Nov 192010
 

Parable of the Three Fishes

This is the story of the lake and the three big fish
that were in it, one of them intelligent,
another half-intelligent,
and the third, stupid.

Some fishermen came to the edge of the lake
with their nets. The three fish saw them.

The intelligent fish decided at once to leave,
to make the long, difficult trip to the ocean.

He thought,
“I won’t consult with these two on this
They will only weaken my resolve, because they love
this place so. They call it home. Their ignorance
will keep them here.”

When you’re traveling, ask a traveler for advice,
not someone whose lameness keeps him in one place.

Muhammad says,
“Love of one’s country
is part of the faith.”
But don’t take that literally!
Your real “country” is where your heading.
not where you are.
Don’t misread that hadith.

In the ritual ablutions, according to tradition,
there’s a separate prayer for each body part.
when you snuff water up your nose to cleanse it,
beg for the scent of the spirit. The proper prayer is,
“Lord, wash with me. My hand has washed this part of me,
but my hand can’t wash my spirit.
I can wash this skin, but you must wash me.

A certain man used to say the wrong prayer
for the wrong hole. He’d say the nose-prayer
when he splashed his behind. Can the odor of heaven
come from our rumps? Don’t be humble with fools.
Don’t take pride into the presence of a master.

It’s right to love your home place, but first ask,
“Where is that, really?”

The wise fish saw the men and their nets and said,
“I’m leaving.”

Ali was told a secret doctrine by Muhammad
and told not to tell it, so he whispered it down
the mouth of a well. Sometimes there’s no one to talk to.
You must just set out on your own.

So the intelligent fish made its whole length
a moving footprint and, like a deer the dogs chase,
suffered greatly on its way, but finally made it
to the edgeless safety of the sea.

The half-intelligent fish thought,
“My guide
has gone. I ought to have gone with him,
but I didn’t, and now I’ve lost my chance
to escape.
I wish I’d gone with him.”
Don’t regret what’s happened. If it’s in the past,
let it go. Don’t even remember it!

A certain man caught a bird in a trap.
The bird says, “Sir, you have eaten many cows and sheep
in your life, and you’re still hungry. The little bit
of meat in my bones won’t satisfy you either.
If you let me go, I’ll give you three pieces of wisdom
One I’ll say standing on your hand. One on your roof.
And one I’ll speak from the limb of that tree.”

The man was interested. He freed the bird and let it stand
on his hand.
“Number One: Do not believe an absurdity,
no matter who says it.”

The bird flew and lit on the man’s roof. “Number Two:
Do not grieve over what is past. It’s over.
Never regret what has happened.”

“By the way,” the bird continued, “in my body there’s a huge
pearl weighing as much as ten copper coins. It was meant
to be the inheritance of you and your children,
but now you’ve lost it. You could have owned
the largest pearl in existence, but evidently
it was not meant to be.”

The man started wailing like a woman in childbirth.
The bird: “Didn’t I just say, Don’t grieve
for what’s in the past? And also, Don’t believe
an absurdity? My entire body doesn’t weigh
as much as ten copper coins. How could I have
a pearl that heavy inside me?”

The man came to his senses. “All right.
Tell me Number Three.”

“Yes. You’ve made such good use of the first two!”
Don’t give advice to someone who’s groggy
and failing asleep. Don’t throw seeds on the sand.
Some torn places cannot be patched.

Back to the second fish,
the half-intelligent one.
He mourns the absence of his guide for a while,
and then thinks, “What can I do to save myself
from these men and their nets? Perhaps if I pretend
to be already dead!
I’ll be belly up on the surface
and float like weeds float, just giving myself totally
to the water. To die before I die, as Muhammad
said to.”
So he did that.

He bobbed up and down, helpless,
within arm’s reach of the fisherman.

“Look at this! The best and biggest fish
is dead.”
One of the men lifted him by the tail,
spat on him, and threw him up on the ground.

He rolled over and over and slid secretly near
the water, and then, back in.

