Hourglass Years: A Poetry Anthology by Mary Susannah Robbins - HTML preview
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Copyright © 2011 Mary Susannah Robbins
And so a little has been accomplished
though not so an autobiography
could tell the difference - a rift diminished
there, and there greater uncertainty.
Books are blooming projected hours.
The pen turns cycles no life has told
nor been told - how little we ask of others
these written questions before they are old.
My sorrow and I are that kind of lovers
again though the winter had crystalled over
all but the moment that gleamed so crucial
it almost seemed time was my new lover.
I'm rambling and tired. Life seems a story
set down so lightly no poem could act
to bring up mysteries from the warmth
that will not yield to time or fact.
What is a novel? I've always avoided
words that devour in setting forth,
prepared to eat my own words, prepared
to distinguish life from what it is worth.
They say we are tending to write longer poems.
I tend to sleep less and write shorter lines,
but am willing to try with the best of them,
though I wouldn't take lengths as the signal signs.
Who was that vague blond Indian young one
who wants her poems to be secondary?
She can choose if she's lucky; my values refuse to consciousness any such hierarchy.
Let it all go, the comparing and growing.
Write what you can't dream and sleep out the rest.
My only worries the lack of presence
that makes the thought count - that kind of test.
O yes, I know it's better, and all that -
good and sad, that's what it is, good and sad
after years of bad and happy. Ararat
is a mirage, the water's where we gad
and a thousand seamews veer their bodies down
the air, and in that silent weight we drown.
Here is no sea to play in, and no youth
to bring us home rejoicing, after hours.
The snake we dreamed of has a human tooth,
Achille's heel's no myth. and all our powers
lead to the inlet and the murky pool
where years ago we played at love and fool.
Our blood's a confident saline solution
that says we first arrived out of this sea
experimentally, and resolution
has brought us back to nature admirably.
Yes. and there's something in the mind that says until we loved we wasted all our days.
Man's no amoeba, though, and must have thought
himself into the thickets and the hills
and built himself a contract, prayed, and sought, Promethean, a cure for nature's chills.
Are we abetting death by this dark ocean,
Regressing to an algae-like commotion?
My heart and body reach for wisdom's string
that always pulled me out of a bad place.
But thought's become a sea that will not sing
without my mind's consent and body's grace.
Here by this tepid, weatherbeaten shore
love rocks the waves, and we're a semaphore.
they are as intimate
as tenderness, and hate,
private, personal. limited
as something one might have said,
conveyed in undertones.
so that all soon may murmur at their phones,
and when they are revealed
they intimate the depths that are concealed.
distributed to some sweet few, or all.
when they are told
the voice is carefully neutral, soft and cold.
as Sarah Bernhardt
reciting the alphabet
excited violent passions,
these digits, in their fashions
convey al1 that is to be known.
and now, what of the telephone
itself? intimate instrument, closer when
one tells secrets than anyone,
so discreet, acceptable, non-interfering,
one trusts it with one's voice and breathless hearing,
"cradled," as they say,
or at one's lips a dozen times a day.
one is alone with it when one confides
what one most longs to hide.
dusting it, one finds it is all
people, squat, rhythmical.
a human thing,
at home with itself
on table or shelf
and the clasped receiver
will never deceive one.
It snowed yesterday, and the snow
resolved itself into a dew.
Today the sky is bright and low,
a weight of pressing blue.
My soul went out into the wind
and drifted down, and danced on high.
Today's light freezes up my mind
and I must once more cry.
The freedom of the heart and limbs
to take all paths, whatever path,
has vanished. The sun sings and climbs
in ancient love and wrath.
Yesterday I sang: the fall
of snow wept for some, but for me
its benediction over all
set my diffuse 1ife free.
Today I sing because the sun
sings louder than I can uphold
and says, It's all to be the one
of beaten gold.
It's nearly over, and I wouldn't have it
any different, but with ends beginning
something blocks the throat - I wouldn't have it different, but the heart goes up like tinder
particularly if you've joined the union.
It's a job like any other, I’d say,
though some others hold it wastes more anguish -
anyway, the union was in order,
not to let the inspiration perish
So, they brought in leaders,
made us sign a statement we supported
freedom and equality in hiring.
Only trouble is, what's freedom got
to do with suffering? We are all equal
to suffering. That's when the fire started,
fire burning all equal sufferers.
Sure I'd hoped for freedom, but I thought it
something of a state of mind, respected,
government-controlled - not like this yearning
suffering's let loose.
But that's the union.
1'll be back next year. My contract's good
three more winters. Only, where's the end
now we're all suffering together? Bed
with the women, beer among the men.
She was very prolific.
Night after morning
beside the Pacific
a crash without warning
would leave the beach bare.
The fraught edge withdrawing
caught her unaware,
where some snail was pawing
and clams sank, sand-bubbled,
the vanishing ocean
the glitter. fleck-troubled,
the silent commotion
left day half-ended,
night's birth half-stilled
while her wet pen defended
what radiance killed.
Lumps of music like gold stones
roll down chasms wet with fired
all the tackle of life's hire
burns like amber in the bones,
sears away a dream. Bereft
of flesh's impudence and sleep
here at pinnaces of deep
nightblue fire, sing what's left.
Codas blind with finish rare
as blood in heaven rinse our eyes
of all but light, and leopard-wise
our glances narrow: joy, despair.
Joyous and desperate, we narrow
a1l that's left into one flame
that burns until all is the same,
its echo in our shouting marrow.
