[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
I ask you, how much beauty
can a person bear? It is
heavier than ugliness, even the burden
of emptiness is nothing beside it.
---Louise Glück, "Baskets"


"I shall never forget the occasion when I was visiting a school as a writer and the whole place suddenly fell into an uproar because the school tomboy - a most splendid Britomart of a girl - had beaten up the school bully. Everything stopped in the staffroom while the teachers debated what to do. They wanted to give the tomboy a prize, but decided reluctantly that they had better punish her and the bully too. They knew that if, as a child, you do pluck up courage to hit the bully, it is an act of true heroism - as great as that of Beowulf in his old age. I remember passing the tomboy, sitting in her special place of punishment opposite the bully. She was blazing with her deed, as if she had actually been touched by a god. And I thought that this confirmed all my theories: a child in her position is open to any heroic myth I care to use; she is inward with folktales; she would feel the force of any magical or divine intervention."
---Diana Wynne Jones


"Because children grow up, we think its a child’s purpose to grow up. But a child’s purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn’t disdain what lives for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don’t value the lily less for not being made of flint and built to last. Life’s bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when its being sung? The dance when its being danced? It’s only humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade ourselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding our destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but there is something wrong with the picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature’s highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river, which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we’re expected! But there is not such place, that’s why it’s called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the death of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? That is the proper question, the only question. If we can’t arrange our own happiness, it’s a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us."
---Tom Stoppard


"A poem is a glass, through which light is conveyed to us."
---Susan Howe, "Vagrancy in the Park"


"To love does not mean to surrender, dissolve and merge with another person. It is the noble opportunity for an individual to ripen, to become something in and of himself. To become a world in response to another is a great immodest challenge that has sought him out and called him forth."
---Rainer Maria Rilke


"The Sermon on the Warpland"
“The fact that we are black
is our ultimate reality.”
—Ron Karenga


And several strengths from drowsiness campaigned
but spoke in Single Sermon on the warpland.

And went about the warpland saying No.
“My people, black and black, revile the River.
Say that the River turns, and turn the River.

Say that our Something in doublepod contains
seeds for the coming hell and health together.
Prepare to meet
(sisters, brothers) the brash and terrible weather;
the pains;
the bruising; the collapse of bestials, idols.
But then oh then!—the stuffing of the hulls!
the seasoning of the perilously sweet!
the health! the heralding of the clear obscure!

Build now your Church, my brothers, sisters. Build
never with brick nor Corten nor with granite.
Build with lithe love. With love like lion-eyes.
With love like morningrise.
With love like black, our black—
luminously indiscreet;
complete; continuous.
---Gwendolyn Brooks


"The Second Sermon on the Warpland"
For Walter Bradford

1.

This is the urgency: Live!
and have your blooming in the noise of the whirlwind.


2.

Salve salvage in the spin.
Endorse the splendor splashes;
stylize the flawed utility;
prop a malign or failing light—
but know the whirlwind is our commonwealth.
Not the easy man, who rides above them all,
not the jumbo brigand,
not the pet bird of poets, that sweetest sonnet,
shall straddle the whirlwind.
Nevertheless, live.


3.

All about are the cold places,
all about are the pushmen and jeopardy, theft—
all about are the stormers and scramblers but
what must our Season be, which stars from Fear?
Live and go out.
Define and
medicate the whirlwind.


4.

The time
cracks into furious flower. Lifts its face
all unashamed. And sways in wicked grace.
Whose half-black hands assemble oranges
is tom-tom hearted
(goes in bearing oranges and boom).
And there are bells for orphans—
and red and shriek and sheen.
A garbageman is dignified
as any diplomat.
Big Bessie’s feet hurt like nobody’s business,
but she stands—bigly—under the unruly scrutiny, stands in the
     wild weed.

In the wild weed
she is a citizen,
and is a moment of highest quality; admirable.

It is lonesome, yes. For we are the last of the loud.
Nevertheless, live.