Meanwhile,
the third fish, the dumb one, was agitatedly
jumping about, trying to escape with his agility
and cleverness.
The net, of course, finally closed
around him, and as he lay in the terrible
frying-pan bed, he thought,
“If I get out of this,
I’ll never live again in the limits of a lake.
Next time, the ocean! I’ll make
the infinite my home.”

 Comments Off on Rumi
Nov 192010
 

The Speakers

“A equals X,” says Mister One.
“A equals B,” says Mister Two.
“A equals nothing under the sun
But A,” says Mister Three. A few
Applaud; some wipe their eyes;
Some linger in the shade to see
One and Two in neat disguise
Decapitating Mister Three.

“This age is not entirely bad.”
It’s bad enough, God knows, but you
Should know Elizabethans had
Sweeneys and Mrs. Porters too.
The past goes down and disappears,
The present stumbles home to bed,
The future stretches out in years
That no one knows, and you’ll be dead.

A Distance from the Sea

To Ernest Brace

And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was
about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto
me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and
write them not. —REVELATIONS, x, 4.

That raft we rigged up, under the water,
Was just the item: when he walked,
With his robes blowing, dark against the sky,
It was as though the unsubstantial waves held up
His slender and inviolate feet. The gulls flew over,
Dropping, crying alone; thin ragged lengths of cloud
Drifted in bars across the sun. There on the shore
The crowd’s response was instantaneous. He
Handled it well, I thought—the gait, the tilt of the head, just right.
Long streaks of light were blinding on the waves.
And then we knew our work well worth the time:
The days of sawing, fitting, all those nails,
The tiresome rehearsals, considerations of execution.
But if you want a miracle, you have to work for it,
Lay your plans carefully and keep one jump
Ahead of the crowd. To report a miracle
Is a pleasure unalloyed; but staging one requires
Tact, imagination, a special knack for the job
Not everyone possesses. A miracle, in fact, means work.
—And now there are those who have come saying
That miracles were not what we were after. But what else
Is there? What other hope does life hold out
But the miraculous, the skilled and patient
Execution, the teamwork, all the pain and worry every miracle involves?

Visionaries tossing in their beds, haunted and racked
By questions of Messiahship and eschatology,
Are like the mist rising at nightfall, and come,
Perhaps to even less. Grave supernaturalists, devoted worshippers
Experience the ecstasy (such as it is), but not
Our ecstasy. It was our making. Yet sometimes
When the torrent of that time
Comes pouring back, I wonder at our courage
And our enterprise. It was as though the world
Had been one darkening, abandoned hall
Where rows of unlit candles stood; and we
Not out of love, so much, or hope, or even worship, but
Out of the fear of death, came with our lights
And watched the candles, one by one, take fire, flames
Against the long night of our fear. We thought
That we could never die. Now I am less convinced.
—The traveller on the plain makes out the mountains
At a distance; then he loses sight. His way
Winds through the valleys; then, at a sudden turning of a path,
The peaks stand nakedly before him: they are something else
Than what he saw below. I think now of the raft
(For me, somehow, the summit of the whole experience)
And all the expectations of that day, but also of the cave
We stocked with bread, the secret meetings
In the hills, the fake assassins hired for the last pursuit,
The careful staging of the cures, the bribed officials,
The angels’ garments, tailored faultlessly,
The medicines administered behind the stone,
That ultimate cloud, so perfect, and so opportune.
Who managed all that blood I never knew.

The days get longer. It was a long time ago.
And I have come to that point in the turning of the path
Where peaks are infinite—horn-shaped and scaly, choked with
thorns.
But even here, I know our work was worth the cost.
What we have brought to pass, no one can take away.
Life offers up no miracles, unfortunately, and needs assistance.
Nothing will be the same as once it was,
I tell myself.—It’s dark here on the peak, and keeps on getting
darker.
It seems I am experiencing a kind of ecstasy.
Was it sunlight on the waves that day? The night comes down.
And now the water seems remote, unreal, and perhaps it is.

Interregnum

Butcher the evil millionaire, peasant,
And leave him stinking in the square.
Torture the chancellor. Leave the ambassador
Strung by his thumbs from the pleasant
Embassy wall, where the vines were.
Then drill your hogs and sons for another war.