The man on the radio says it's just one of those days.
I believe him. The sky is like a dark sack. The trees are still under the weight of the air. The horizon's combustible, dull orange under the clouds. I believe what he says.
It's one of those days when you can't die, or love, when words come instead of tears. There's no difference between night and day and the morning stretches back to the night before. If you say it's just one of those days, I believe you. I hear the swords clash in my heart with a muted sound. I listen
for some fine-edged distinction between right and wrong but the air is heavy in my heart. The birds' song -
is it weeping, or just some innocent natural glisten?
It's one of those days when dullness terrifies, and the sound of cars is some impossible dream.
I can remember how it all would seem
if it weren't just one of those days. Emphasize just. The radio says it will pass. Heavy-eyed,
what is one to go on on a morning when the power is turned off? Will afternoon bring a clearer hour?
I long for something to judge, or say, or decide.
“It's just one of those days,” and we all know what he means.
Wrestling with God for our souls seems a glad illusion like strength or weakness or blood, or rainy confusion in the field, and your scatters; flowers, and all those scenes.
My grandfather sits like a twist of lemon
in a cool full glass. His skin
is waxy, and the ear proferred to me
for a kiss is a dry drop, a flake.
His shirt is crisp, clean and white his cheeks.
He sits in a cool removed liquid
irradiate. The white sun burps
as in some foreign country his linen passed through tëns of years ago. He has become his cool drink.
In the courtyard Piaf throws it out,
all that memory of war dead. I leap
across the night lo catch the yelled agony
that is like a drink, half moon. half sun,
foreign hearts. emphatic loud despairs.
My grandmother would never think of singing
in their final arboretum, but I imagine
she is singing of accordions, we are singing
of bells and valleys' horizontal light.
The trees are tossed in the wet air of memory,
leaning against the clear white sky.
All at once, as by a weather-god's decree,
bodies and souls ajoin like the pale and dark
heaven that breathes on sense that has grown shy.
When the blue tears out, and we are overcome
with its richness, our whole life is in praising the sky, and our absorption into some
exterior, our rush out of ourselves
into a white glove holding a paintbrush, raising our hands with fantastic and courtly bitterness that we can be, and yet not be, the sun,
the same conflict, only refined, of happiness
that shuts out memory, laying image on image
superimposed, that life may blaze and be one.
But today the body is clear, the air is damp
and our words know themselves, that used to scan for outer evidence or inner stamp
of credibility or relation. Now we breathe
something the roots, the rain, the shoots of past years plan.
One morning last dream,
last of many variegated prints
of liquid black and fire tints
the patterns on the window screen
shone waking green.
What is this fecundity
my morning window silhouettes?
Light says, brace not to forget
afore astringent galaxies
for softer trees,
"Keep back the grasses,
keep back birds' song
remember all that nightly right and wrong
for terror and truth so sharp as
a hawk's wing pass."
Song, there sang birds once too.
All was not flaming iron poised
to brand the daylight without noise.
without weariness comes no youth.
Morning's colors weave the light with truth.
Sing, then, for the bird's flight
not without effort, though it seems to drift,
for the sun finding a beam to sift
in other rooms, for time's light
catching a moving breeze, a greener night.
Water over the dam - how it boils and rages:
pain of division - the river no longer a river
gay, sparkling, leaping up in dragonflies, the ages of life told in landmarks, the source, continuous giver individuates over stones. around turns; joyful stages awakening to the moon and the sun, the shocking, mellifluous quiver of life playing, descending to the cold darkness sages intuit. To find there, like some impartial-eyed diver, pearls, moonstones, treasures useless as wages.
No reward, no incentive runs the mysterious liver.
And then, to have it all broken, the sheen
cursed and moiled, dragging up mud, not a jewel, obliterating all that, lovely and lissome, has been.
To adapt, the water charges, "This was always" - a fool afraid to feel. So the rack takes it all, all it has seen and garbles the fresh, multitudinous, rippled, cool surface and depth, saying, You have forgotten the mien of joy says, Under my skin- joy is wisdom. Dual river, remember: save yourself, do not break, for clean over the crisis you will see your face in your own clear and placid pool.
The sun falls into the sea
and the child into his bed.
I must hurry to be alone
under the shadowed tree.
My life that was holding me
halting and slow, is done -
the last dark hours have sped:
I have said goodbye, said she.
Said he, She has gone away.
dried her dim tears and left.
Tonight when I raise the light
and sit before the fire
I shall search and inquire
whether the change is right
that leaves me cold and bereft,
reluctant to face the day.
Said they, We are driven apart
by time, soul's necessity,
by lobbing on what is real
and choosing of quiet dreams,
and we ache - yet something redeems
the wound and lets it heal
under the shadowy tree:
in the fire of the heart.
I have a heart open to all.
Where it came from I don't know
made perhaps of a spring bird's call
and the quiet sound of the tinkling snow.
Friends and lovers are scattered far,
lost in a dream or tense with rage.
I would call forth all that are
part of my heart upon the page.
The wildest, and the ones who come
to mind most now, are those that share
dwelling-place with their feelings alone,
and never know a man's care.
And those whose duty seems to lie
in creating an artifact of their lives-
their drama makes my heart shy
but in the end they, too, forgive.
Then there are the radiant, various
souls who turn from love to hate
whose interests beyond self-knowledge lose
all pettiness in their profane passion for fate.