Conduct your blooming in the noise and whip of the whirlwind.

---Gwendolyn Brooks


"This then, I thought, as I looked about me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was."
---W.G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn


"If power were never anything but repressive, if it never did anything but to say no, do you really think one would be brought to obey it? What makes power hold good, what makes it accepted, is simply the fact that it doesn’t only weigh on us as a force that says no, but that it traverses and produces things, it induces pleasure, forms knowledge, produces discourse. It needs to be considered as a productive network which runs through the whole social body, much more than as a negative instance whose function is repression."
---Michel Foucault, "Truth and Power," trans. unknown


"This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads – as an anthology of images."
---Susan Sontag, On Photography


"I am in debt. I owe the world an unpayable sum, and yet each morning at my desk with the sun rising in the long distance—some mornings it blazes and on others it is a distant bulb barely able to raise smoke from the cold black tar of the roof—I sit down to repay that debt. My debt is simple. It is the poems of Elizabeth Bishop and Larry Levis. The prose of Norman Maclean and Michael Ondaatje. Derek Walcott and Wallace Stevens. Henry Thoreau and Ed Abbey. Naomi Shihab Nye and Terrance Hayes. Jack Gilbert. The list goes on and on. Some are my friends and some are people I know only in their words. But they have—each and every one—given me their language and their syntax. They have each offered me a gift—a fragment, story, a song, a glimpse of the sun streaming through their world. You want to know what keeps me going? I have no choice. The words are theirs and I owe the vigorish. It is all I can do to keep up the payments."
---Jeffrey Thomson


"In Memoriam: Martin Luther King, Jr."
I

honey people murder mercy U.S.A.
the milkland turn to monsters teach
to kill to violate pull down destroy
the weakly freedom growing fruit
from being born

America

tomorrow yesterday rip rape
exacerbate despoil disfigure
crazy running threat the
deadly thrall
appall belief dispel
the wildlife burn the breast
the onward tongue
the outward hand
deform the normal rainy
riot sunshine shelter wreck
of darkness derogate
delimit blank
explode deprive
assassinate and batten up
like bullets fatten up
the raving greed
reactivate a springtime
terrorizing

death by men by more
than you or I can

STOP


II

They sleep who know a regulated place
or pulse or tide or changing sky
according to some universal
stage direction obvious
like shorewashed shells

we share an afternoon of mourning
in between no next predictable
except for wild reversal hearse rehearsal
bleach the blacklong lunging
ritual of fright insanity and more
deplorable abortion
more and
more
---June Jordan


"Sanctuary"
My land is bare of chattering folk;
The clouds are low along the ridges,
And sweet's the air with curly smoke
From all my burning bridges.
---Dorothy Parker


"Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors."
---Andrew Boyd, Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe


"Frequently Asked Questions: 10"
Do you see current events differently because you were raised by a black father and are married to a black man?

           I am surprised they haven’t left already — 
things have gotten downright frosty, nearly unbearable.
A mob of them is apparently mouthing off outside

when I put down my newspaper and we all gather
           to stand beside my daughter in the bay
of kitchen windows. Quiscalus quiscula:

this name sounds like a spell which, after its casting,
          will make things crumble into a complement
of unanswerable questions. Though, if you need me

           to tell you God’s honest truth, I know nothing
but their common name the morning we watch them attack
our feeder. I complain about the mess they leave. Hulls

           I’ll have to sweep up or ignore. My father — 
who I am thankful is still alive — says We could use
a different kind of seed. A simple solution. We want that

brown bird with the shock of red: the northern flicker.
           We want western bluebirds, more of the skittish
finches. But mostly we get grackle grackle grackle

all day long. Can it be justifiable to revile these
           harbingers? They scoff all we offer
and — being too close and too many — scare

other birds away. My husband says, Look
           at all those crackles. I almost laugh at him,
but the winter air does look hurtful loud

around the black flock. Like static is loud when it sticks
           sheets to sheets so they crackle when pulled
one from another. And sting. My father — who is older now

           than his older brothers will ever be — promises
           he will solve the problem of the grackles
and leaves the window to search for his keys.