Fire on the screaming crowd, ambassador,
Sick chancellor, brave millionaire,
And name them by the name that is your name.
Give privilege to the wound, and maim
The last resister. Poison the air
And mew for peace, for order, and for war.

View with alarm, participant, observer,
Buried in medals from the time before.
Whisper, then believe and serve and die
And drape fresh bunting on the hemisphere
From here to India. This is the world you buy
When the wind blows fresh for war.

Hide in the dark alone, objector;
Ask a grenade what you are living for,
Or drink this knowledge from the mud.
To an abyss more terrible than war
Descend and tunnel toward a barrier
Away from anything that moves with blood.

End of the Library

When the coal
Gave out, we began
Burning the books, one by one;
First the set
Of Bulwer-Lytton
And then the Walter Scott.
They gave a lot of warmth.
Toward the end, in
February, flames
Consumed the Greek
Tragedians and Baudelaire,
Proust, Robert Burton
And the Po-Chu-i. Ice
Thickened on the sills.
More for the sake of the cat,
We said, than for ourselves,
Who huddled, shivering,
Against the stove
All winter long.

 Comments Off on A Quartet of Poems by Weldon Kees
Nov 192010
 

Charles Algernon Swinburne

In days now past there lived an adamant old man;
His brow was calm, his eye unflinching: Death trembled
At the sight of him, vanquished by his satyr-gaze;
And Pain, that gnaws and gnashes, grinding with steel teeth,
Squirmed beneath his foot like a whipped, whimpering dog.
Now and then from his swelling heart a word or two
Burst forth, corrosive, cynical, appalling;
The whole world bowed before this aged colossus,
Hate along with Love, Evil along with Goodness:
To see him laugh and dream was to know that nothing –
Not Desire, whose sparkling eye bedazzles,
Not Man who roars, not God who trumpets and thunders,
Not frightful Virtue, scourge of the embittered heart –
Could cause the slightest lifting of his ancient brow.
He saw the world as vast, vacant, and unchanging;
Gomorrah bathed him in the light of its red fires,
And all of vicious Capri blazed before his eyes;
He ponders; and seems to hold in the hollow of his hand
That great lost age, now faded into ghostly mist;
Sporus, blood-soaked, in bed with Elagabalus,
And pleasure hidden within the deepest horror,
And the hideous baths of that grim emperor
Who forced ravished little children and weeping girls
To nibble his naked flesh like frightened minnows
And picked the fairest boys to prick and suck their blood;
The succubus who prowls and laughs among the tombs;
Semiramis swooning, pleasured in the stable;
And Lust dining next to Murder at the table;
And savage Sappho, fire racing through her body;
And the abyss: and love, lawless and unbridled,
That thing a lewd faun hides beneath his garments;
And the queen, beast-besotted in her appetites,
Panting in ecstasies of monstrous, sweet delight,
Mother of the Minotaur and Phaedra’s sister;
And dread Venus of Aphaca, nature’s monster;
All the blazing fires with all the vile rottenness;
And Retz, inhaling ashes redolent of flesh
And smoke of roasting corpses, wafted in the breeze;
Cinyras debauched, lying on his daughter’s breast;
All that arouses, resonates, thrills, and explodes;
The earth inflamed, a monster at feverish sport;
The heavens, a whorehouse painted bawdy blue
In which a phallic God lets loose, spurting and gushing,
His metallic juices erupting in torrents;
Where the moon cruises, hunting for satisfaction;
Where the mighty sun penetrates with brazen rays
And, hot and naked, shamelessly, ceaselessly spills
The surging flood of his prodigious blood-red seed;
(For sunbeams defile; the dark side of heaven
Is the foul, putrid bowel of the universe);
With a deep and wild look, he paced; and all
Sodom Sprang to life, dreamed its dreams, burned, and shrieked within him.

He belonged to a golden age, to ancient gods;
His presence struck sparks of fascinated terror;
His massive jaw hinted at enormous appetites;
He had an air of glorious, satanic boldness;
When he kissed, he wanted blood; he was voracious;
His wolfish smile gleamed, a gaping, dazzling rictus;
His hot breath blew like a desert wind, furious;
He called to mind Priapus in the garden shade
Gnawing his nymph’s bronzed nape with his beautiful teeth
This was the Infinite’s vicious younger brother.