All these are in my mind, and yet
one escapes speech, whose daily mood
is innocent with the control which begets
truth, and the deepest choice of word.
Those lives has given me many dreams
and the love of the dreams of my soul,
and have made me see beyond what a friend seems to what a heart is when a heart is whole.
Who wants this other rhythm?
Carelessly I throw it away
to the winds - it plays with them,
wet and sunny, any day.
The music in the background,
the music in my heart
are comforting to have around -
come take this other part,
anyone, which is not love
or tears, and yet remains
the evidence that life's above
what satisfies and pains.
Hauteur eclipsed in the gleam of an eye,
dark and white, warm and proud,
speaks to my heart that desires don't lie:
you are my fear, you are my sight,
and I must return to speak out loud.
The turn of a collar, the turn of a hair
are equal in this strange fertile land
where desire lies fallow and seeded by care
that falls from the cups that the tulip tree wears and I say that this time I will understand.
The spotted leopards of the moon
move in our talk running raging with fear,
and the fear and the seedtime are over too soon and the sun pours down, and the sad trees bloom: love continues, and parting is near.
Happiness glimpsed in the flash of an eye
is over before you nor I can blame
more than a hurt. and the heart knows why:
that mornings and hearts are never the same,
that love speaks out in rhymes and games -
all but the heart breaks; now we know why.
There is no everyday for me
I rise and set by poetry
and if the rhymes are old and bowed
the clearest sky's a thundercloud.
There is no everylove for me
each new face, each he or she
testing like acid on a plate
of time, rubs out or burns a fate.
There is no everypoem for me
each moment's a new anarchy
where thing and thought cannot forget
one must fall from my parapet.
There is an everywhere for me
my page is sand and wood and sea
and love and day - how should 1 dare
but call this table, Everywhere?
Because You Are Here
Now that the need has passed. now that the need has changed, how grateful the need is to be
evoked. You are the need and the fulfillment, the seed and the rain. You are the eye and that I see,
the hunger and the sustenance, but more. You are the cover of my heart when it is awake, that allows it to dream aware. Without you, I am laid over
myself, filled into myself, mortared shut. Without you I have neither terror nor safety, doubt nor certainty, sun nor shadow. I am neither awake nor asleep. I
neither remember nor forget. Now one
is the answer to all final statements that now turn to questions -
Here the mountains are the clouds
pointing from ephemera
toward where the silver light explodes:
days defy all memory.
A perfect past will shoot out here,
a child, respecting pointed leaves
as things of God that shine out there,
but not too careful where God lives.
What will its mother think at dawn
when rising to the mountains' white,
the dreams of clouds recalled and done,
she turns to where the cradle's lit?
Wind moves the cedars. All is safe
from fancy's ghost and fury's wrench.
Down in the garden, half to half,
the teapots grow a flowered inch.
The sky is bare. The leaves shout up
their cry to blue. The sun is low.
A child's preoccupied first step
rejoices in what others do.
What heartstrings rustled in the swell
when God touched man to his green world?
What great passion flower fell
when all surrendered as it would?
I think you don't remember.
Do you remember the rose window?
Do you remember the roses?
I remember your mother.
Do you remember when you said to me,
How I am bent.
You are bent into my sight.
You are bent into a rose window.
I remember a love and a summer.
You were not there.
Your mother bends over the roses.
She raises her eyes and remembers.
I remember a moon when you told me you loved and missed me.
I remember a moon when you told me of love.
Your mother sent me rosecovered nightgowns.
There was no moon the night I loved.
I remember a child and a mother.
I remember remembering loving.
Do you remember the white beds where we talked of love?
Did you know that that is where there was no moon?
Do you think my love remembers loving me?
Remember for me. I love what you do not remember.
I love you and remember.
a round slate of green
written on with morning
depends from the sun.
a vegetable zodiac.
or lamprey or electric ocean.
beneath the light. there is some miner
here or locomotive. light
brightening and approaching hard like
the softest vision of hell
one can imagined one's eyes are
not removed, one's tongue does not go
dead before the sight of that speech
fully-grown and flatly wizened as
a dark mushroom pressed in glass so
green the bottom nub is like amber
sealing wax, so round
that under its pressure
words have all objects.
The soft pebbles of words
succeed one another
tumbling like dew from the
dark. Morning silences
revolve small in the clouds.
The grey bark stills its tall
circular progress while
the branches grow straight out.
A high limb stretched across
the yard lets squirrels run
soft linear streaky like
We cannot ensconce the night.
The fire is put out now
that the motion danced in
lifts. The dispell of bark-
smoke like a gray bud dreg
the red flame like smoothing
still water falls out now
in cloud-like opals which
seen like words, now. all speech
passe drops through the bloom
morning clearing the path.
The sky from the labyrinth changes,
light gives way to black, and below
the cycles the monster arranges
repeats everything that I know.
But watching the clouds hide the sunset
I think, never darkness before
impelled me. I sleep, I forget
sleep, or run, or abhor,
but to dark I awaken once more.
In moments of sight I awaken
and think I have lived in a dream
which must constantly be overtaken
If I am to sing as I seem.
The mornings bring only remembrance
but sometimes, ascending the stair,
I greet and pass by my resemblance,
look up to the sky and the air
and see a new ancientness there.
The cycle continues to wander,
the spiral the monster foretells.
His laugh now is clearer and fonder.
I hear it through prisons and dells.
It is my voice, forever repeating
the dream and the morning's recalls
the maze of the world and my greeting
to memory, wakening, all
as they plunge down a darkening fall.