The dawn sky — blue breaking into blackness — 
           is what I see feathering their bodies. The fence
is gray. The feeder is gray, the aspen bark. Gray

           hulls litter the ground. But the grackles,
their passerine claws — three facing forward, one turned
           back — around the roost bar of the feeder, are

so bright within their blackness, I pray they will stay. 

---Camille T. Dungy


"We read many different Iliads, many different Alcestises in the course of our lives, and the relationship between the two texts, and between Achilles and Admetus, will change accordingly. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish between ourselves and the poetry, or our reading of it. But of course the words on the page are always the same; it is we who change a little each year, just like the tree outside our library window. Thus it happens that as we examine ourselves in the poetry on the page, its allusions to us may change from time to time. But when the buds ripen in spring, the tree brings forth leaves like the ones that the wind blew away in the fall."
---Richard Garner, “From Homer to Tragedy: The Art of Allusion in Greek Poetry”


"Someday I'll Love Ocean Vuong"
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.
---Ocean Vuong


"How is it possible to reclaim the body when it’s visible only in a mirror? A reflection of the body, external and reversed: the image both belongs to me and doesn’t. The photos, which I still have tucked away in the plastic sleeves of leather albums, reflect something more than what they show: a gaze that follows across the distances of continents and years. I can move my body through the world, and yet there is also an image of my body that resembles in every way the real thing: two people, bound together by this perceived resemblance—a woman who has died, a woman who goes on living."
---Lacy M. Johnson, The Other Side


"Slept"

    The thorns had hands. The fire stood still.
     It will take a hundred years

    to piece together a hundred dreams.
     A room of ashes was a room out-spun.

    Mother says the heart is a wheel

    and it will turn as I turn. Quickly.
     Nightly.            I  married the owl.

    ~

    I told her I could not walk,

    the walls circled my steps. I told her,
     my flesh became stone  and I did not

    bleed blood, but sound.
           What sound?    I could not describe it;

    it was voiceless

    and low. But it was not.
     Mostly I was not            alone  in my solitude.

    My breath became the ghost of me,

    or the ghost of an old man
     I’d long forgotten,
                                        a midnight grandfather.

    Pages of thoughts, they were not mine,
               though my hand mastered

    their language. I told her,

               I        cannot howl winsomely
     like vixens.
                           Like thieves. I wandered the forest,

    fingering every loose twig,
     but I was sleeping. My hand,

    good as air, was sleeping.

    ~

    In my sleep, I wrote the field guide:
     red-winged dream, tufted dream.

    One was of salt,

               one        without hunger—a forest

    of three-leaved trees.
     I thought I knew everything.

    My bed sat alone amongst the sassafras.
     A fox, mid-pace and mid-bark, stopped

    statue-like on a patch of moss.

                 I        was watcher,

    or maker.                      Yellow-bellied
     dream, mourning dream.

    Each thing I saw: a seed to myself.

    Inside a girl stirred restless as rain.
     I could not see her. I only grew.

    Mother says when the basket’s full,
     it is time to come home.

    ~

    Asleep, I lived

               in        silence, but in light.

    What if waking             were        a room
     black as the mind? Horn-billed dream,

    Stellar’s dream. And the body,

    a darkness        there        is no memory of.

