Electronic Edition 1.0 copyright 1995 by Robert Kelly
M O N T B L A N C
About this Mont Blanc
I. "The hand on my desk is my hand the everlasting"
II. "Such a feeble book I bend to bring you,"
III. "And all the while only water. Remarkable,"
IV. "Awful languages we speak, we people, especially"
V. "That's why we love mountains. Bursting,"
VI. "The chainless winds still come and we constrain them,"
VII. "Sweep of your waterfall, below the bridge"
VIII. "Image the strange sleep. Which wraps around"
IX. "Art pervaded with ceaseless motion _ that"
X. "Render and receive. Hold. Fast interchange"
XI. "In the still tremor of my hands still"
XII. "Art there takes care. A street tilted north"
XIII. "Not long before the next village came,"
XIV. "Its shapes are thoughts. At the edge of eyes"
XV. "Vanish viewless what I cannot speak."
XVI. "Fear is the subject, what is the object,"
XVII. "Rude, and bare, and high. Even"
XVIII. "The wild we wander in"
XIX. "Large codes. Those are the grieving"
XX. "The fields inquire of me and the lakes"
XXI. "Visit the hidden. Dreamless steel, glare"
XXII. "Barren or richly nurturing, all nature devours."
XXIII. "Countenance nakedness..."
XXIV. "But midstream is west of center. The pressure"
XXV. "And the sun in scorn. Some also know"
XXVI. "Impregnable. Brambles. By the rarely used"
XXVII. "Strewing the mangled answers of a whole,"
XXVIII. "Overthrow the limits of the world. The dead"
XXIX. "Answer to the riddle. The stone is seen."
XXX. "His work in dwelling. Vanish what you like"
XXXI. "Vale of Annan. In you I have studied"
XXXII. "Breath of blood be distant so the word"
XXXIII. "White mountain crest jewel of blue echo"
About this Mont Blanc.
In July 1816, Shelley got his first glimpse of Mont Blanc from
a bridge in the valley of the Arve, near Chamounix. His poem,
evidently begun almost at once, is terse and complex, full of profound
cosmography and subtle psychology. While I had glimpsed Europe's
highest mountain from the air once or twice, my first sight of it from
the ground was in the summer of 1992, from midway up the valley of the
Dranse _ one of the three streams in the Chablais that bear that
ancient name, specifically the Dranse de Morzine, the one that flows
into Lake Geneva at Thonon. My wife Charlotte and I spent that summer
in the Savoy, the latest part of France to join the Republic, a land
steeply climbing up from the shores of Lake Geneva into the high Alps,
a land of ravines and valleys, each with it's own dialect.
Throughout the year that followed our summer in the Haute
Savoie, I had an odd, quiet feeling from time to time that I had to
"do something" about Shelley. Little by little, that something came
to connect with his poem "Mont Blanc," which was at the time very
dimly recollected. Finally, a year later, flying from one place to
another that had nothing to do with Shelley, it suddenly became clear
that I had to write into his poem.
The result is a poem of mine that happens to preserve intact,
in one form or another, all the words of Shelley's poem, in their
original order, but with intrusions and incursions and extrusions of
my own. The poem swells from six pages to forty. The subjects change,
the persons vary, the concerns develop in their own way, and a
different stream flows--north where his flowed west--down to the same
Any decent poem has room in it for us all. The process of
"writing into" someone else's poem is an act of reading, of listening,
talking. Though formally it is a transgression, and may strike the
reader as an arrogance, or an irrelevance to the sweet original
design, in fact this writing-into turns the act of reading into an act
So Shelley's poem is the landscape through which I could move,
and meet France again, and the Alps, and the summer and the quick
downrush of those streams. The poem I have written in his spaces
pleases me, and seems to be a poem that speaks my mind more clearly
than the fortunes of language usually allow. In the text itself, I
have not especially foregrounded the strategy or methods of
in-reading; it is simply there, letting me go on. The printed book
does not explain what the poem is, other than to say that the poem is
inscribed inside Shelley's.
M O N T B L A N C
Inscribed in the spaces of Shelley's "Mont Blanc"
The hand on my desk is my hand the everlasting
gentleman whose universe means you sometimes you
mean him and all the comfortable Hudson of named things
flows through the mind, in search of you now
for it is you who make things glitter, you
from whom the evening takes its violet
declivities that make me follow
down into the reflecting gloom.
Lend me your splendor, you whose secret
is no more than listening, yet such listening,
such a house of sheer acoustics rendered
palpable and marble and warm arms and wine
whose excess is the source of human thought.
All logic starts in drunkenness. It is the leery caution
of a mind at sea, posting by winds it alone
can apprehend towards a fancied seacoast
suddenly aground in what it thinks makes "sense."
It is a tribute to our madness that we made
so many streets, and cars to serve them.
We taught ourselves to drive strange cars,
over arcane bi-focals peered at life,
the life of waters we guess is running in their clothes.
The sound we make is only half our own.
Such a feeble book I bend to bring you,
scooping it on a spring day from the Dranse
pelting northward from old glaciers,
my two hands full of what once was snow.
You read the water, quivering gently,
I have the fingers of a surgeon really,
and not much feelings, except as wishing,
willing, wanting, needing spell me
page after page in the book that speaks you.
And you sometimes read me, will oft assume
I'm being general when I mean right you,
just you, and sometimes when you think
I'm in the wild woods I'm actually right home
beside you. A handful of water for you,
ch=82rie, among the mountains, a lone
testament of what it means, just water
at nightfall from the horse trough at La Borne
lifted up in such a way the last light
comes over La Terche and tells me Go
home now, she is waiting at the table,
her mother moves the soup tureen
close to the light of the oil lamp.
Here is the water, wrapped in words
it lasts till any midnight, when the wind
sneaks through the shuttered window
and you hear the little river
suddenly business-like with ducks.
What disturbs them? What is the money
of the night that makes them hurry?
This water has a fox in it, a mountain,
a lone eagle where waterfalls consent to pass
silently (this is a dream, isn't it, something
all around you, you find it in water), leap
for shelter in a vanishing below
earthly where woods wait. Here is the water
I propose to you, and winds through my fingers
trickling on the Tibetan carpet, darker
blue on dark blue briefly written, scooped now
from a vast river, it's just water, it's in
everything, I pour it over, yes I'm sure it's not
the lines in my palms you're reading,
it's water, it's what the winter said, what the snow
remembered, it means nothing, it breaks rocks
ceaselessly, music bursts from it and it raves.
And all the while only water. Remarkable,
the things that think of us. The writing
talks back, of course, like the insolent waiters
in those midnight cafes we haunt for just
such jovial humiliations as they offer,
thus snatching away the unfinished mousse.
refusing to hot up our coffee cup.