In shining beds of tulip leaves
lies my love
in grey beds of dawn's upheaval
dreams will move
the sun like water, sad and cold
My love is like a ferny spoke
growing like water at the tip.
A drop of pain
falls in sorrow, so full, too old.
Souls are forced from the clouded sky.
How can we
sustain a root in this empty
Here on the ground grey leaves unfold.
My love is full, inaudible
as the fall
of rain in reeds. The lake is whole.
The pearly water shines like gold.
In a white room under the rain
here at dawn
alone I wait for love again.
I've come back.
chilled at what silence the days hold.
Black trees stand against the evening sky.
Branches recline upon flaming space.
Black birds sing wandering on high:
May no fainter glory erase
pure joy from the wandering, choosing heart:
may choice be barren that does not lie
against flaming space till terror depart
and the heart stand black as the black birds' cry.
In impatience to ruffle the pool of day
with a random stone that the poet will cast
in idleness choice is driven away
while he sings that ripples do not last.
Speak instead to the strong black trees.
Their memory is longer than yours
and when their branches move, the breeze
does not weep for its brief hours.
All things get on, whatever you make
of it: the day drops to a close,
lovers and children at last forsake
their love to follow where the path goes.
The poet moves from sun to sun
and when at last the driving rain
wakes him, he sings, We have done, have done
with time: sorrow has come again.
The Toy Village
Afterwards, just past sunset, you walk out
to the main street of a town not your own.
Lamplights of fool's gold quiver,
store windows reel:
the covers of books and records
startlingly bright, incomprehensible.
This is a papier mache and cardboard village,
a momentary ice cream cone the only solace,
small and round.
This is a children's village.
Darker parts of the streets,
spaces between lamplights
pull you to yesterday and to last night,
when you were a child, and when
your childhood was taken from you.
Around a corner, three people strut quickly,
their laughter like thin coins
tossed onto an old and ragged street.
Photograph at Nineteen
Ilona has grown along
the lines laid down in black and white
under the flesh. Writing long
lines is like beachsweeps in sand,
her flesh now shows that in her
tree and serpent were compressed in com-
position's toil. The test of
time comes alone. Ilona
passes all with richest hair.
What time does she dares: fittest
for spoil is that which is ready
to hand. Time sweeps youth into his
fresh basket and preserves in sand-
heaps. Ilona grows, Ilona
dies. Black and white knows this, discrim-
inating her short lines that kiss
the earth from work's shorter starts,
longest life. Ilona grows.
The morning is cloudy and wet.
Pale rays shine through
the wandering Jew
back of love shot through with forget.
Under the leaves near my old home
dun pages curl dry
where I passed by,
I shall be back - yes, shall come.
In this too-early summer dawn
words alone seem
dew-hair on night's
Where I go, awake or asleep
leaves under leaf-light
half-dead, make my quiescence leap.
And if I cannot remember
lines of spring
pale leaves curling
somewhere whisper, "Now! - September."
His province is the human heart
He used to be kind to us,
making maps out of dreams, which seems
now, rivers high, but the lines not just.
He swore, in part,
to be true to each of us two
which is why it appears through all these years he didn't know me from you.
There is more relief in verse
than in death, he believed, but now
with bated breath the storm grows worse,
I watch as the trees go apart and bow
the stress and fall of that shapely bough.
A white fence runs uphill. Tincture of light
flows between the trees. They stand like night
against the stars. How are we cut off? What door swings in the underbrush and forest's core?
Hands of dawn still the birdsong. They pare
thin new leaves. Oblong the light, its tear
of watered silk. Pale in a charring wood
the sun is white and still as motherhood.
Silently, rose is gold, and luminous
as will o' the wisp this fence. The grey dawn's press on grass like footprints stands. The morning stands over the turning earth. The trees are wands.
To what use can our breath attach the dawn?
It comes so still, erasing what pours down
from burning day and all its sacrilege,
coal of night and the great moon's sucked-out wedge.
The woman sings in the next apartment
or perhaps it's the radiator - I don't know;
I'm so happy. I've just washed my hair
and I've put two little red flowers in it
and what is that memory out of nowhere
of putting something up something else? mother, I think, and the bloom's sure to go,
but at least I'll have known what the poets meant.
I'll go to bed in just a minute.
Avenues are my mothers. Holding back the sun,
the stone, the sky, they led me, standing there, looking down the city's gleaming air,
unrolled, patient, majestic, walked me on.
Old love songs are my mothers. On the edge
of sleep, and four years old, forgotten gloves, dancing in the dark, my last year's love.
They rose like moons over the window ledge.
Sorrows are my mothers. On the foam
the bells ring out for you and me. Soft hands
touched in my dreams a world of darkened sands
my mother knew. Roads, grief, loves were home.
Now I am writing my own tragedy.
and as I bend, those grey streets, lovers' songs, sadnesses of loss I prayed never to wrong
well and float from my throat unceasingly.
I wonder how I've changed,
what final difference time has made.
I wish I could say, Chance's trade
of goods is only a way my mind arranged
ten years ago what someone said.
I wish I knew what time makes
out of the thoughts I have before
the glass. Time's empty phantom corridor,
when did it begin? or are mistakes,
beginnings and endings, only the mind's breaks?
I wish I could see your face
as it was before. Dare I sing to
myself? - o precious you,
I cannot reconstruct the palimpsest of space -
do not erase your eyes. Their lines are true.