---Jennifer Chang


"Poetry — No definition of poetry is adequate unless it be poetry itself. The most accurate analysis by the rarest wisdom is yet insufficient, and the poet will instantly prove it false by setting aside its requisitions. It is indeed all that we do not know. The poet does not need to see how meadows are something else than earth, grass, and water, but how they are thus much. He does not need discover that potato blows are as beautiful as violets, as the farmer thinks, but only how good potato blows are. The poem is drawn out from under the feet of the poet, his whole weight has rested on this ground. It has a logic more severe than the logician’s. You might as well think to go in pursuit of the rainbow, and embrace it on the next hill, as to embrace the whole of poetry even in thought."
---Henry David Thoreau
[identity profile] two-grey-rooms.livejournal.com
"It's so hard to forget pain, but it's even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness. We learn so little from peace."
--Chuck Palahniuk, Diary


"59"
Writing down verses, I got
a paper cut on my palm.
The cut extended my life line
by nearly one-fourth.
--Vera Pavlova


"i am a beggar always"
i am a beggar always
who begs in your mind

(slightly smiling, patient, unspeaking
with a sign on his
chest
BLIND)yes i

am this person of whom somehow
you are never wholly rid(and who

does not ask for more than
just enough dreams to
live on)
after all, kid

you might as well
toss him a few thoughts

a little love preferably,
anything which you can't
pass off on another people: for
instance a
plugged promise-

the he will maybe(hearing something
fall into his hat)go wandering
after it with fingers;till having

found
what was thrown away
himself
taptaptaps out of your brain, hopes, life
to(carefully turning a
corner)never bother you any more
--e. e. cummings


"War of the Foxes"
(i)

Two rabbits were chased by a fox, of all the crazy shit in the world, and the fox kept up the chase,
circling the world until the world caught up with them in some broken-down downtown metropolis.
Inside the warren, the rabbits think fast. Pip touches the only other rabbit listening.

Pip: We're doomed.
Flip: Oh Pip!
Pip: I know where you can hide.
Flip: Are you sure?
Pip: Yes. Here, hide inside me.

This is the story of Pip and Flip, the bunny twins. We say that once there were two and now there is
only one. When the fox sees Pip run past, he won't know that the one is inside the other. He'll think
Well, there's at least one more rabbit in that warren. But no one's left. You know this and I know this.
Together we trace out the trail away from doom. There isn't hope, there is a trail. I follow you.

When a rabbit meets a rabbit, one takes the time to tell the other this story. The rabbits then agree
there must be two rabbits, at least two rabbits, and that in turn there is a trace. I am only repeating
what I heard. This is one love. There are many loves but only one war.

Bird 1: This is the same story.
Bird 2: No, this is the rest of the story.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man found his life to be empty. He began to study Latin.
Latin was difficult for the man to understand. I will study Latin, even though it is difficult, said the man. Yes, even
if it is difficult.


Let me tell you a story about war. A man had a dream about a woman and then he met her. The man
had a dream about the woman's former lover. The former lover was sad, he wanted to fight. The
man said to the woman I will have to comfort your former lover or I will always be fighting him in my dreams. Yes,
said the woman. You will need to comfort him, or we will never be finished with this.

Let me tell you a story about war. A fisherman's son and his dead brother sat on the shore. That is my
country and this is your country and the line in the sand is the threshold between them,
said the dead brother. Yes,
said the fisherman's son.

You cannot have an opponent if you keep saying yes.

Bird 1: This is the wrong story.
Bird 2: All stories are the wrong story when you are impatient.

Let me tell you a story about war. A man says to another man Can I tell you something? The other man
says No. A man says to another man There is something I have to tell you. No, says the other man. No, you
don't.


Bird 1: Now we are getting somewhere.
Bird 2: Yes, yes we are.


(ii)

Let me tell you a story about war:

A boy spills a glass of milk and his father picks him up by the back of the shirt and throws him
against the wall. You killed my wife and you can't even keep a glass on the table. The wife had died of sadness,
by her own hand. The father walks out of the room and the room is almost empty.

The road outside the house lies flat on the ground. The ground surrenders.

The father works late. The dead wife's hand makes fishsticks while the boy sits in the corner where
he fell. The fish in the fishsticks think to themselves This is not what we meant to be.

Its roots in the ground and its branches in the air, a tree is pulled in two directions.

The wife has a dead hand. This is earlier. She is living and her dead hand feeds her pills that don't
work. The boy sleeps on the roof or falls out of trees. The father works late. The wife looks out the
window and thinks Not this.

