Robin Blaser
from The Boston Poems (1956-1959)
from The Holy Forest
(C) 2009 Estate of Robin Blaser. Used by permission.
The Hunger of Sound



I asked a man to consider poetry.
I said
Begin then with this image:
A child's head bends in the light,
slips like a star across a man's mentality.
He and his guardian cat reach for a word.

Among stars, a man becomes a giant.
Take this image:
                               the masked face of a child,
insatiable of light.
                                    A word found,
a child's voice—
                           this hunger of gulls
that fish from the broken edge of ice.

The child says, 'Draw me,'
and my hand trembles like a tree
first planted in chaos.
Hear the words sound a child's joy.
     What is uprooted:
Hear the wind howl at a world of exact proportions.
      A shape that was like him.
Hear the sound inhabit the mind,
bells in an orchard.
The words knock against chaos.

How measured a time that childhood,
joy and terror counted like marbles.
Beyond endurance, 10 fingers.
How measured the growth of the limbs upward.
Each word counted. The returning birds
or the new leaves counted.
    On 10 fingers
the flowering peach of the orchard,
each blossom counted and named.
     A child's voice
with the hunger of pigeons,
                                               '10,000 '



A lesson in speech, perhaps.
                                                   The grasp
d stone.
              A tink in the silence.
We heard it.
                      Part of a man
worn away in his clarity.
                                          This poem
skin-tight for his black body
in the daylight).
                                A night sound.
He is not against
                                even the chaos.
          turned up
          shouted out
                                    wakes him.
tastes the joy of a flexed tongue.
to his own devices,
                                    speech is given
to the fish of the water
                                        (in silence, speech)
to the snake by the highway
                                                  (sound in the dry earth).
Decisions, part his
    as we teach him
                                    the household,
the taste of milk,
                            and the returning
                 the mind seeks.
As if
The Man unsaid what he should say,
uncertain, kept it simple, direct
and downright, licking stones
to improve their colour.     Not the first time
; as if
The Wife damned his words
out of which came a new sound,
damned the long glass mirror
he could lie upon.

                             What to teach
even a boy about
                                  household objects.
                                                                   Red lacquer
flowers—a Persian symmetry—
                                                       on a brass spout.
Or a candy dish,
                              gold, with a hanging bird,
green and blue lacquer.
                                          Both in this house.
They bought him a toy sax
                                               for a household object.
A lesson in speech,
                                    perhaps.   A darting tongue
of courage.
                      Read Dante without words.
(By Doré.)
                      I try now to remember
what I thought of hell.
                                     A small head
bent over the big pages.
                                          And now
borrowed the terrible trees
the whole image of Dante.
                                                 His assertion:
that he did not invent Beatrice.
                                                        He invented
                  Bent to return the torn leaves
and cracked bark
                               to their wounds.
                                                           What to teach
                                                           of bright
bowls, of books, of fire,
                                            the magic salamander,
that a child may have there sounds stuck
in his growing throat.
from among the Germans, we chose a whore
to fill her womb with bullets
we tossed coins.
(glint in the air)
before we split a man's belly.
we had courage to stand in sub-zero air
and piss on the machine gun to unfreeze
it                                           'Tomorrow,'
the child says,
                              'take me to the sea.'
A boatman calls,
                               'A good catch.
A day's work
                                and well done.'
              lapping at edges.
                                               A hand
on the quick-silver.
                                   A man
returns each day with his labour.
                                                         What to teach
of the process
                               of the unsounded chaos
or the thief of speech.
                                        From the mouth
a stone has dropped.
                                      We begin a monument.
Unsaid and uncertain.
                                      It is time
to begin the alphabet.
                                         The lesson:
the mouth blossom)
                                    words so accurate
of agony
                   of chaos
                                      of joy
                                                we need not
fear the cat
                      will suck the child's breath.
             like our daily bread.
so sure
                that if stolen
                                      they will call back:
as if      (the word yelled, caught in the car window)
'A Bread-Bandit,' a first lover,
the wind beginning in the East,
the snake of the morning,
a quick uncurling light
on the body, and this man,
a monument to deeds of men,
hanged bloody now,
hanged here between mornings,
among these deeds
stiff-legged like a heron,




I asked a man to consider poetry.
He said, 'There is no joy in it.'
I was unsure in these sounds
and unable to knock against chaos.
Across clear sound the boatman sings
like a star in our firmament.
He bends to an outward journey.

I said: there is joy in this image:
10,000 blossoms to one tree in the orchard
counted and named.    The measure of childhood
was how many trees stood shining and white,
stood bare to the rain, naked and wet.
And joy in the small face reflecting
the white surface of the trees.

It was joy to tear at the earth like a scorpion.
The insect blood turned man or child god.
The small face shown    a jewel
or a leaf turning windward.      This child's head
twists.     A broken branch
on the dark wet grass.

I said:
            My emblem became a tree.   Stood
tall and could both bend and straighten.      Rode
on the hills of New Hampshire      a great hunter.
Ice-caught gestures of the trees
turn inward.

This is a gesture. The words stopped
there—part of the forest.
'I, poet,' the man said, and the child
measured his fortune.
                                       I said:
It was the damp earth.       Rot
killing the young pines.         Rot
feeding the star flowers.        White cover
of my childhood, like gathering stars.
White rot in the wood.

The words killed there in the blossoming mouth
are uncounted. The light of the body bends over us,
out of the bestial torment,    Dante's head.
The word becomes a star
or the image of a star
or star-fire in our limbs.

A child's head twists in the night
like snakes.
Your saxophone is by your bed.
Think of starlings and their sharp quick sounds.

                                                                          for Lars Balas