I think of a looking glass,
silverbacked, filagree and flowers.
a blunt pencil over covering paper, hours
of childhood at this rub and pass,
ending with the design that was not ours.
Fear is all of the past.
My words are burdened: eons, days
ago, dim sentences woke and went their ways.
I fear prose now. At last
I fear what does not live always.
Has time made any mark
Upon the wall that I would not have made
in time? Why am I so afraid
of the candle in the dark
when life is all I've said?
Come tell me how I've changed.
Daffodils are as fragrant now
and peonies in a plot tell how
to love, by others hands arranged.
We shall tell all time will allow.
I left off tears.
What silence returns?
how does it differ?
what sky waits like this?
trace of your beauty?
Now that you've got me, said Frances,
what are you going to do?
You can't complain of your writer's pain
in search of words. The shoe
is on the other foot today -
you woke and found me true.
And I shall stamp till your writer's cramp
lets what I would say through.
I'm bored with your lonely monologue,
self-conscious and outre,
said Frances Transalogue.
But listen, Frances Transalogue -
if that is your real name -
I dreamed you up on last night's sup,
and if you're seeking fame,
you've come to the wrong pen. Away!
I've only you to blame
for this morning's trauma that deathless drama
or novels aren't my claim.
It may bore you, but I can't write dialogue
so put up or shut up and stay,
vainglorious Frances Transalogue.
In your dream, said relentless Frances.
I came into my own.
I wrote so well on Raphael
I thrilled you to the bone,
while in a slothful sleep you lay -
now my talents you bemoan.
just because you're awake you can't forsake
my triumph, and cringe and moan.
Most art historians would write a catalogue -
that would make you pay!
said Frances Transalogue.
Listen, Frances Transalogue,
you're too big for my breeches.
You'd take over just like a parting lover
all my rhymes and verbs and speeches
if I let you in or out. You'd spay
old me - I know you bitches.
As it is I'm as wild as if I were with child
twelve months on some uterine hitches.
There's my interior travelogue,
it's as common as half-filled ditches.
destructive Frances Transalogue.
I see, said raging Frances,
don't believe in yourself then,
think that I want the things I don’t
to make you over again,
to change what you'll like to display,
to roust you out of your den.
You artists are likely to pervert the psyche
of the strongest muse at your pen.
I never asked you to write dialogue:
now look what you've made us say!
said Frances Transalogue.
I have waited all these long, forgotten years
for you to come to me. Have hoped and wept
dry sobs, for you were even all my tears,
you who were world, imagination, vision.
A seedling planted in my darkest room,
breathed over nightly by my shallow breath,
whose shoots turned inward. This is what I mean: I cannot tell my innards from your look.
Sitting and reading, no one watches me.
I become stale and drink you fresh each hour.
Now something is coming, Is it you, or I
approaches like the certainty of death,
a certainty, and one I never had.
I never cared for death. He passed me by
once, and the old flirtation now is dead.
Would it be so with you? Here is myself,
here, in the glass. My heart, alive, confused,
says one must have been beautiful to know
plainness. I am over, and yet calm.
Waiting has climaxed silently. I
am as though we two had never met.
Just pregnant with the quiet-passing years,
ready to render them to you, our silence,
slow-growing. thin: my lack of troubling dreams that make the nurture rich. A silent child,
baby of pain, whose mother's breaking voice
has yet to learn to bear pain's irony.
Quietly, I am plain. Perhaps these words
my mourning make. Something is coming in.
It knows the place in me that is its own.
No matter now if you are still alive.
My time for mourning's come, and I have known,
already, acceptance, compliance, to get peace,
which do the wresting and all rendering.
I have lived twelve years in the silence of the birds.
I have been at home in procrustean places.
I have looped my soul like a lanyard of curds
And cast after the Milky Way with falling traces.
I have fallen under the spell of the pendulous watch.
I have traveled in sun to the furthest curve of night And have brought back to the loom an irridescent swatch Of joy to set the hettles sure and tight.
I have seen a rose freeze in light before my gaze.
I have seen the cheeks of lovers pale at my unspoken heart.
I have known infinity in the squared board of the days when one day is like the next and every second falls apart.
I have loved bloody leaders and rust brick roofs in the sun.
I have taken hold of fear and let it loose in the grass to run like the field mouse free, and I have watched it run.
I have shivered full of leaves before the shadows pass.
Now the sky is whitening beyond the mountain snow and the fragrance of geraniums salts the stones' disquietude, and it is time for me to go where everyone must go sometime in his life before the night goes black for good.
We are organizing at Vassar.
We are getting ourselves organized.
We have stopped organizing our papers.
We have started organizing the students.
The administration is disorganized.
It says that all our organs
have no negotiating power.
They have only fantasy power.
Elie Weisel stood in front of the organ
in the Vassar chapel, saying,
I would like not to speak in the chapel.
I am not here to preach.
Culture has gone bankrupt.
The Einsatzkommanders loved Schiller.
What world have we provided
for you, the students? Art
is bankrupt without ethos.
The trustees are concerned about money,
about bankruptcy without ethos.
The ethics teachers are bankrupt.
The economists have seen it
all before. We are losing our jobs.
Their department head says he sounds
like a broken record. David
feels like an outside agitator
because he has lost his Job
I wish you would come to the meeting.
"It's different for me." he says.
Different for a1l of us, David.
"You're right," he says, and he comes, but I do all the talking
since I have not lost my Job.