The boy is a bird, bad bird. He falls out of trees.


(iii)

Let me tell you a story about war:

The fisherman's son serves drinks to sailors. He stands behind the bar. He listens closely for news of
his dead brother. The sailors are thirsty. They drink rum. Tell me a story, says the fisherman’s son.

"There is nothing interesting about the sea. The water is flat, flat and calm, it seems a sheet of glass.
You look at it, the more you look at it the more you feel like you are looking into your own head,
which is a stranger's head, empty. We listen to the sound with our equipment. I have learned to
understand this sound. When you look there is nothing, with the equipment there is sound. We sit in
rows and listen down the tunnels for the song. The song has red words in it. We write them down on
sheets of paper and pass them along. Sometimes there is noise and sometimes song and often there is
silence, the long tunnel, the sea like glass...

You are a translator, says the fisherman's son.
Yes, says the sailor.
And the sound is the voice of the enemy.
Yes, yes it is.



(iv)

Let me tell you a story about war:

They went to the museum and wandered the rooms. He saw a painting and stood in front of it for
too long. It was a few minutes before she realized he had gotten stuck. He was stuck looking at a
painting. She stood next to him, looking at his face and then the face in the painting. What do you see?
she asked. I don't know, he said. He didn't know. She was disappointed, then bored. He was looking at
a face and she was looking at her watch. This is where everything changed. There was now a distance
between them. He was looking at a face but it might as well have been a cabbage or a sugar beet.
Perhaps it was something about yellow near pink. He didn't know how to say it. Years later he still
didn't know how to say it, and she was gone.


(v)

Let me tell you a story about love:

There was a place on the floor where they could lie together, on the floor together, backs pressed to
the carpet, where they could look out the window together and see only the tops of the trees. They
would do this. They would lie on the floor and say things like Now we are in the country! or Oh, what a far
away place this is!
Then they would stand up and look out the window the way they usually did, the
houses reappearing in the window frame.

She had a soft voice and strong hands. When she sang she would seem too large for the room and
she would play guitar and sing which would make his chest feel huge. Sometimes he would touch her
knee and smile. Sometimes she would touch his face and close her eyes.


(vi)

Fox rounds the warren but there are no bunnies, jumps up with claws but there are no bunnies,
moves down the road but there are no bunnies. There are no bunnies. He chases a bird instead. All
wars are the same war. The bird flies away.


(vii)

The fisherman's son knows nothing worth stealing. Perhaps, perhaps.

He once put a cat in a cardboard box but she got out anyway. He once had a brother he lost to the
sea. Brother, dead brother, who speaks to him in dreams. These are a few things worth saying.

He knows that when you snap a mast it's time to get a set of oars or learn how to breathe
underwater. Rely on one thing too long and when it disappears and you have nothing...well, that's
just bad planning. It's embarrassing, to think it could never happen.

A man does work. A machine can, too. Power of agency, agent of what. This is a question we might
ask. An agent is a spy or not. A spy is a promise to God, hidden where only God can find it.

The agents meet at the chain link fence and tell each other stories. A whisper system. To testify
against yourself is an interesting thing, a sacrifice. Some people do it. Some people find money in the
street but you cannot rely on it. The fisherman's son is at the fence, standing there, waiting to see if
he is useful.

You cannot get in the way of anyone's path to God. You can, but is does no good. Every agent
knows this. Some say God is where we put our sorrow. God says Which one of you fuckers can get to me
first?


You cannot get in the way of anyone's path to happiness, it also does no good. The problem is
figuring out which part is the path and which part is the happiness.