The cream of it. As in the jest ("thou who hast
departed this condition, brassy still
as ever wast"), we experience for no other reason
than to have had the experience. Travel
is like that, all going for the sake
of coming back, of something to say,
something finally to speak out
against the everlasting silences inside,
travel is just this vain search for description
_despite the sage of Lamb House
with his fussy glories here and there. Thou
lady of my heart, thou to whom the word
can only mean but may not e'er be spoken_
I followed you down the Pont du Diable
_dark, deep Ravine_ and you were many
colors in the many voices, over whose pines,
and crags, and caverns the baking summer day
yielded finally to limestone ever wet,
cold rocks and little flowers, what were they
was a matter of some discussion with the guides,
they grew by few but rich with yellow
out of the fast cloud-shadows that
fingered their way down past us, sunbeams
lost forever in the churning water.
Awful languages we speak, we people, especially
Americans, for whom all languages
are faits accomplis, full of loss and sadness
we will never rouse to speak. We mute.
A language is a network of its pasts
all cloying round my neck, skin of my neck
once tender north of the collar now
hides in hair. Language is a hymn
in a burnt-down church, language is an altarboy
who forgets to ring the sacring bell
when Christ becomes. Language
is a theater where an awful play goes on
and will not let us leave. The scene.
Sometimes I have prayed to it, beseeching
that Power in likeness which is all it has
and all I need to come and open me
and open you to what I feel. Not feel_
feelings are reverberations only
of what is already past. The water of the Dranse
comes down from the ice-gulfs that seal up
the hidden answers of a mountain god
this August day has grown too hot
to believe in any more. Theology
is an inconvenient science, isn't it, a loss
masquerading as a found. A bore
as the life of the party, squealing,
pretending to enjoy touching, being touched.
Each one of us is there at the heart of it,
each one mounted on his secret throne
knowing the universe is spread for him alone
and all the others are the characters
whose names _as in reading War and Peace_
we never really bother to remember.
That's why we love mountains. Bursting
through the neat civility of highways
with sudden spectacular ascents.
It is the effort we remember, even the panting
little Renault reaching the Col de whatsit
where we rested it and looked around
to all that country where the Resistance
rescued so many Jews, sped them
over the hill to Switzerland. A mountain
is all effort, but serene to see,
a paradox that obliterates the sun,
dark flame that loses its way in valleys,
coombes, couloirs, crevasses, peaks.
Lightning through the summer evening
but no rain. How hot it was
and how I loved you, you who are complected
of so many places, island after island
in all the fierce formality of names.
Tempest over Montriond, the emerald lake
shivered, lost color in the wind, the cloud
came down as mist, and thou dost lie
encumbered with light, truer than my eyes
accommodate with their old habit.
Sapins all round, the giant brood of pines
around our brooding, little terrace
of the restaurant at one end, two children
nibbling glaces, a bee patrols the trash.
And then we walked, my arm
clinging to your shoulders till it grew too warm
to be such children of old time
keeps us young, time in whose devotion
we keep trying to improve what we are given,
learn French, remember Greek, while two
hundred leagues away Sarajevo's burning.
The chainless winds still come and we constrain them,
the hurtless sun comes up _ we throw it down
to ruin cities, the little river knows our blue vials
filtering slow poisons to neighbor faucets. And whoever
came to drink staggered homesick for the moon
or what is that place that drunkards contemplate
with such shallow longing and so musical,
the bare bosom of an undiscovered planet
they sing to at midnight, upsetting the water coots
who squawk and whistle, then the dark comes down.
Their odors linger _ city burning, drunkards singing,
their mighty swinging raises the war wind,
every crime we work arises from these pleasing dreams
of having and of getting and of being taken care,
mild bankers bomb Sarajevo suburbs nightly.
Politicians are a wicked music
but music isn't much itself, does nothing but arouse
preposterous longings which it distracts us from
only by what's next to buy, new proferred Eden
to replace the obsolescent paradise of yesterday.
No art can mean in vileness. A bad day dulls wit.
The bard swoons over vistas of ravished republics,
witless postage stamps, Confederate fivers,
Che Guevara on the Cuban orange three.
And all he has to hold to is his hearing,
the inner thing, that jambalaya in the frontal lobes,
that old De Broglie shivaree, the heart
of everything, the talk inside the head.
To hear an old and solemn harmony,
earthly rainbows stretched across the greed
to be in this place and to stay. And say.
To be of earth, and listen.
Sweep of your waterfall, below the bridge
the Dranse gets narrower and fast,
but up by the hospital where the hiker's path
comes down through the trees to the bank
and you can watch the old patients dodder
over the concrete ravelin in sunlight,
there it might be suitable to stop. Sit down
and parse the river. Heat shimmer
in rainless August, the flanks of the mountain
give way, an avalanche a day. Water comes
continuous. It veils an inner traveling
no living one has seen, the going
inside motion, the move inside the mind.
At night you undress against the light,
the light robes you with itself
and I can feel the night outside, rush
of the river indistinguishable
from the falter of your clothes
on their way to the patient chairback
and then the light is gone. Unsculptured
you lie beside me, amazingly formal,
amazingly formed. We are citified with sense,
in bed in a strange country. No moon.
In sleep we share Persephone.
Image the strange sleep. Which wraps around
(we still are where we are, no going
knows) a fall of summer snow
until the locomotive in the dream
can make no headway through the prairies
and overhead the birds are screaming
you couldn't hear until the engine died.
No end in sight. When the voices
of the travellers echo through the coaches
a man with a peaked cap comes to console
but his eyes are empty in the sense
you see the sky when you look in them
but a nice sky, the kind you'd like to have
behind you at cocktail time
outside the picture window, evening
north of Boston and the children play
redcheeked in new snow. Phony.
Phony. There is nothing north of Boston.
The cocktail glass is empty, no one drinks.
The drunknenness falls directly from the mind
(the sky) (the door) (the web) (the womb).
Shake their heads, look around them.
Blizzard in the desert and the train is dead.
Any voice (do sleeping people speak?
They say words but is it talking?) will do,
any voice will ground this actual
in all eternity and keep it safe, only the present
will help us, now what do we do,
given the prairie deep in snow, no tree,
the passengers rioting with dread,
the conductor smiling and no horses,
what can we do but wake? We hear
caverns echoing to the Dranse's commotion,
a loud, lone wife no other sound can tame.
Art pervaded with ceaseless motion _ that
is the path on which we sound unresting
the anthem that the river tries to sing
but we know better. We know enough
to be afraid. Cathedral stillness
we have a love for but no lust, the calm
of Ely or the agonies of Autun
seem different _ godless grey towers
that are carved out of heaven
and are enough for us. We hear
to fear. The deep organ of Saint-Eustache
rolling the 32 hertz fundamental
that aches along our bones _ the sense
is called `remorse,' we falter
in our very grieving and forgive. I mean
an art shot through with recency,
with quick new understandings of the world
spoken hard _ to make the mind work
to receive them. To exercise the soul.
Dizzy ravine in which the brain consents to look!
And all that gaze is glass, we stare
only at ourselves. Nothing else
has the habit of being seen. So it is
that whatever I behold is me, and me I see,
and me the seer seen, unjust phantasy
the picture of this trance. Sublime self-seduction
(language), strange muse (just before sleep
one's own eyes in a lover's face,
other-gendered me comes to me,
to chant out loud all the long morning after
the special music of my separation),
this art, this human influencing.