“1 saw David at the meeting,"
says Susan. "I sat behind him.
His gestures, his hands and fingers
emanate from his armpits.”
I wish I had your perspective:
That's one way to make something end well.
"Well, it was from the back."
“The front is different, I say.
“He's very cute,” says Susan.
He went to New York to ask
the deputy comptroller
to pay him for a Marxist
analysis of default.
The illusion lasted a day.
He's looking for a job
I love him. I dream about him.
I eat dinner with him. I kid him.
I'd marry him if he loved me.
He's lost his first job this year.
At Christmas, tired, I got
a card from the Dallas airport.
Economics is meeting In Dallas.
He'll hear from it in the spring.
We are organizing at Vassar.
The administration says organs
have voices. The faculty has
a voice, but no negotiating
power. The chapel organ
is silent. Tonight, a poster
says, Can one be a Jew
at Vassar? We don't know.
We'd like to find out. Come.
8 o'clock in the Center.
We ought to go, I say,
then remember that this student
is not a Jew. She's a poet.
She writes what I've always written
the same way but better.
I've stopped writing the same way.
I've stopped writing better.
I've started organizing
my friends, my lovers, my colleagues
differently on paper.
I've stopped organizing my papers.
I'm getting together my friends.
The phone is off the hook.
The phone is busy. The phone
is ringing, I'm getting it
together. At three a.m.
I think of calling Weisel.
My friend Linda the linguist
is writing to Noam Chomsky,
not about the budget,
but about her paper
we're finally writing, together.
We've got an idea.
We're getting it together.
She was married to a rabbi
and during the divorce
she wrote him lots of letters
then took a vow of silence.
And who doesn't? I say.
It's different for all of us.
What should be the title?
Performance is Competence.
I clap my hands in the lunchroom.
The public relations director
looks in disapproval.
He has just lost his job.
Can one be a Jew
at Vassar? Mel Rosenthal couldn't.
Elizabeth Tennenbaum couldn't,
Daniel Bronson couldn't.
David Weinberg couldn't.
Joseph Lauinger couldn't
although he wasn't a Jew.
A11 of them lost their jobs.
Only my father's Jewish,
I'm applying for a grant.
Can students be Jews at Vassar?
Can students be at Vassar
if all the teachers walk out?
Can all the students afford
the tuition raise? They cannot.
Can the state universities where
the students will be next year
provide the ethos we're gaining
with the jobs and students we're losing,
or only bankruptcy?
We're concerned about life insurance,
and ethos for our descendants.
Can the students learns from the teachers
who feel it's too late for the students
and are getting it together?
That we'll learn from the students.
Can the teachers get it together
to organize together?
The classes are doing great guns.
The air is clearing. We're here.
Something we missed is gone.
We talk of these affairs.
"The faculty's learning," says Bill.
Why does it take so long?
It's hardly, you'd think, what you'd call
an effort, like learning to sing.
Why are we afraid to say "work"
when we make our students work?
Are we afraid we'd cry
as we make our students cry?
Bill says, "We're afraid that the donors
won't give if we organize."
That somewhere out here their banners
will furl or shrink to size
Or become larger and golder
and something we haven't earned
though we're growing bitter and older
as all the students have learned.
Why are we afraid to say, "give"
when all day we give?
Are we afraid the rich will become mothers
as we have become mothers?
The cart's empty on the hill.
the soft air's full of song.
What we're doing isn't at all
a one-sided thing
Or dark and at peace, or loud,
or for everyone - no one knows this
as we do who are sad
at more and more compromise.
Are we afraid they will become like us
whom we are afraid are not like us?
Are we afraid our differences
are afraid of all of our differences?
“Eighty writing students. Susannah!
Yes, one becomes very involved."
Because they're all different. I cannot
bear to see anything halved.
Binghamton's dropped its Russian
and its Geography.
Is there a black shoot pushing
up somewhere by the Black Sea?
Are we afraid we are all countries
as the Elizabethans saw countries?
Are we afraid it's only an analogy
when only another makes an analogy?
Bill talks of the beaten Bolsheviks,
I think of Chile, and Mao.
Bill says deprivation of books
is the greatest torture known
and hearing conversations
planning the death of friends
or others unknown. Suspicions
carry us to all lands.
Are we afraid they've all been there before
as we feel we've been here before?
Are we afraid of what follows
if we're doing what follows?
And to think that we are going to die!
Songs for my sister
This Fall is all Falls
and there is no Spring.
what need have we of something else
when this is everything?
Men say that all things change.
love dies and love grows,
but that love's no season
every woman knows.
How else could hearts heighten
leaves all red and dry?
Why else would all time remain
in a passing sky?
Who things that death and growth reflect
love's passage, yet can see
your face in every tiny branch
of this November tree.
Fall says there will be Spring
and Spring the Fall.
The brightest lightest blue
is but recall.
The high bare warming trees
remind us futures pass
and we imagine growth
in the dying of the grass.
We would abandon time
and live the present all
but that the winds of Spring
remind us of the Fall.
And when I think I've lost in heat
what time cannot erase
reminds me of your face.
I didn't say the bitter thing.
that love can never die
because a moment came between
me and the sky.
my heart is warm as summer sun
and full as April's trees
and Winter seals the promise
the heart suspects from these.
So if I love you with a rage
of bright and frozen trees
from Winter's crystals light refracts
all time in these.
And if love is so all at once
that the trees seem to die
it's just their clarity against
a bright December sky.
Lay the summer down
in sunlit trees
and the cold stream.
