Such pretty treasures so lately
laid up by acquisitive man,
the man manufacturer!
The planet I knew as a boy was stark
naked, but it filled, little by little,
with pulverized ingots,
the electric intestines
that hammer inside machines,
which a synthetic Niagara
poured over the kitchens.
Now in our nineteen hundred and seventieth
year nothing can budge
on the highways and meadows:
only brash locomotives,
big-bellied plans bearing down
on the end of the world:
nothing yields to us on the freeways,
no one opens a petal,
all collects in the sand and the
valley and strangles the bell-towers:
and blots out the moon.
under the gasoline;
all Moscow bulged—even
the birches, from the Kremlin
into the Urals, are dying.
Chicago got higher and higher and
then tumbled into the street
all of a sudden, like dice from a cup.
I saw the last bird fly
toward Mendoza, up in the Andes.
Remembering it now, I leak
tears of pure penicillin.
Thirty-two years to go
to the new century:
thirty-two heroical fanfares,
thirty-two fires to stamp out
while the world goes coughing up phlegm,
wrapped in its dreams and atrocities.
The tree of our bitterness
has come full leaf:
and the fall of our century
will carry the foliage away:
we watered the roots with our white blood
and yellow and black;
now our centennial epoch
after scarring our vision
with cast-iron hardware
ans armorial claws
wants medals to pin
on its sergeant’s insignia.
The cement in the street says it,
a bird whistles it out of the branches,
the jails with their rosters
of good men maligned
make it plan to me; my kin,
my irascible friends,
the stewards of poverty,
put it in so many words:
the epoch is rotting away,
stalled at time’s center
like the bones of a cow
with its predators gnawing within,
while out of time’s pestilence
comes a literature written by flies.
As carpenter-poet, first
I fit the wood to my need—
on the knotty or satiny side:
then I savor the smell with my hands,
smell the colors, take the fragrant
entirety, the whole system
of silence, into my fingertips
and slip off to sleep, or transmigrate,
or strip to the skin and submerge
in woody well-being:
the wood’s circumlocutions.
Then I cut the board
of my choice
with the sputtering points of my saw:
from the plank come my verses,
like chips freed from the block,
sweet-smelling, swarthy, remote,
while the poem lays down its deck
and its hull, calculates list,
lifts up its bulk by the road
and the ocean inhabits it.
As a baker: I prepare
what is needed—fire, flour,
leaven, the heart of the baker—
and wade in, to my elbows,
kneading the glow of the oven
into watery green language,
so the bread on the paddle
brings buyer to baker.
Or perhaps I was fated—
though some never suspected it—
to live like a blacksmith: the least
I would ask for myself and for others
is a metallurgical medium.
In this free confraternity
I’ve no burning allegiances.
I was always a lone iron-monger.
Keeping close watch on my broken
machinery, I move off with my junkpile
to some other uninhabited region
glossed by the wind.
There I dig for new metals
and turn what I am into words.
Granted: one poet’s experience
with manual metaphysics
doesn’t make poetics;
but I’ve pared by nails to the quick
to temper my craft
and these shabby prescriptions
I learned for myself, at first hand:
if you find them uncouth
for a poet’s vocation,
I agree—no apologies needed!
I smile toward the future
and am gone before you can give me your reasons.
All must be remembered:
a turning wind, the threads
in the threadbare event must be gathered,
yard after yard of all we inhabited,
the train’s long trajectory,
and the trappings of sorrow.
Should a rosebush by lost
or a hare be confused with the night,
should the pillars of memory
topple out of my reach,
I must remake the air,
the steam and the soil and the leaves,
my skin and the bricks in the wall,
the thorn in my flesh
and the haste of my flight.
Pity the poor poet!
I was always an avid forgetter:
in my two human hands
only the untouchable things of the world
and the power of comparison required
nothing less than their total destruction.
Smoke came like a smell,
and smell passed like a smoke,
the skin of a body asleep
that woke to my kisses:
no one asked for the date
or the name of my dream:
I am powerless to measure the road
that leads to no country, perhaps,
or the truth’s pure mutation
that might blow itself out in the daylight
or afterward change to the glow
of a firefly’s vagary at night.
I am glad of the great obligations
I imposed on myself. In my life
many strange and material things have crowded together—
fragile wraiths that entangled me,
categorical mineral hands,
an irrational wind that dismayed me,
barbed kisses that scarred me, the hard reality
of my brothers,
my implacable vow to keep watchful,
my penchant for loneliness—to keep to myself
in the frailty of my personal whims.
That is why—water on stone—my whole life has
sung itself out between chance and austerity.
I have a feeling I loved this poem so much because of the state I was in when I first read it: exhausted, hadn’t eaten all day, running on adrenaline. Maybe this is the delirious state that geniuses work in all the time. Whatever the reason, I couldn’t help but love this poem.
I write in broad sunlight, in the high-tide of the street
and the ocean, wherever it is that I sing:
only the wandering night can detain me,
but I gather up space in that interval
and store away shadow for time yet to come.
Night ripens its black harvest
as my eyes measure the meadow-
I ready the keys from one sun to another:
I feel in the dark for the locks,
I keep opening broken doors to the sea
til the wardrobes are crammed with its foam.
I never tire of coming and going,
death never closes my way with a stone,
I never weary of being and non-being.
Sometimes I ask myself: where did they come from-
was it father or mother or mountains
that left me these debts to the mineral kingdom,
these threads from a fiery sea?
All I know is: I keep moving, I move to be moving,
I sing because I sing because I sing.
Nothing explains what takes place
when my eyes close and I drift
as between two underseas channels:
one lifts me to die in its branches,
the other sings to enhance my own singing.
So it goes: I was shaped out of nullity,
like the sea battering away at a reef
with briny capsules of whiteness,
pulling the pebbles back with the waves.
However death works to circle me in,
something opens a window to life in me.
I sleep in the quick of a spasm.
In broad daylight, I walk through a shadow.
Poetry is white:
it comes out of the water covered with drops,
it wrinkles and piles up in heaps.
We must spread out the whole skin of this planet,
iron the white of the ocean:
the hands go on moving,
smoothing the sanctified surfaces,
bringing all things to pass.
Hands fashion each day of the world,
fire is wedded to steel,
the linens the canvas, coarse cottons, emerge
from the wars of the washerwomen;
a dove is born from the light
and chastity rearises from the foam.