It's a blessing, every day someone shows up at the fence. And when no one shows up, a different
kind of blessing. In the wrong light anyone can look like a darkness.
--Richard Siken


"Ola"

Joppa Churchyard
M.M 1915-1917


--egg-shaped, barely
consonantal. The road
hairpins and plunges,
but I can't stop myself
from stopping here:
sandstone, cedars,
the building's tilt
its eventual undoing.
Where are the things
you touched? Sunlight
through the toppling
chimney stones, a clump
of daffodils. Flute
note, bottle, breath
in a bone. You
matter. You still matter.
--Davis McCombs


"An Horation Notion"
The thing gets made, gets built, and you're the slave
who rolls the log beneath the block, then another,
then pushes the block, then pulls a log
from the rear back to the front
again and then again it goes beneath the block,
and so on. It's how a thing gets made--not
because you're sensitive, or you get genetic-lucky,
or God says: Here's a nice family,
seven children, let's see: this one in charge
of the village dunghill, these two die of buboes, this one
Kierkegaard, this one a drooling

nincompoop, this one clerk, this one cooper.
You need to love the thing you do--birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever--and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,

the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth's core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.
--Thomas Lux


"Dorothy Wordsworth"
The daffodils can go fuck themselves.
I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings
about the spastic sun that shines and shines
and shines. How are they any different

from me? I, too, have a big messy head
on a fragile stalk. I spin with the wind.
I flower and don’t apologize. There’s nothing
funny about good weather. Oh, spring again,

the critics nod. They know the old joy,
that wakeful quotidian, the dark plot
of future growing things, each one
labeled Narcissus nobilis or Jennifer Chang.

If I died falling from a helicopter, then
this would be an important poem. Then
the ex-boyfriends would swim to shore
declaiming their knowledge of my bulbous

youth. O, Flower, one said, why aren’t you
meat? But I won’t be another bashful shank.
The tulips have their nervous joie-de-vivre,
the lilacs their taunt. Fractious petals, stop

interrupting my poem with boring beauty.
All the boys are in the field gnawing raw
bones of ambition and calling it ardor. Who
the hell are they? This is a poem about war.
--Jennifer Chang


"Snowy Egret"
A boy walks out in the morning with a gun.
Bright air, the smell of grass and leaves
and reeds around the pond October smells.
A scent of apples from the orchard in the air.
A smell of ducks. Two cinnamon teal,
he thinks they are teal, the ones he'd seen
the night before as the pond darkened
and he'd thought the thought that the dark
was coming earlier. He is of an age
when the thought of winter is a sexual thought,
the having thoughts of one's own is sexual,
the two ducks muttering and gliding
toward the deeper reeds away from him,
as if distance were a natural courtesy,
is sexual, which is to say, a mystery, an ache
inside his belly and his chest that rhymes
somehow with the largeness of the night.
The stars conjuring themselves from nothing
but the dark, as if to say it's not as if
they weren't all along just where they were,
ached in the suddenly swifter darkening
and glittering and cold. He's of an age
when the thought of thinking is, at night,
a sexual thought. This morning in the crystal
of the air, dew, and the sunlight that the dew
has caught on the grass blades sparkling at his feet,
he stalks the pond. Three larger ducks,
mallards probably, burst from the reeds
and wheel and fly off south. Three redwings,
gone to their winter muteness, fly three ways
across the pond to settle on three cattails
opposite or crossways from each other,
perch and shiver into place and look around.
That's when he sees the snowy egret
in the rushes, pure white and stone still
and standing on one leg in that immobile,
perfect, almost princely way. He'd seen it
often in the summer, often in the morning
and sometimes at dusk, hunting the reeds
under the sumac shadows on the far bank.
He'd watched the slow, wide fanning
of its wings, taking off and landing,
the almost inconceivably slow way
it raised one leg and then another
when it was stalking, the quick cocking
of its head at sudden movement in the water,
and the swift, darting sureness when it stabbed
the water for a stickleback or frog. Once
he'd seen it, head up, swallowing a gopher,
its throat bulging, a bit of tail and a trickle
of blood just visible below the black beak.
Now it was still and white in the brightness
of the morning in the reeds. He liked
to practice stalking, and he raised the gun
to his shoulder and crouched in the wet grasses
and drew his bead just playfully at first.
--Robert Hass


"On the Coast near Sausalito"
1.
I won't say much for the sea,
except that it was, almost,
the color of sour milk.
The sun in that clear
unmenacing sky was low,
angled off the gray fissure of the cliffs,
hills dark green with manzanita.

