knife to finish,
Refusing to diminish
By one jot its basilisk—look of love.