Furrowing his brow, he saw his past come alive,
The Marseilles saturnalia spiced with Spanish fly,
The lair in Arcueil, unguents, and the keen knife
He used for slicing open naked, living flesh.

A bitter, cold contempt swelled his turbulent breast.
The Empire had caught him in its filthy clutches;
Yet, though imprisoned, he smiled. He had his own gods.
He saw and understood it all; nothing surprised him.
A fierce hunger stirred in the soul’s depths of a man
Greater than Bonaparte, greater than anyone.

Now, one night a youth – he was only twenty-two
Saw that pale, proud face, the crown of silvery hair,
Those dark eyes and the cunning, imperious mouth;
The young man trembled. That night he was reading Justine;
As if in prayer, he looked upward, lifting his gaze
From the forbidden page to the smiling old man.
Awestruck and amazed, he asked, “Who is standing there?
What sort of man is he? I’d like to know his name.
His face, the movements of his hand, bring to mind
The splendid, sportive wantonness of ancient Rome;
All the great ones, immortalized in infamy,
Who played the husband to women and the wife to men;
All the bedazzlement within the deepest nights;
The gutted gladiator, naked in the ring,
His neck crushed beneath the heel of an emperor
Whose beardless lips brush a eunuch’s downy cheek;
All that nature abhors and that a jealous God,
Craven and envious, drowns in a sea of fire;
And all that rises again, hidden from His ire;
All that Socrates dreamed and Tiberius wrought;
The lewd, salacious teat on which the whole world sucks,
And the roadside signal silently acknowledged;
The tricks a roving satyr liked to teach the shepherd,
And all that deadly virtue castrates and crushes;
The sounds one hears at night; whinnying and roaring;
And all that flows out in streams and all that glitters;
The unconquerable man, his lordly spirit all aglow,
Who grabs God by the ear, calling him ‘old fellow’,
Contemplates eternity and snaps his fingers;
Who holds quivering virtue sobbing in his hands;
And the dark blood spurting hot; and hidden alcoves;
And shameless women, beautifully disgusting;
And the laughter of the man sharpening his teeth
On smooth, pearl-white shoulders and hot; heaving breasts.
All these thoughts come and go, revealed in his bright eyes,
And in the curling of his lascivious mouth.
Who are you, then, old man? Whence come you? What gave you
The mournful air of a silent, beckoning god?
What superhuman hand placed that arrogant smile
On your pale and haughty lips? What is the meaning
Of the flame burning in the black depths of your eyes
Like lightning flashing in the night, enlivening
The drab face of things with bursts of radiant gold?’

“My child”, the old man replied, “I am called de Sade.”

Translated by Elisabeth Gitter. Published in TLS 2003.10.10

 Comments Off on Charenton in 1810. (1861)
Nov 192010
 

In memory of Warren Zevon

I

I want you to tell me if, on Grammy night, you didn’t get one hell of a kick
out of all those bling-it-ons in their bullet-proof broughams,
all those line-managers who couldn’t manage a line of coke,

all those Barmecides offering beakers of barm –
if you didn’t get a kick out of being as incongruous
there as John Donne at a Junior Prom.

Two graves must hide, Warren, thine and mine corse
who, on the day we met, happened
also to meet an individual dragging a full-length cross

along 42nd Street and kept mum, each earning extra Brownie points
for letting that cup pass. The alcoholic
knows that to enter in these bonds

is to be free, yeah right. The young John Donne who sets a Glock
on his dish in the cafeteria
knows that, even as he plots to clean some A&R man’s clock,

his muse on dromedary
trots to the Indias of spice and mine
and the Parsi Towers of Silence, even as he buses his tray

with its half-eaten dish of beef chow mein
to the bus-station, he’s already gone half-way to meet the Space Lab.
The Space Lab (italics mine),

where you worked on how many mint juleps
it takes to make a hangover
while playing piano for all those schlubs you could eclipse

and cloud with a wink. I long to talk to some old lover’s
ghost about the night after night you tipped the scales
for the Everly Brothers,