Low tide: slimed rocks
mottled brown and thick with kelp
merged with the gray stone
of the breakwater, sliding off
to antediluvian depths.
The old story: here filthy life begins.

2.
Fish--
ing, as Melville said,
"to purge the spleen,"
to put to task my clumsy hands
my hands that bruise by
not touching
pluck the legs from a prawn,
peel the shell off,
and curl the body twice about a hook.

3.
The cabezone is not highly regarded
by fishermen, except Italians
who have the grace
to fry the pale, almost bluish flesh
in olive oil with a sprig
of fresh rosemary.

The cabezone, an ugly atavistic fish,
as old as the coastal shelf
it feeds upon
has fins of duck's-web thickness,
resembles a prehistoric toad,
and is delicately sweet.

Catching one, the fierce quiver of surprise
and the line's tension
are a recognition.

4.
But it's strange to kill
for the sudden feel of life.
The danger is
to moralize
that strangeness.
Holding the spiny monster in my hands
his bulging purple eyes
were eyes and the sun was
almost tangent to the planet
on our uneasy coast.
Creature and creature,
we stared down centuries.
--Robert Hass


"The Nineteenth Century as a Song"
"How like a well-kept garden is your soul."
John Gray's translation of Verlaine
& Baudelaire's butcher in 1861
shorted him four centimes
on a pound of tripe.
He thought himself a clever man
and, wiping the calves' blood from his beefy hands.
gazed briefly at what Tennyson called
"the sweet blue sky."

It was a warm day.
What clouds there were
were made of sugar tinged with blood.
They shed, faintly, amid the clatter of carriages
new settings of the songs
Moravian virgins sang on wedding days.

The poet is a monarch of the clouds

& Swinburne on his northern coast
"trod," he actually wrote, "by no tropic foot,"
composed that lovely elegy
and then found out Baudelaire was still alive
whom he had lodged dreamily
in a "deep division of prodigious breasts."

Surely the poet is monarch of the clouds.
He hovers, like a lemon-colored kite,
over spring afternoons in the nineteenth century
while Marx in the library gloom
studies the birth rate of the weavers of Tilsit
and that gentle man Bakunin,
home after fingerfucking the countess,
applies his numb hands
to the making of bombs.
--Robert Hass