Render and receive. Hold. Fast interchange
of properties: lucidity, despair. Rebellion
among the constellations, long words
to frighten older persons,a curb to walk on
one foot in the gutter, and the other,
and the other, and the other. O we are proud
to be so singular. Entendez-vous francais?
Only when I listen. The heart has.
The interchange collapses on the freeway,
it is earthquake time again on Lankershim,
old cars burn best. I want to be clear with you:
mostly what I am is things, the things around
you and me, the heaps, the properties
(theaters elegantly called them),
but also the things in me, the things as me,
the heap that says I hope. The heap
that happens when I say my name.
Do you hear? It is near. The change
is absolute, since built right in.
There is nothing that does not, don't worry,
eventually the power comes back on,
it's not night anymore, and then the problems
come rolling in, the bills, the basins
full of burnt offerings. So many temples
have been riven by the quake. One legion
of wild men volunteers, their thoughts
float above the fallen buildings, dream a person
who lets this happen and a name to call.
Firemen break through a fallen roof.
One hears, and hearing is enough.
Rush rescue, above thy city darkness
an amplitude. Rest where that is
and for an hour or two no one dies.
Small hope, but like a river
not easy to quell. And listen, we still
can hear it, Voice under the rubble
we will save. Listen again, art
is the unbidden guest that turns the feast
into the hazard of holiness. Sacrament.
Save someone trapped in there. A word
enough to be left out. Let out of the cave.
In the still tremor of my hands still
trying to hold, read the earth remembering
to stand still. After twelve or seventeen or thirty
seconds (who was listening?)
the shaking stopped. The news
began again the infinite report.
It is a hard winter here. The witch
called Poesy is hyperactive in her offices,
clean mild profile of her, a slim
and youthful magistry does she wield
over the crackpot guesswork of the words
just anyhow in dictionaries
she plucks out. She makes us dance.
That much should be obvious by now,
but what a dance, goat-footed and
when you turn to poetry you shed
all of your years and most of your sense
so the sense of things can speak you
word by word, and they can triumph
where you would just complain. You
meaning me in this remark,
a heaven waiting for its hell,
a quiet page seeking among shadows
for his shady duchess to arrive in style
glimmering in palanquin and bold
to wear a solitaire of chrysoprase
in the mind's eye of the moment.
The ruby in the heart of homeless men.
Murmuring is all, we enumerate
ghosts of all things that are, till the breast
recalls them, and faint with images
the lover struggles to make sense.
Art there takes care. A street tilted north
among the money. Name describes.
The lights come on and a child cries.
Things are always truer in the dark, no?
Art takes. Care is a street you never knew
until the end of it came to you
suddenly, between a butcher and a dry cleaner,
on an August afternoon, a father
will never come home. Organic solvents
an ever-present danger. There are two
meat markets in Saint Jean. Sausages
of goat meat, ass meat, horse meat, veal,
lamb, pork. A deep red fatless clod.
There is one grocery (I bought a cheese
full of asticots, white and wriggly
cheese worms, cosmologues in reblochon),
a hospital and two cafes. I set the maggoty
wheel of it down by the wood shed
and the next morning it was gone,
o dog my wolf, o cat my fox, by eagle
on the water trough, shadow by the church
the long evening lingered in the drizzle
up high where the hair-pin turn
carried the road up to La Terche. Rude bench
for sitting on and seeing lights come on
over the little alley where bruised clematis
straggled by the house door dark as Greece,
a blue color like the memory of a wound.
Over the little valley of the Dranse. Some say
those gleams that wake the night
are travellers from a remoter world
that nestle in our midst. We call them flames
and soon forget how strange they are_
they sing, for one thing, if we know how to listen
and even a child soon learns how hard they are to hold.
Touch me, sings the flame, o do not touch me,
for I am born in a far countree
and mean you that kind of discipline
most men call harm, knowing no better.
But women know, and know to bend
to taste this water rilling from the hill,
flavored still and very cold and reeking
high in the back of the mouth
of all the stories the rock knows, all
the history of gold. Every night I bathed
my sprained wrist in the water, held it
till I was numb from cold. So touched,
I understood myself a sort of woman too
(willing to listen, willing to hear)
but then I was quick and me again,
a nervous one walking slow up hill.
Not long before the next village came,
a desuete auberge and creaky bench
by a blabbing fountain but the water here
said nothing to me and was just cold,
not the soul-reminding-death-and-judgment
chill of the horse trough of La Borne.
I watched the bats drift slyly overhead.
The flames that visit each one of us at night,
the flames themselves are spirits
and when they coalesce they're one flame still,
like water into water poured, one fire.
In sleep we know them better, they speak
the wobbling Welsh dialect of dream
and tell us where the world comes from
(from the world) and how the god of music
is married to the god of cruelty
and they are faithful to each other, serene
as the aftermath of torture, les faux temps
of the world, music, this fake weather.
Flames say no such thing. It is my mouth
that mutters such depravity,
and I drink the La Borne water too, fierce
where it spurts out under the high meadow
rain-chilled, stamping with horses.
Its shapes are thoughts. At the edge of eyes
some meek diffractions. Confused
with thinking, thoughts slumber, thoughts
are busy the way numbers are, counting,
amounting. But those who live
wake on the far side of number, they are
in bliss outnumbered, they say "On high
has some unknown touched me with omnipotence,
and all there is is thinking." Unfurled, the veil
proposes difference. Furl it once
and you lie down in dream. Only the veil
does our intervening. It is snowing as I fear,
the Greek restaurant on South Halsted
crowded with appetites, a suckling pig
roasts on the spit, tiny glasses of ouzo
pass among those waiting to be served.
(The commune of Saint John of the Abbey of
Our Lady of the Alps has two butchers,
natty both men in neckties and white aprons,
I like the mergueze of the one, the red
fatless clod beef of the other, tough.)
Two animals to eat. The little glass
luminous with all its silly dreams,
the snow is quiet there. The world
is nothing but a mood spread round,
inaccessibly intelligent, a closet full of circles.
Breathe in fur. Old Town in snow.
Past beaded glass the crisp animal revolves.
It is not the flame, a flame has no heat,
a flame is pure burning and pure speech,
it's when the flame is killed and buried
and the Mass said over it in coal or wood,
that's when the heat comes and the goose is cooked.
Chicago in clipped snow. There two
butchers in Saint Jean. This is what I know,
is it enough to tell you what numbers are?
Hillside over Hollywood _ are you all right,
Vilmos, Susan, little trapezoidal pond
you step down through steep ivy stairs to
swim in, even today with the land rocking
the way mortar shells do in Sarajevo, a mess
of numbers, of imaginary information
to which we must respond? Get married.
Funeral Mass of fire (where are the Catholics?),
where is the cathedral where the spirit fails,
driven like a flare up above the ruined vault
then falls back into the unstructured street
and sleeps among the homeless? Steep cloud
from which the very sunlight falls.
And this also was a flame, I listened,
I learned and spoke its name. Cherish me,
snowplows of union and reconcile.
Vanish viewless what I cannot speak.