Frank and Jesse, while learning to inhale
through a French inhaler like a child soldier from the Ivory Coast
learning to parch a locust on a machete, a child soldier who would e-mail

you, at your request,
a copy of “ Death Be Not Proud ”, a child soldier who would hi-lite
a locust with a flame. If your grave be broke up again some second guest

to entertain, let it serve as hallowed
ground where those young shavers
from the Ivory Coast may find their careers, as you found yours, on hold,

where Tim McGraw and OutKast, not to speak of those underachievers
who don a black hat or a goatee
as a computer screen dons a screen-saver

or the Princeton sky its seventeen-year cicadas,
will find themselves on hold. You who went searching for a true, plain heart
as an unreconstructed renegade

must have come to believe, with Frank and Jesse, no hate could hurt
our bodies like our love. Another low-down
dirty shame . . . To wicked spirits horrid

shapes assigned . . . Every nickel nudging the nickelodeon.
O wrangling schools . . . O wrangling schools that search what fire
shall burn this world, had none the wit to smell Izaak Walton

pressing down on Donne’s funeral pyre,
yeah right, to smell the locust parched by that Ivory Coast subaltern,
had none the wit unto this knowledge to aspire,

that this your fever, the fever that still turns
the turntable, might be it? For every turn, like every tuning, is open,
every thorn a durian,

every “bin” a “ben”
on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Such a pilgrimage were sweet,
Warren, barreling down the autobahn

through West Hollywood
in your little black Corvette (part-barge,
part hermaphrodite brig), our eyes set not on the noted weed

but the noted seaweed of Nobu Matsuhisa. Those child soldiers who parch
a locust on a machete while tending a .50 caliber
Browning with a dodgy breech

will know how the blood labors
to beget Matsuhisa-san’s seared toro. At the winter solstice, as I filed
past a band of ticket-scalpers

who would my ruined fortune flout
at Madison Square Garden, I glimpsed a man in a Tibetan
cap, nay-saying a flute,

whom I took at first to be an older Brian Jones, what with his flipping a butane
lighter in my face and saying, “I shall be made thy music . . .”
At that very moment, quite unbidden,

the ghost of Minoru Yamasaki
(who had trailed me from the bar at Nobu) exhorted me to “Turn them speakers
up full blast now Lucies, who scarce seven hours herself unmasks,

is sunk so low as my Twin Towers . . .”. Brian Jones’s patent winkle-pickers
reflected a patent sky. “All strange wonders that befell
me while the rest of them recorded Beggars

Banquet and I was sunk so low in Twickenham, lovers coming with crystal vials
to take my tears . . .”. “I’ll do my crying in the rain
with Don and Phil,”

said Yamasaki-san, “I’ll do my crying with Frank and Jesse waiting for a train . . .
Those lines you wrote about the blood-bath
at my Twin Towers, about the sky being full of carrion,

those were my Twin Towers, right?” Brian, meanwhile, continued to puff
on the flute as if he were indeed corporeal,
as if he were no less substantial than the elder-pith

nay on which he played a hurry home early
version of “Walk Right Back”, the “Walk Right Back”
you yourself had played night after night with Frank and Jesse Everly.

II

I knelt beside my sister’s bed, Warren, the valleys and the peaks
of the EKGs, the crepusculine X-rays,
the out-of-date blister-packs

discarded by those child soldiers from the Ivory Coast or Zaire,
and couldn’t think that she had sunk so low
she might not make the anniversary

of our mother’s death from this same cancer, this same quick, quick, slow
conversion of manna to gall
from which she died thirty years ago. I knelt and adjusted the sillyhow

of her oxygen mask, its vinyl caul
unlikely now to save Maureen from drowning in her own spit.
I thought of how the wrangling schools

need look no further than her bed
to find what fire shall burn this world – or that heaven
which “is one with” this world – to find how gold to airy thinness beat

may crinkle like cellophane
in a flame, like cellophane or the flimmerings of gauze
by which a needle is held fast in a vein.