"The Assimilation of the Gypsies"
In the background, a few shacks & overturned carts
And a gray sky holding the singular pallor of Lent.
And here the crowd of onlookers, though a few of them
Must be intimate with the victim,
Have been advised to keep their distance.
The young man walking alone in handcuffs that join
Each wrist in something that is not prayer, although
It is as urgent, wears
A brown tweed coat flecked with white, a white shirt
Open at the collar.
And beside him, the broad, curving tracks of a bus that
Passed earlier through the thawing mud...they seem
To lead him out of the photograph & toward
What I imagine is
The firing squad: a few distant cousins & neighbors
Assembled by order of the State--beside
The wall of a closed schoolhouse.
Two of the men uneasily holding rifles, a barber
And an unemployed postal clerk,
Are thinking of nothing except perhaps the first snowfall
Last year in the village, how it covered & simplified
Everything--the ruts in the road & the distant
Stubble in the fields--& of how they cannot be,
Now, any part of that. Still,
They understand well enough why
The man murdered the girl's uncle with an axe,
Just as they know why his language,
Because it was not official & had to be translated
Into Czech at the trial, failed to convince
Anyone of its passion. And if
The red-faced uncle kept threatening the girl
Until she at last succumbed under a browning hedge, & if
The young man had to use three strokes with the axe
To finish the job--well, they shrug,
All he had, that day, was an axe.
And besides, the barber & the clerk suspect that this boy,
Whom they have known for half their lives,
Had really intended to kill the girl that evening--
Never the uncle.
In a lost culture of fortune tellers, unemployable
Horse traders, & a frank beauty the world
Will not allow,
It was the time of such things, it was late summer,
And it is summer now, the two executioners agree,
That all of this ended. This is
Jarabina. 1963. And if
Koudelka tells us nothing else about this scene,
I think he is right, if only because
The young man walks outside time now, & is not
So much a murderer as he is, simply, a man
About to be executed by his neighbors...
And so it is important to all of them that he behave
With a certain tact & dignity as he walks
Of his own accord but with shoulders hunched,
Up to the wall of the empty schoolhouse;
And, turning his head
First to one side, then to the other,
He lets them slip the blindfold over his eyes
And secure it with an old gentleness
They have shared
Since birth. And perhaps at this moment
All three of them remember slipping light scarves,
Fashioned into halters,
Over the muzzles of horses, & the quickness of horses.
And if the boy has forgiven them in advance
By such a slight gesture, this turning of his head,
It is because he knows, as they do, too,
Not only that terror is a state
Of complete understanding, but also that
In a few years, this whole village, with its cockeyed
Shacks, tea leaves, promiscuity between cousins,
Idle horse thieves, & pale lilacs used
To cure the insane,
Will be gone--bulldozed away so that the land
Will lie black & fallow & without history.
And nothing will be planted there, or buried,
As the same flocks of sparrows
Will go on gathering, each spring, in the high dark
Of these trees.
Still, it is impossible not to see
That the young man has washed & combed his hair
For this last day on earth; it is impossible
Not to see how one of the policemen has turned back
To the crowd as if to prevent
Any mother or sister from rushing forward--
Although neither one, if she is here, seems
About to move. And in the background,
You can see that a few of the houses are entirely white,
Like a snowfall persisting into spring,
Or into oblivion, though this
May be the fault of the photograph or its development
Under such circumstances....
And now even the children in the crowd, who have gathered
To watch all this, appear to be growing bored
With the procedures & the waiting.
I suppose that the young man's face,
Without looking up, spoke silently to Koudelka as he passed,
Just as it speaks now, to me, from this photograph.
Now that there is nothing either of us can do for him.
His hair is clean & washed, & his coat is buttoned.
Except for his handcuffs, he looks as if
He is beginning a long journey, or going out,
For the first time into the world...
He must have thought he could get away with this,
Or else he must have thought he loved her.
It is too late to inquire.
It is mid-afternoon & twenty years too late,
And even the language he used to explain it all
Is dying a little more, each moment, as I write this--
And as I begin to realize that
This ancient, still blossoming English
Will also begin to die, someday, to crack & collapse
Under its own weight--
Though that will not happen for years & years,
And long after the barber & the clerk
Have lowered their rifles & turned away to vomit
For what seems like a long time, & then,
Because there is nothing else for them to do,
They will walk home together, talking softly in a language
That has never been written down.
If you look closely at the two of them
Sweating in their black wool suits,
You can see how even their daily behavior,
The way they avoid the subject,
Has become an art:
One talks of his daughter, who is learning to dance.
The other mentions his mother, who died, last year--
When the orchards were simple with their fruit,
And ripe--of an undiagnosed illness.
And if the lots they pass are empty because the horses
Were shipped off years ago to Warsaw
For the meat on their backs?
And if there is no hope for this,
Or any poetry?
On their lips the quick syllables of their
Language fly & darken into a few, last
Delicious phrases, arpeggios--
Even though they are talking of country life
As they pass the smells of cooking
Which rise in smoke from the poorest of houses
And even from stoves carried outdoors & burning,
As fuel, the cheap paneling of shacks
Which the government gave them.
Until it seems that all they are
Rises in smoke,
As it always has,
And as it will continue to do in this place
For a few more years.
--Larry Levis

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