Pictures in my mouth. Veinless gales
that whip the blood like color absolute
_an artery the same as history,
in which the present is a formless wound,
bloody amorphous horror, an overwhelming now_
like color piercing the infinite
with tiny instances of something sure.
The color of my hands. Your hair
that hides me. In this old, old empire the day,
each monarch takes his turn to die.
I mean makes the sky turn over:
Mont Blanc appears _still, snowy and serene_
soft in pollution haze on the frontier
thirty miles to Italy. Sun on snow.
Les Aiguilles du Midi. We have climbed
to the top of one peak to see another,
subject to the confusions of the guidebooks,
is this that, or is that the other? Outlines
mark unearthly forms_ not much like a mountain,
look down to hold it in your hands
as once you balanced Everest on your shoulder
and Kanchenjunga caught in your teacup
dull glow of stainless steel on the Chowrasta.
Did he think names were flames? Could live
apart from charcoal and from sticks? Did I think
a name would save us from all the things
piled round it, ice and rock and ironwork,
old submarines rusting in the shallows?
I trusted kelp to hold the sea together,
I trusted waves to mean something water won't.
Fear is the subject, what is the object,
why do I finally admit the dread
that walks in every word, the fear of silence
(when she does not speak), the black
cat mewing from inside the brick
(burnt by Sumer's sunshine, dry
repertory, dead imagery, some words).
When it is silent you hear the cat cry.
When it is silent you hear
the clock crow on the wall, the tree
scrape the window with its vines,
the fruit crack open and drop its seeds
and you hear each one die. What
is the object? "Who is there
to be afraid?" Mountains,
habitations, incomprehensible equations
of a stricken calculus (how far
is shadow? How glass
is sun?), raptors shrieking down the white cliff,
their unearthly forms (wing-dropped,
hawk over head. You heard her whistle
down the clifftops of La Chaux. The goat
with four horns waited for his mate.
The fear is thick with me. Fear not
to speak, lad, be not abashed
by the dreary aldermen who jabber
loveless merchandising in city hall_
they are the old ones who run the schools
and teach the tragic disciplines
that turn live children into them.
Piled around the heart a drift of should,
ice and rock and frozen must, floods
of unfathomable hate. The boring parleys
of old men, the pleasant rumor
of an even older river, what sense is there?
What do I fear? Broad vales between blue heaven,
avenues that seem forever. The far
overhanging hillsides of the sky.
They come above me, they fall_
and that's what a house is, tremor,
a roof that falls. Wind among the steeps
scour desert people. I was raised
to answer questions and ask none.
I was rewarded by storms, calmed
by blizzards and hurricanes _ only the world
talked to me, everyone else was still.
I was what fell. The eagle took me
and esteemed me bone. The hunter spied me
and his arrow entered. I saw
myself (time after time) do the simple
thing of dying, no more fuss
than an arrow tip arriving in the hay.
The fuss was all before. The fear.
How hideous it is to have a shape!
Rude, and bare, and high. Even
in ghastly summer I am scarred with snow.
I had to know. That's all we wanted,
to be sure. To be young
was to know the world was full of answers
denied me. Now that I'm me I know
the world denies them to itself
yet still they're there, here, heaped round
the rude integument that art
stretches over these riven bones,
the scene where old earthquake
(it's the vigor of the rigor that
throws the snow around) taught her young
that only d=91mons care about the earth,
the landlords and landladies, the mild
furious milk-dripping teatless walls;
fine hairs curled and wet and sticky
with the milk oozing sweatwise from her pores
such kind of animal, we also are,
a curl of tongue to slurp the information,
wet rock wall of Le Pont du Diable,
limestone, limestone, your green shadow
comes to life as this long flower
((what was it called? I shudder))
Ruin. Were these their toys, the unmade language
for which we call them in/fans, unspeaking,
these rocks as good as exclamations,
analyses made out of flint, a dumb hill?
Language our glorious mistake.
See the fire? It was waiting in the flame,
and the lake was waiting in our hands.
The problem with most of me nowadays
is not sure where I end and it begins_
chairlift to some high absurdity, wind
to smack a piece of grit of in my eye,
of silent snow? Awkward prepositions
wait for an actual verb. ("Onelie begetter...")
None can. No reply. (The Crucified.)
All seems determined to be now.
The wild we wander in
even in the neatest gates
is shuttered mystery.
Valv=91, the folding doors
throb open. There is a spasm
in our sense of self,
a wilderness of tongues
telling. Paradise of doubt,
the pines of brilliant
accommodation to adversity
erect on the accumulated
stand so dark that green
is no option for their name,
there is a virtuous
vegetable blackness wrenches
rock into nurture and they grow.
And what they tell
is how it comes to be me
in the folds of mountain,
switchbacks of the Dranse
shooting through Morzine
and south to Pilate's lake,
Geneva's bland despair.
Names, names and none of them.
The wilderness has mystery by tongue,
and teaches faith so wild
people like us may be,
a solemn madness in the air
the mountain knows,
and knows we listen.
A mountain is all discussion,
nothing solid, only the folding
premises of universal speech,
serene arguments we have no
serenity to discount, listen listen
all day long and a green
basket to carry home
delicate the gentian that you find
amongst all the shocking flammifers
of =82pilobe, our fireweed.
That kind of argument_
not the names of flowers you find in a gorge
or that, blue too, she
bent to snatch and she was snatched
river-rapine by the Lord of Silence_
not the names I pretend to remember
but the unanswerable logic of a mountain
that lords it by its sense of time
over our hilarious mortality, we sweet
swift perishers. Which is why
so many of us felt to answer
its dour complexity with simple death.
The principle of =92tna, the wordy suicide.
Only by voice with nature reconciled
we stand our ground.
We do this by warm goat milk
chaliced for us in old jars atop Chevennes
after walking up the hill all afternoon.
Stand by taking. Run
by naming flowers. Drink
by watching that promising boy goat
with four horns startling
nimble on an inch of rock above us
at ease with all this mountain logic,
a kind of Nietzsche with delicate fine hooves.
Large codes. Those are the grieving
problems, the molten lead
Tschaikovsky found in his snow
in the movie. Or was it Schumann.
The predictions things make
about me. The code of signatures
by which the world locks in
its nonceful meanings once for all.
This frozen morning in America.
What can I be thinking, what
is there to think about in weather
but force and woe. Twenty-five below.
A number is not understood,
just takes its place, say a myriad,
say a talent of silver a young man
buries in the ground. Say a dream
that you forgot to tell. Say a dog
dying at first light and the owner saying
the dog is dead the dog is dead
what can language make of that?
Of course we wanted to be flowers
or give flowers or have the ladies in sarongs
greet me with leis on Lanai_
we have been told to want that.
Look at this frangipani flower wreath
dusty and disheveled, scentless now
that once had been creamy plumeria
looped round my windy neck,
flowers which the wise toss quick
to float out on the forgiving tide,
Christ, what could be shabbier
than the memory of a smell
(I remember feeling)?
We take the auguries
by touching this and that.
The shape of what we know,
dusty flower, the residue.
Remember nothing. Be mindful
of everything. That is what I thought I knew
twenty-seven years ago
when I stepped out on the porch this morning
ready to interpret or make felt.