So break off, Warren, break off this last lamenting kiss
as Christ broke with Iscariot
and gave himself to those loosey-goosey

Whisky A Go Going mint julep- and margarita-
and gimlet-grinders, those gin fizz-
iognomists. My first guitar, a Cort, and my first amp, a Crate,

I myself had tried to push through a Fuzz Face
or some shit-kicking stomp box
till I blew every fuse

in Central New Jersey. At the autumnal equinox
as on St Lucies when sunbeams in the east are spread
I’d pretend the Crate was a Vox

AC-50 Super Twin. I was playing support
for some star in the unchangeable firmament
in which the flesh, Warren, is merely a bruise on the spirit,

a warm-up for the main event
as the hymnal ushers in the honky-tonk
or the oxygen tent

raises the curtain on the oxygen mask. How well you knew that dank
spot on the outskirts
of Jerusalem where the kids still squeeze between the tanks

to suck the life out of a cigarette,
the maple-bud in spring like something coming to a head,
some pill that can’t be sugared,

another hit
of hooch or horse that double-ties the subtile knot
to which we’ve paid so little heed

all those years of running amuck in Kent.
Go tell court-huntsmen that the oxygen-masked King will ride
ten thousand days and nights

on a stride piano, yeah right,
through the hell in which Ignatius of “Ignatius His Conclave”
was strung out on Mandrax and mandrake root,

ten thousand nights of the “chemical life”
(as Auden styled it, turning the speakers up full blast),
the “chemical life” that gives way to ten thousand days of rehab and golf

in the afternoon, televangelists,
push up and bench press with Buddhist and Parsi,
ten thousand days after which you realized

the flesh is indeed no more than a bruise
on the spirit. The werewolf with the Japanese menu in his hand,
keen as he was to show his prowess

with the chopsticks, realized it ain’t
that pretty, ain’t that pretty at all
to be completely wasted when you’re testing your chops, hint hint,

on a Gibson Les Paul
overdriven through a Fender Vibratone,
ain’t that pretty to crawl

to Ensenada for methadone.
Were we not weaned till then from Mandrax and mandrake
or snorted we in the seven sleepers’ den
a line of coke, or wore long sleeves to cover the wreak
of injecting diacetylmorphine?
I was playing a Fender through a Marshall rig

that was so massively overdriven
I couldn’t hear the phone ring, didn’t hear that excitable boy
extol the virtues of Peruvian

over Bolivian marching powder, that excitable hula-hula boy,
the Jackson Browne sound-alike,
who waited on us in Nobu (Nobu or Koi?)

where the fishionistas (sic) walked the catwalk
for as long as they could manage a line
of coke with their sushi deluxe,

for as long as they were able for the baby abalone
with garlic sauce. We watched those two parascenders parascend
off Malibu like two true, plain

hearts who struggle to fend
off the great crash – two true, plain hearts like yourself and Maureen
who struggled to fend off the great crash that has us end

where we began, all strung out on heroin
on the outskirts of La Caldera,
our last few grains of heroin-ash stashed in a well-wrought urn.

III

I want you to tell me, Warren, if you didn’t watch those two hang-gliders
and think of the individual we saw drag
his full-length cross through the under-the-counter-culture

of 42nd Street? 42nd or Canal? A certain individual, whatreck,
who might easily have taken in a 4 a.m. show at the Clark and got to grips
with the usherette’s leg in the dark,

who might have recognized the usherette for a certain demirep
who’d registered her domain
in the Adelphi, having already learned the ropes

from the old bluesmen
who played in the Blue Note. That must have been your first brush
with greatness, in Chicago, before the mean

streets of LA where your Moses met the bulrush
of Stravinsky and every chord became a cordon sanitaire
against the bum’s rush

your Russian Jewish father had given you in Culver and Century
Cities, your G major seeing his G major
in gloves-off gambling, and though music did in the center

sit right through that Wanderjahre
with Stravinsky, I’m certain it would also lean and hearken
after the jubilation and the jeers

of the boxing ring in which your father took on some cocksure Puerto Rican,
in which every Baby Grand cried out for a Crybaby
and the Everlasting Life we bargain

for was invented by some record company Pooh-Bah
who has forgotten, in the midst of things,
that every operation’s mom-and-pop,

your Scottish Mormon mother teaching you the right swing
against your father’s left, your common
G on the Chickering

sounding against the G-men
who plagued him about that pyramid scheme he set up in the Faeroes
with Mr Cambio and Mr Gombeen.