Play of love alone
what the wind says
in roads of dreams.
Down the wreaths wet
down the roads long
through the songshotten fields
echo of stones set
where dark wing
through heaven reels.
Down, mark down
drama of the fair heart
and hazel grove,
worth of ritual done
the gloom of love -
golden the night above.
The day was warm with black clouds and bursts of sun and I had the duty of writing this poem.
Duty to whom? - to the cicadas, those summer leaves dying ?
Anyway, it was all over, the light and dark all, over and done and morning had come, the rain was over and morning had come.
I had a duty: the cicadas, after so much trying aloud amid the thunder of light, with last night's rain lying in the air like a blanket to be spoken to were reconciled into the heat. Nothing was dying, again.
The morning, onyx set in gold, or that gold filagree of heat.
There was no singing left, there was no song left but to do: over and over, sang clouds in the golden street.
There was a woman
who all her life could stare
as though she saw not air
but something really there.
Laugh and cry, stand and lie, face to face with space.
And she could watch forever, as the best
can watch forever the faces they love best
and lose their faces in that face
and lose all times and places to one time and one favorite place.
And, being so,
she welcomed shadowy children down below
and pressed them to her thighs,
and all the time her eyes
were raised as though in grace
or to the presence of another face.
If she saw in the air the fire of wings
and fell the heat of angel songs
was it her fault the shadows flickered so
on the grave-eyed children as they wandered down below.
They laughed when the sun caught them,
and wept when it was gray.
She alone awakened to the fire every day.
And sometimes, in a dream,
the children saw the angels flit like smoke across a screen and call them to ascend.
But one child would always say, How will this end, how can this end, and scare away the flicker and the gleam.
And sometimes in the night
the darkness would be shattered with a light
brighter than the day, and calling them away,
but one would always say, It is late, we must sleep, hours are to keep, not to throw away.
Keep time, or it will slip away.
And they grew old, and blossomed into life,
and began to look for angels as the sun went down, and found none, and stayed awake, and were afraid of death, afraid the little light they glimpsed would vanish while they slept, and they would waken dead and dry to all the hours they'd kept.
And they thought they would make a song
to call back the angels and drive the dark away, but the pale ink of their pens ran dry
and instead of angels they sketched in the day.
Though one evening, as they wandered on their way, the air shone with beauty, and the clouds drew away and high above them they beheld their mother, and were filled with awe, and her face was a mountain, and the mountain laughed to the mountain it saw.
For a moment they stayed forever,
until one had to say,
If we stayed, how would it end, this way?
We could stay, but by the end the day,
we would change, we would not be the same,
and they went back the way they had come.
And the clouds rolled to below her lap, and she smiled on.
Who can you turn to
your glories are fading
your riches are gone.
How you must yearn to
while all in your court sing
the battles you won.
Who can you speak to
you who have lived more than
all other men.
Though your heart break so
torn and confused by a
wish that all life began
Where is there comfort
for you who have lived the most,
loved the most, wept the most
wished the most? - all
companions of common sort,
those for whom life is brief
love is brief, joy is brief
deaf to your call.
I go through one more Fall with you,
eyes grey as mist, damp air clinging
to my bones in a shudder. One more Fall
of old despair after secret meetings, old dreams, paths where your foot has trod. The season
comes suddenly, quietly, and I know as I hold my heart that time is your time, and that I never
will see yellow leaves without remembrance of you.
I go through one more Fall without you.
I sacrifice this light to your praise
god of day, gold beams stirring,
gold bells ringing,
your averted face.
I might make this day
song to myself or to him
gold in feature and limb.
the bell-like things he says.
Eyes as clear as dawn
may look on each other unafraid.
But I choose to say the things unsaid,
at dusk to fear nothing undone.
From a far world passionate and dim,
dream-tossed and cool in the early room,
rising in the mist to see the colors of creation raging in the palette of the sun-drenched king.
Grey grass, sharp-edged, plaits the hillside.
Dew webs burn in the valleys of the lawn.
High, the wild birth-chase, crimson and black.
Violet fingers stretching back along the wall.
Cold in the cold beginning, straight from night, the stones'
dumb fear. Old things at sunrise huddle against the shock.
But the hayfields open to the winnowing rays.
The grass curls green in the bathing witchery.
Drifting and dark, the waking house conceals
A sunlit stone deep in the kitchen wall.
Labor Day Inland
The summer eddies this end as the ocean
pours into crevices starfish-eyed.
Resurgence and fulgence, seawhite motion
pours to and fro, and nothing is to hide
in the rocks, or the seagulls' glorious commotion, the beat of the sea's translucent tide.
Visions float under the passage,
clear for eyes to absorb with wonder.
Sea horse with its manly carriage,
frail anemones brushed asunder,
while some passing crab makes portage
over the rocks that boom with thunder.
At these finishes, convolved as sea-
cloven conches, why do we remember
sistole and diastole
of water live as a burning ember?
These glittering reaches carry me,
eyes wide, into September.
the snow in the eclipse of trees
is silent as a tree or moon
or any featherweight sun
the trees close.
between eclipses time closes,
the moth with wings too frail to see
except at night, ephemerae
whose stretching and unstretching
in me each eclipse of trees
snow, suns that blot, chose
small times that make eclipse of those:
you test infinities.