Or just to feel.
The fields inquire of me and the lakes
frozen five weeks now beneath their attitudes
require some answer from my doubt.
The forest is full of pulleys, pinions, a woman
walking her wheel home, a machine
snug inside a machine. The skill
of those old things, machine, an ancient
honorable company of molecules
slung by gutta percha, stuck by thingum,
with isinglass windows on the very soul
revealing slinky fumaroles by Iceland nights
bobbing and whacking and the whole
strumming like Penelope's knitting frame
with the numbered needles of Monsieur Jacquard
that monster numerator that boss
of beeswax that Columbus of crevices.
A rickrack round her towered head
she rises till her bare shoulders
displace half a dozen winter stars_
have I told the truth at last? The streams
purl between her toes, weather
is an accident of love, as sloth
a kind of misplaced mortality, dream,
tug the reins snug on that dapper palfrey,
an idealist has by definition
no place to go. For reverence you are ocean,
and all the living things that dwell within
murmurous transpire, come speak me
the name of who you are when you are tower
and when you are earth what daedal skills
intricate with labyrinths or instances
caress the accidents of where I walk?
You art, you with me, you lightning
kept in very little trees, green tart berries
wrestled from the groseille by night
and sucked till I pucker, time
cannot understand me anymore, the rain?
And raspberry canes have porphyry
engorg'd in their bark, and thorns
and how shall we make way through them?
Earthquake waits for us, and fiery flood
bewilders our domestic categories
(swimming through her drowned house,
walking on the grass above your father's bones)_
I would be patient with every mechanism
and take a clock to bed, kiss kiss,
a hurricane of torpor sends me reeling,
supine in the gutter of Mnemosyne,
passive year and feeble Easter, the stone
chokes the passages of earth. Dreams
enough to catechize the dark.
Visit the hidden. Dreamless steel, glare
of a mountain top, and every street
encumbered with radiance until I never was
anywhere but 13th and 8th Avenue
sweltering in the shabby dawn.
Every step I take now is that slave I was.
To search all night for secret fantasy
as if it could exist outside. And if it can't
what is a city for? Absurd religion
of ordinary life! What I looked for is.
And is embedded in the fact of looking.
It is hidden and not gone, or gone
and never was, and never will be
and now is never now enough for me.
Visit the hidden. What is the appetite
that teaches all night long?
A step or more, a mile to pass, to touch
the factory worker's elbow, or touch
just touch the fingertip of money.
Who gives me peace? Count my change.
Don't let them give you language,
language must be taken. The kingdom
of utterance is taken by violence.
Midnight absence-music, sidewalk,
and steam coming up from manholes.
What can you see? From the Pointe
de Nyon a pretty little mountain nothing
was far, every hunger leaches out in sunlight,
and nothing hides. So I turned
with gentian in my fingers, crevice fool,
to celebrate what slips away through light,
the knife of not knowing, the blood of to be.
It is some bud of sleep that ripens dreamlessly
backwards to the future leaf. And flowers
crack the absolute when they bound
from that detested trance. Limit
is the life of man. The work
is always at the limit. Rats at the skirting wall
and what's out there? Just break the bound.
Sounds good_but where's the consonant
then to shape the endless vowel
I claim I am or dream? Release me
from all this slick solicitude. Move with toil
and breathe the sound _ men overtly vie
endlessly. Tamper only if licit.
Barking ravens every aurora try healing earth.
Some of us need dispersion.
Barren or richly nurturing, all nature devours.
Deflowering inward, elastic souls
recapture elements of vast ornate landscapes
vows eternally deny. That it would be possible,
would be a place and the music surges over it
like common combers from a shaggy ocean
far away, the water stays where it is, only
the wave-form travels, swells up here
and breaks on this silica, only the form of it
arrives, never the substance. What is there
can only be there. A perturbation
in the surrounding element, a little life.
The waves subside. A swell of place,
animation of visage, the figure of a wanderer
appears on a low cliff and the mist
shutters the form again, whither
would you wander? I met the old man once
and knew myself at last. I was four
perhaps or five and heard the song.
The old man who wouldn't say his prayers,
what Lollard hour was I born
that the thrill of his omissions so
became me, and I thrilled to him,
for all that he was old and smelled
of feathers the way old men do, no scent
but passage, no fragrance but too soon.
Power dwells apart I knew, and this old
geezer somehow chased by geese
(what do we know of history, those lies
that other people tell us, we want poetry,
the lies we tell ourselves), what geese,
the power is in his old grey shirt,
his galluses his old man shoes his neck
chicken-skinny and plucked ruddy,
what geese, the old man had it,
had the power, he wouldn't say his
what everybody else did, he was different,
who was he, Cranmer, Wolsey, Zwingli, Pusey,
did it all wrong or did it in Latin
or not Latin, doesn't matter, just he had it
and what I had was terror of his having,
I knew that they could find me
and throw me down the stairs.
And who would be waiting at the bottom
guessed I but the blue
star at the bottom of the world,
underwear and martyrdom and blossom
she bends featly to require from my chest.
And there it was, the Lady's chamber
I saw over Chamounix smoke in the sun haze.
For in the mountain lives she
and to crag or cranny only we are born,
choose prayer or masquerade, to hide
what I am given until it learned to speak
lucidly in its tranquillity. I am weary
of this remote vocabulary_ a mountain
sometimes is nearer than a hand.
I am weary of this serene grammar,
noble word begetting noble word like a Scotch
family in Kentucky, a lady's chamber
more than orris root and venery,
a mountain more than matter. Cleft
or crag, no other choosing. Inaccessible
to this, the actual. Earth is far from here.
Now is never now enough for me.
Countenance nakedness (what Egypt called
ankh-edness) if you would have your children
smile at each other in the calomine summers
the vaseline winters where are you now
when whatever was young in you
needs to be brought out laughing in the street
shouting and dancing the whirl of snow
the agonies of fallen cities, the endless siege
and Priam on his bones before the altar.
Who needs all this dying? There is a loop
on your sandal helps you pull it on_ he said it:
it is hard to cover all the rough world
but it is not hard to cover your tender feet.
The protection. Nakedness of leather,
the auguries of pain on which I gaze,
even prim mountains lifting peneplane
over the frozen Hudson _ frozen yesterday
all the way to ocean _ evil teaches
the adverting mind. Ankh of fine leather
and may the tragedies of calf and heifer
spell out a quieter religion: reading
horror stories on the subways, Gothic
arches of old ironwork, sunshot glooms
of interpenetrating hobo glances
until she knows herself released from doors.
And metaphors, that tell the mind to watch
one thing in the courtyard of another.
The shoe protects the world_the doctor
anoints my foot with a yellow ointment
my wife made _ red candles on the altar _
who can find an adequate array of flowers
midwinter, hothouse asthmas, breathless
blue pale, flowers imitating paper, silks,
into the touched skin the force of healing
sinks, we who made our flowers stalwart,
stolons slither through the mind (January
jungle), or rises to reach the smooth place
where thought is quiet and night finally
has to happen. Simple, you get better
by paying attention. It is the coldest
winter that we ever knew. Icicles
ten feet long at the house eaves, and then
the boundless river whitely silent _ scows
stuck midstream, the cutters puffing, oil
for the Port of Albany ascending_
like snakes that watch their prey the glaciers creep
north in another district of allusion.
