Jerome Rothenberg

from A Paradise of Poets (New Directions, 1999)

into my own dark sunday light aproaches like the moon through feathers that's no sooner seen than sunk by blindness & the thought that everyone is dead around a city that's about to vanish as it has before sucked down an empty pocket oversized & with a smell of earth the bright adventurers of 1910 whose streets these were sharing a common grave with those who followed reaching even to the place where you and I are waiting with the friends who drop out one by one like cybermonkeys flying into mindless space

above a gorge we hung
& swayed
the mountains were alive to every side
stone witnesses
the air was still with only a distant puff of wind
we sat suspended by an iron wire
no one to talk to in the world
but you & me
a silence between earth & sky
that revelation
I think I prize its emptiness the most
so even now arrived in paris
I sit alone
& feel it bursting from my chest
rush of footsteps down an empty street

why does a well-dressed man come up to me & ask me for a handout?
(this is a dream, I think, it can't be real)
why does a smiling mother dressed for church reach out a hand to touch me shadows all around her sitting on the ground
why does she ask for help
& why do I keep walking walking past her
where there is no street or sun
even in paris on this hottest day in summer
what is the sound that comes at us around a corner sound of a wave suspended in the air of hives of bees of hands applauding in the dark

who is the man who wears a flower in his ear a shirt with many folds a vest a beard the buttons glowing like electric sparks
the more I search his features I can see his lips are gone his tongue is heavy hanging to one side & forming words that never reach me that the darkness covers
all the people on this street sit flat against a wall some open-eyed some sunk in a deep sleep
all are dressed up
the men wear business suits & blazers a cardogan a double breasted jacket a tuxedo tie & tails but have no coats or hats
their shoes are simple always a dark brown or black with marks of sand from garden walks in paris laces open sometimes without socks
& the women well dressed too although the hair of one is hanging limply with another's there are open spots that show her skull a third one has the traces of a beard a large wet stain under one armpit
just look at them & they begin to talk
the way that birds talk
feathers that the wind is blowing swirl across the square
we sit in paradise & pass a ball between us
papers at our feet
then when it's time to leave we walk around a corner climb the little flight of stairs & hear them following
the rush of music from a distant time a woman's voice becoming regular the words emerging low & high relentless openings processions
& it's picasso in the lead a little man with hairy shoulders he has stripped down to his running shorts like frank o'hara both of them now stars for minneola prep both now declare their love of evil
with apollinaire here too his head no bigger than a thumbnail flanked by gertrude stein eyes like a crazy doll's & someone looking like my father max jacob wrapped in a monk's brown cloak down which his body disappears
here in a world where there are only little people phantoms where the sky is not a sky the earth is shrinking daily under silver plastic disappearing slipping through my hands like balls in a pachinko parlor eyes revolving like red lights
to end here in la ripublique with all the other dead the hungry ghosts under our windows a soup kitchen for the dead the ones who run the ones who squat now on the grass
they speak our frailty the doom built into life decomposition chaos anarchy confusion worse confounded helter skelter squalor
out of whack & out of order out of kilter out of money out of time & out of place & out of breath & out of work & out of hope & out of power
because the men who come to us though dead are just like us & stare at us like fallen princes
we welcome you to death they say their looks dividing us in two
the numbers dance again behind our eyes
the circles break
the man holding a clock up to his ear will count the silence
every day is summer
what was once alive is gone
& what has yet to be alive
is also gone

* Set to Three Voices for Joan La Barbara by Morton Feldman (with text by Frank O'Hara).