I wish that this were new to me,
but love is never new. And never old
growing like a turbulent tree
and no more capable of being told
over than the night that drops
and in the morning lifts a cover.
it's your morning, that is to say
where the leaves
your arm's dark. what life,
what caress since
on me like wind through grain
over, love, again?
that's what I was thinking of
how the light remains
Quarreling at a knot
shows lack of vision - the rosestem
meets a turn, hesitates, builds up
back power, enters, succumbs,
thickens, twists, and out of turgid necessity
moves on, unafraid of the thorn
marking the struggle.
What's a little bitter confounding
to all the blossoms? Flowers don't fade
out of delicacy, nor refuse to bloom
because of a hard winter.
Sap boils in the spring to push
one more lattice into flesh.
A knot, a thrust, a thorn -
the frailest cloud-pink petal wouldn't
deny its roots pulling through the half-thawed ground: human propriety can hardly expect
longevity of soul if it can't face
as much innocence and beauty.
I'm sick of all these Goddamned Catholics.
A woman at my rooming house last night
said, “Girls, life is passing you by.
The lights of Boston glimmer low and bright.
If I were your age, why
I'd go out and grab it by the tail.”
In my mind a recollection clicks,
a poem I wrote about a cat and mouse
and the night wind circling around this house.
I like her because I could never be like her
(If I told you the truth once, would you believe my lies?) I am trying hard not to psyche her
out in any sense. No one near her cries.
The word that she's divorced is only rumor.
She's Catholic, a pagan sense of humor.
"l'm going to 'Masculine and Feminine,' so don't fuss."
She, largely, “Some of each in all of us.”
Declaration of Independence of all Self-evident Truths wait a minute, us, be fair: it's our problem, too.
be generous: why should men get all the glory?
be tactful: listen to our side of the story.
be kind: why should men have more learning to live through?
be intellectual: we know they're in our minds and hearts.
be analytical: we understand what we do and they do.
be reasonable: do we want them to say again, it's all you?
be sensible: we love them, that's not what keeps us all apart.
be angry: we understand. that's why we're so mad.
be bitter: men are: is it a privilege?
be disappointed: we're all sorry there's no cutting edge.
be brave: we always thought it was all of our problem: was that so bad?
be familiar: remember how we always thought they were?
be trusting: why do we think we thought that? our madness?
be reverent: we always knew there were things beyond sadness and gladness.
be afraid: without that we might think it was all them, that fear.
don't write of the ocean's need for a grammar: find ours.
or see truth in an unsung lullaby: babies don't.
or reduce all sense to our sex: what do we think men want?
or say it's all someone else's fantasy: what powers!
our problem: we see if we see it all we ought to show it and that if we know something, that's how we know they know it.
I am afraid to touch
Even so small a thing, so am27l and self-protected As a snail, fearing my fire
will wash off from my hands
on his grey, curved back,
fearing his cold and slowness
will melt into my veins, bringing his lack of life.
I am afraid to catch his motion with my mind,
fearing his destination.
His house, you know, is a grey graveyard
where my spirit could curve and die.
I am ashamed of my hands
before his one foot, stopping and stopping,
no relief from its constant toil.
I am ashamed before his moving feelers
anxious he should not see me.
To be seen by a snail, I think,
would be a terrible fright.
My own hands seem bloody
Before his bloodlessness.
Before the barrenness of his carved barrack
my faith reproves my home.
I am ashamed to be seen with him
he is so much my brother
feeding on leaves and the limbs of trees
after my fashion. My impulse is
to run with the snail and forget the course of the sun.
We are both so weary and so patient with retreating our minds each with its blinders.
My mind is so blind to the sides of my living
even a snail is a threat to my being.
It had to be true, verifiable
by others, or by some objective evidence,
you, that I loved: when you had not changed,
or changed, I thought no more. But loved still
as the field shadowless yet real
where then out of the ground grew
we that shadows slew and said so
speaking at the top of the wheat in the twilight the echoing of a further sunrise.
Childe Harold in Albany
Now it's Sunday morning, and I dreamed last night, finally - in fact., awoke saying aloud,
"Where's someone who can play a good hotel?"
Oh, when one's life all comes together well
at night, what use the day? - hardly to write
it all down (dreams, prevent my growing proud!) and still, the graying trees are not so stark
as one might wish, the streaked sky hardly poised against a question. "Where's someone who can forego analysis? where's the happy man
who'll build against this cubit flood, whose ark reflects no wonder at command or voice?"
My head's a good hotel, half-filled with dreams at check-out time (eleven) when I wake.
yet keeping a right register of rooms
and roommates. so that when the night returns
if all connections, good and ill, still deem
its floors fit place to mate, I won't mistake
heaven for long life, nor mistake the bath
for a product of two faucets, pipes and stopper -
night's backdrop of connection's a linked curtain against which full rooms and mild lights can play. I'm certain no autumn sky's branches of bolted black
express a juxtapositon half so proper.
in fact, today's grey, and my own hand draws
its own connections in the tepid sky.
I'd like, you know, life without effort, dreams that come from everywhere. It always seems,
however, that a new influx of laws,
material con metaphysic, try
our senses as young stags will try their horns
on trees; no one will win, young points grow peaked, roots weak, by this symbolic trial. Then what
shall we have for a coda? To, or not
to's not sufficient: the laws' symbols warn
that all our actions all to clearly speak.
Then act as though action's a good hotel.
or say an arm's a tree, scattering connections.
or what you will of it. I'm out of dreams
with all this urge to flood the joints and beams till they say, we are good, we are made well....
If all this could lead into some prediction!
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