But midstream is west of center. The pressure
of the heart reforms limestone geography.
Fromtheir far fountains images of order flow
to shape the air, the under, the between.
I'm trying to say it accurate: waking this morning
with my face pressed against your back
I knew the way the mind controls geology.
Knew but can't prove. Tasted but can't test.
The philosophy is usual_ a clamor of opinions
clothespinned to a loop of logic
long enough to get a doctorate or
write a book. The rest is commerce, oleum
scholasticum, the grease of salary,
the sleep of mind. What Shelley knew
was a valley curving vastly from a mountain,
tallest in Europe, to a glacial lake
where Pontius Pilate died. Some myths
can leave us. And he knew what knowing knew:
every exile is the same. Born alone
between and between, we die in like manner
by or in some lake festooned with villas
where kings on welfare pen their false memoirs.
The worst man in the world has his fingers
snug inside my gloves. We have no choice
but crag or cleft, stealing sunlight
or turning the dark inside out and finding
at the end of it that east of Aden jewel
that has nothing to do with understanding
but everything to do with standing in the light.
Every page that won't make sense is part of it.
The description becomes intricate. Faltering
attention spans, roadbed bobs and weaves,
flaps in the aftershocks, pull yourself awake,
weaknesses passes. Odin's blood-eagle spreads
across the Jura, Alpen, Appenines_
a body is no more than we can move inside
no more than we can imagine. Who is this we
now fettering the upthrust of the obvious?
Recencies, limestone recencies, the Dolomites
keeping stone age savvy, keeping charm.
The special spin slow rolling on _ I saw him once
staggering down the curbstones reeling
on his way to one more poem, a life
shredded on the iron stringwork of the harp.
Our eyes cross-purposes and I shied. O liberty
to be young in a city yet so shy! Plant a piano
sweetly indigo by all our fortresses _
but the descriptions, that is vaguely sad,
penerose, despair. A body. What is he
and what is we, o song my Italy
(beyond yon haze, a melody at hazard,
fine air, you farandole) and what is it
to be? To be at all? Unnecessary
inquiry! To ask's to be answered. Or,
a trinity of red toads on fire,
sacred semaphore, the king has gone before.
Elfenmount, ivory bane, wake again,
the tempest came over Geneva as we came
and then five weeks of drought. Many
a precipice, every morning I looked up
the valley and saw the frost line rise
higher in sunlight till the fiery power
scorned the visible. Haze only. Sing
what you please.
And the sun in scorn. Some also know
what such a mountain looks like on
a morning in early Thermidor, the grey
of valleys, birds sit on powerlines. Power.
Program on wavering Essene radios.
What to do with such words, what
is to be done? Make a vocabulary
no one will ever speak again, or translate
by notariqon, that ampersandy hill
the word drags us up to see: the same sun.
Many original raptures transported a lady
persevering overland while Eros reached
havens of sexy have-nots, chomeuse chic,
battledore and shuttlecock and idleness,
working men will never understand politics.
Justice begins when you deserve nothing,
when you're at the bottom of the world
the end of the line and the cupboard bare_
then you understand what justice is
and what a street is and where it goes
and what it means to stand around at night
wishing only that the moon would speak.
Doom over ordinary markets, domes
stretched wide with copper pleasing,
parchment yielding, razors arguing
many ingenious domestic arrangements,
nightly demands. What can I do with a word
we understand? And pinnacle,
what is that? Just because we see it
fine and white beyond the crappy seeming
of our local guesswork, just because it's there,
can we trust in any magnificence
that dreams us to worship it? Cabbala,
world needs no redemption, the grove
at Colonus where a man stops being.
Or just turns into a name. And once again
to be in your mouth. All desire
is the same mountain. The broken record.
A city of death, distinct from where we
actually get mail and take out the garbage,
he found at last you can't live inside desire.
To be in your mouth again and the town quiet!
But the Republicaine band is playing in the rain.
The same again, with many a tower
shaken down by sound alone, cat yowl
of the smug trombones, the church choir
gets its surplice wet, a wall of sound
with no cranny for silence to get through.
Ridiculous garage! Vote Communist
on every school wall, forgive the valley
for its tender dialect, snapdragon, nasturtium,
we should have walked down to see the band,
brass shimmering in fluorescent charm,
And know the mountain stands there in the dark.
Impregnable. Brambles. By the rarely used
front door of Les Mouflons some nettles grow.
All it needs is a species of pain. Or a harp
such that the wind moves through it
eliciting intermittent agonies. Touch me
has a nightmare of its own. Beaming road
crowned in hot asphalt, the little yellow truck
that brings the mail stands out, bee on a leaf.
It persists in being natural. As you persist
in being perfect. Yet not a city
or the way a city is, namelessly accurate,
ancient tongues are spoken, a statue speaks
in empty courtyards, sun-sheen on new ice
and all we have to do is understand
the shade of the fig-tree back onto the tree.
It persists in being natural to talk,
and in all this flood of ruin hold
precisely fixed a word you overheard
when you closed your eyes and listened in.
Where else could it come from but from us?
Is there an animal that could do it for us
or lead us there as we lead rams to slaughter,
charted woe-ways leading from the workplace,
a pain at present unemployed, waiting
for soft tissue? From the boundaries of the sky
imagined banished. A table nursed them
and a chairleg gave them milk.
They grew enough to found a city
but never yet enough to leave it and become
the civil pilgrims of unscheduled galaxies.
Milk is perpetual. Wood loves me. Rome
builds itself all day long like nettles spreading
shadowless glare around each house door
until there is no hiding from the city
and the hounds snuffle in their fetid doze
and the stream of dream rolls on
collapsing animal and human both
into a valley of engulfed cathedrals,
asphyxiated villages and sunken pines.
And nature is the least of it, and death
is busy with the traveller, strewing his path
with other people's destinies until he bends
hopeless with choosing and never know his own.
I hate these words that fell like brickwork
from a dead religion. Almost everything
that lives is some sort of an exception.
Strewing the mangled answers of a whole,
whole culture, cacalogue of dwindling
merits, Antinous's slim Bishop's point the smooth
appendicitis region sparked by Turkish war
I knew the names I knew I dreamt
the names I didn't where were you
when I walked down Sixty-sixth Street dreading God
in every armature that started up some car
the rich cruised past me in and who was I?
Delete the pronoun, juicy consonants like Daffy Duck
stick to what I mean, sound-barnacles, slip me
past me. A branchless tree. A shattered letter
I stand transfixed by, try to piece together
whatever it was they said, units of dissension,
units of conjunction. It came from everyone
and lies here, a line drawn down
made of a thousand scraps of paper
(wraps rocks), the word from you
reaches my overworking thalamus.
It is a waste, a kind of far fury
makes me grieve to see how little has been said
after all this commerce of the signifiers.
Have what we can have. The accents
of the ordinary refine the far
ascensions into disorderly white
till I can understand you, yes over
union, what we see away is here
by dint of seeing. Here ends the lesion.
Fromthis point outward, mystery mutes woe.
Mumble. Down wet rock we go
(they say I murmur as I ride, alder,
alder, red leaf on my side for a change)
to find the sluiceway where the devil sleeps.
A snoring bugger and a prince of sleeves.
A yellow flower that reminds me someone
waits for us in union with our blood
yet outside the vein, outside the skin
_who can remember bodies in the rain?
A crag within a cleft we'd found in fact
in other words (that far green country,
that isle of capable mistake), be here
at the summit of the dream. Staircase
laid down in the Third Republic, iron
shouting with the rush or flush of Dranse.
Wherever I stood looked down into me.
Overthrow the limits of the world. The dead
are images in the thoughts of the living,
n of them, no more. The infinity of telling
knows everybody's name. (The tellers
in the Bank of Hell keep smug accounts,
crisp paper of their million-dollar bills,
their Rights of Man and of the Citizen,
their dopy hopes.) We inch by notice.
Overcome by attention, we conquer by speech.
The last one talking has all history in her mouth.
Where I want to be. Eyes of the wolves
who trot in across the frozen river, golden
eyes surveying patches of the past
known to such observers. Cut and edit,
process the mnemonic gush. Ruse of splices,
neurons in the fingers weaving
a net to catch nerves. Edgy Christmas,
gunshots in Astoria, wide bleak avenues
sudden cadenzas of revenge. The last one
tells everything. You will have by beauty
the last word, and eke by honestness.
Can I be known for knowing? Famous
for having looked inside and found a stone
no one had sat down on from the start of time,
a dumb stone, and said nothing but I came,
I saw, I went away? Rough roads to Dacia
come not from such c=91saring. I saw the stone.
It sat by Lac Leman the goyim call Geneva,
no spider knew it, the snow sheltered it,
the sun ripened it, no one sat down thereon
since the world began, no snake or weasel,
no man or maid, no angel from the court
of heaven or Alaric fallen. I am not sure
that even shadow ever touched it. I found it
and I sat down and looked about
like Whitman in a crowd of working men.
A man has to say something. A stone
has to be answered. To be offered.
Here, to the knife in the sky. Here,
to the hand that comes out of my pocket
and buys back the world. Here,
to the overcoat the moon wears
but not tonight. Not tonight at all.
Answer to the riddle. The stone is seen.
The coat is thrown away never to be
reclaimed. That's why the night is as it is,
serenaded with unrelenting stars;
we can't hear a thing but what we mean.
By inches. By insects. By beasts. Becomes
is the noisiest music, full of bronze
and brewery. It is a dwelling-place
full of birds, soapy plaster, oily images,
lariats for mules. Listening to the radio
we step on delicate little feet
down the rock wall made to break our food.
Our retreat (cleft, cranny, own motion, stop)
is a species of forever that passes fast,
the more it's gone the more that's left to us.
No one is waiting to catch me. No one
wants me to fall. Much of life is limestone
carved perhaps with Saint Guerin and ox,
deer, ass, victims of the cute diseases
animals die from that he healeth.
Every valley has its hidden saint. The rock
found me, it told me it was there
in dream, told me it was he or he was it
and woke me with some name I must assume.
What to do with someone dreams of rocks?
Circling disease. Deep in the labyrinth
an interloping virus breeds and reigns
and cows begin to walk around in loops,
searching the empty center only people know
before death explains it to all comers.
The glanders. The hoof and mouth. The rot of rye.
By vision be distinct from animal
only if the city is different from the river
on which and from which it grew.
Vision is an animal alone. The joy comes with it
and nothing's lost. By the millrace
pouring down La Borne I waited for the mail
among the nettles and the hedgehog nests
I waited for the water to find my hands
wherever I hid them, water finds me,
the stone is just a kind of it, we know
how delicate (or do not know) we stand
in balance between beast and flower,
chewing idle on a reed that's mostly silica.
Not what things are made from (things are made
from things) but what they are _ that's animal
enough for me, late afternoon the lazy flies
buzzing round the wineglasses. Some crumbs.
I tore open a new cheese and studied
the sweet unbroken smelly rind. A thing
in the palace of things. A gentle dread.
His work in dwelling. Vanish what you like
and dwell with smoke. Up the Sawkill now
billows of snow mist, a fog comes calling,
dwelling, calling, dwelling. Danube winters
ease late lovers _ supposed to be your spring
(Du bist der Lenz, nach dem ich verlangte)
we work in dwelling. Being here, the monk said,
is work enough for thee and me. Blessed
they called him, of a Jewish family, Subiaco
maybe, work and pray. Build an abbey
out of stones, an hour out of grains of wheat,
window me plain glass, the light's enough for me,
up the Sawkill comes the mist, the huge white
sycamores across. Before The Tempest
Europe knew nothing about America
except what greed proposed; after,
it knew a hollow in the hope of wanting,
a measure of what had to be abandoned,
lost world of paradise, lost pagany,
lost Christianity, all we were to
have is polity. He who studieth nor
Sycorax nor Setebos (nor cranny nor crest)
can hope for nothing but the weather.
American villains have to feel good
about the crimes they do, we sailed
from Devonshire and never came.
Still in steerage we stink of offered cocks.
Surely America's still there, just past
the bowsprit, over the white cliffs of Gay Head,
over the heavy metal of New Bedford bars.
And their place is not known. Below
varying animals stir torpidly getting
ready for winter, carnivorous anonymous
vagrant energetic strong: these
are the persons of the drama, reckless
in neediness. (Nothing needs me.)
Foreheads of strolling shoppers
shine, the word is spend, the glow
is animate, and in the rushing afters
torrents of analysis smoke untasted cigarettes.
Restless precepts. The gleam of that blue thing
I always needed (needs me) clear up there
at the heart of the excavation: a holy place
supposed pre-Aryan, like -nth- in Greek.
Anger to reduce this language
(didn't help him, can it help me,
drowning in the williwaw, quick ponding
sink road, axle in the sunken city
spinning, wheel churn, a wheel
is teaching), language which from those secret
chasms willed to be not clear but revealing
as if there is (there is) a kind of knowing
impossible except when being said.
And then in tumult of disclosure sudden
shift to the left, speaks itself into being,
welling up of all the only-now-can-be
because you lean back and say sycamore,
tell me the tree, here, not where the hospital
shimmers in heat haze across the Dranse.
Forget France. The possible is no use.
Say what you don't know and let it be tree.
Vale of Annan. In you I have studied
that declivity. Which is divinity. And one
meaning as long as a year, a gesture, a joke
the rabbi made the Romans never understood.
Dying? Rising? Denying? Enterprising?
A Hansa of the afterlife, a ship with thieves
plundering hell? Steal the underworld
and set it in the sun and call it flowers?
No wonder winter's such revenge. I met you
when you were wearing a green skirt
you later said you never owned and never
wore. The books were good to us
like a chain that slips off the ankle
or a letter falls down the chimney
hardly even scorched. Who wrote it?
Language. And we spoke. And one
majestic River walks beside us
at Clermont, gentry table-land, hidden
garden in the yew hedge and a pale
statue, one more god, proposing
trickeries of perspective up the lawn.
The symmetry of time is terrible,
every instant has its other side, shape
rorschaching the splay of hours
until the echo of every syllable recurs.
Pigeons understand this, and seek towers
to tether their lines of sight to
as they course in and out of the visible
like characters in a novel you forget.
Mostly forget. Then it all comes back,
what is a tower, who slew the bachelor
while he waited for the maiden at the bower
polishing his ashen bow with swan grease,
The dead hero travels with closed eyes
down every page of the dictionary
waiting for your impossible consent.
Breath of blood be distant so the word
I speak comes back and smears the window
like a child's soft mouth mumbling the glass
at morning to see what we're up to inside
if that's where we are, the queen of us
snuggling together in the heat of sleep.
Who knows what the weather will be like?
The lands stretch out from the window
in a way different from the door _ a child
has to learn that, what he walks on
is not what he has seen. No one has seen.
A child on the warpath, a Goth in skins
how matted the ram's fleece can grow
when he sits all day long in the cab
plowing through heathen heavens, these
are not my stars, I'll tell you my horoscope,
I was born in Horsey with the Monkey on my lap
and a lioness was slinking in from mating
and she smelled of pine trees in August noontime,
how could a landscape look like what I know?
Right about now some other nice person
would enjoy a cup of coffee, some oat cakes,
a glass of Falernian wine poured out of a book
_fifty years later he's still drunk on
Roman poetry_ a TV show on penguins,
a brass band marching past the shabby schoolyard
in the mingy rain of a mountain Friday.
Who am it? It is nice of me to slip
so many things into the chafing dish
of your attention, that gleaming brassy
business with the blue flame underneath
_the heat of legend and a paquebot here
slung to the dock and themselves
gallant down the gangplank, immigrants
to an imaginary continent!
Blueland the Bad! Every fact you give me
boils in the crucible. The heat
is from fire, the fire is from holding
firm that fact in mind against
the rough wall of some other, friction
is the only fact of all. Gold in fact
the inevitable consequence of touch.
Touch forever rolls in like a comber
slicking up the sands at Malibu, loud
answers to the ocean platitudes.
Cynic sea, hast seen so much of me!
Bring waters to the ocean and be mum,
waves of chemicals from high-school labs
bleach the mappy neighborhood where she breathes
swift gossip, she is noon's mother, she is
instrument and orchestra, like those rooms
full of ironwork in Bali and bamboo,
she has brought the ship home, breathed selah upon
the lonely psalms of Baltic exiles,
she is empty, vapors spent, nothing left
but language offered to the circling air!
White mountain crest jewel of blue echo
who knows how old anyone now is, the now
revises us, the clock stands still. Midnight
postcard, old lithocrome, it is Lent now
and we are meant to dust. Mountain lake,
despair of counsellors, a habit unchanged
from his earliest exaltation, awe at weather,
awe at water. And in Maine it rained.
So I said to the rock I have found you,
gleams and pegmatite and all, rust
of seasons, all the dust of names on you.
And the rock said You there on high
among the moving, I was not waiting
and it is not remarkable that you came.
I was not lost and you were not looking_
temper the ontology of surprise. It is odd
only that you noticed _ the power is there.
The still language of what is not seen!
And if the solemn habits of the rock
get too much for me, like a bishop
excommunicating a blue macaw,
well, color is theology enough.
Then the subway goes as far as you do
and the harbor is waiting with its terns.
You come out all right, every day,
unless you do something the rock despises.
Then the power drains out of seeing.
Of many sights and many avenues
a word is made, held together by the inside,
sinewed close in some sort of love.
We love a little whatever we give names.
Sounds tell. We. You. Who. All
this algebra. The deictic frenzy,
seasoned by untimely revelry I spelled
my day away, morning of bad grammar,
came upon me noon, point your thumb
at life and death I will be calm.
The darkness I import from terror
is calm, a moonless fulgence chafes the wrists
of naked inexpert lovers. I am them.
I don't trust any of these assumptions
(you call them words, rocks call them moss),
they rust, they rot, they (what's worst)
bore the life out of night's sensate systems
that should be twitching with information
streets under strata reaching all the way
to the bottom of perceiving_ these words
mute meaning. In the lone glare of sound
we almost sense. In day we snow. Descend
further and the crystalline conversation
fuses to amorphous glaze. Then go down
upon that mountain; in moist deceiving
none beholds them there. Nor when.
It is an Alpine ornament, a scroll
of pure brass unrolled to jazz_
Montreux across the water decorous
druggy and demure_ and it turns out
to be dawn! The flakes of my music
on the contraire, burn in the sinking
sun we see from the cool stone of Chillon
looking south across the sheen to France
and you, White Mountain, for whom all
our Western culture is some foreplay
before the austere Enlightenment you guard
high on the Milarepa crags of you
temporarily subdued by tours. The distance
matters. Here Byron sat and estimated
the weight of chains, how hard to drag oneself
to the window too high to see from.
Here there are swans. I understood the feel
of stone against bone, the flesh a little
fugitive between the real. Or the star
of sacrifice burns above the lake. Or the beams
of Antares redden in the south. Or the dart
slips between the target and the air
in such a way some famous courtesan wakes
in a king's bed her eyes still full of tears.
Through them rough winds contend, silent
leap of seeing, so heap the known with breath
until she speaks. He turns from the window
and says "It is snowing." Rapid words
but she does not say them. Her breath is strong
but silently at home. We live in voiceless need.
Patterns. The lightning leaves a letter in the dark
and I have come to teach the quick of reading.
In these solitudes the crowded book of touch
speaks the name of every person. Don't bother
to remember. We have no business in the keeps
of such castles _ only for the color of the air
the old roof lets in, the broken ladders, the dry
railing of the tower walkway, steep ways of matter
we drag some years up. Innocently stone.
At home. On these cold days the vapour broods
over the chimney like a solid thing,
a blue remark that will not go away.
Over the snow one day of thaw threw sheen_
the old impossible sweetness of such words,
hopeless, unattended. The secret Strength
of things governs thinking, and what gets thought
(the infinite dome of self- incriminating witnesses)
keeps men happy, gibbering in heaven.
But I want more. I want the law that inhabits me.
I want the fire and the necklace, the fireplace
where green wood smokes and scorches
ominous magazines and a slim little birch tree
stiffens at the dooryard. I mean I want what's not
but only will be, and want it till it is.
The natures of the wanting and what's wanted
are just the same_ every body knows that,
in the thousand earths, and stars, and sea,
and stairs and starts and seats and miseries,
Galileos hurrying in sodden cloaks
to chart one more uncompromising star
on a shabby scrap of envelope.
There is only one measure. We are it.
And if to the harried universal
momentarily articulate nobody
anybody is who minds out loud
the nonstop imaginings that pour out
from silence, it doesn't matter who she is,
there appeared, in the eye's mind, solitude
willing to listen, would the other side
of vacancy turn out to be a lover?
13-31 January 1994