I want you to tell me if grief, brought to numbers, cannot be so fierce,
pace Donne’s sales pitch,
for he tames, that fetters it in verse,
throwing up a last ditch
against the mounted sorrows, for I have more, Warren, I have more,
more as an even flame two hearts did touch

and left us mere
philosophers whose blood still labors to beget
child-soldiers toasting locust S’mores,

the A&R men lining their pockets
while Roland battled the Bantu to their knees,
the Bantu who boogie-woogied

with Saint Ignatius
through their post traumatic stress disorder,
the Les Paul pushed through a Pignose

like a, yeah right, Rotorooter
through a sewage line, the A&R men taking the mazuma
and crossing the border

to load up on sashimi
with Yamasaki-san, a headless Childe Roland
coming to his dark twin Towers of Silence, zoom zoom,

those Towers the Parsis still delineate
as scaffolds for sky-burial, a quorum
of vultures letting their time-chastened lant

fall to their knees as they hold on like grim
death to the bellied-up Brian Jones, their office indulgently to fit
actives to passives in the doldrums

of the swimming-pool, the fishionistas (qv) with their food fads
having nothing on these rare
birds that divide

the spoils, Warren, these rare
birds that divide the spoils
with the gasbag, gobshite, gumptionless A&R

men who couldn’t tell a hollow-body Les Paul with double-coil
pickups pushed through a Princeton Reverb
from a slab of London broil

an excitable boy might rub
all over his chest, the vultures working piecemeal
at his chest like the chest on which a Russian Jewish cardsharp

and a Scottish Mormon broke the seal
as surely as one VIP opening her bosom made one Viper Room
an everywhere, every Glock sighing for a glockenspiel,

every frame a freeze-frame
of two alcoholics barreling down to Ensenada
in a little black Corvette, vroom vroom,

for Diet, yeah right, Diet Mountain Dew,
that individual carrying his cross knowing the flesh is a callus
on the spirit as surely as you knew the mesotheliomata

on both lungs meant the situation was lose-lose,
every full-length cross-carrier almost certainly up to some sort of high jinks
else a great Prince in prison lies,

lies belly-up on a Space Lab scaffold where the turkey buzzards pink
Matsuhisa-san’s seared toro,
turkey buzzards waiting for you to eclipse and cloud them with a wink

as they hold out their wings and of the sun his working vigor borrow
before they parascend through the Viper Room or the Whiskey A Go Go,
each within its own “cleansing breeze”, its own cathartes aura.

[Published in The Times Literary Supplement, June 2, 2006.]

 Comments Off on Paul Muldoon – Sillyhow Stride
Nov 192010
 

Cold eyelids that hide like a jewel
Hard eyes that grow soft for an hour;
The heavy white limbs, and the cruel
Red mouth like a venomous flower;
When these are gone by with their glories,
What shall rest of thee then, what remain,
O mystic and sombre Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain?

Seven sorrows the priests give their Virgin;
But thy sins, which are seventy times seven,
Seven ages would fail thee to purge in,
And then they would haunt thee in heaven:
Fierce midnights and famishing morrows,
And the loves that complete and control
All the joys of the flesh, all the sorrows
That wear out the soul.

O garment not golden but gilded,
O garden where all men may dwell,
O tower not of ivory, but builded
By hands that reach heaven from hell;
O mystical rose of the mire,
O house not of gold but of gain,
O house of unquenchable fire,
Our Lady of Pain!

O lips full of lust and of laughter,
Curled snakes that are fed from my breast,
Bite hard, lest remembrance come after
And press with new lips where you pressed.
For my heart too springs up at the pressure,
Mine eyelids too moisten and burn;
Ah, feed me and fill me with pleasure,
Ere pain come in turn.

In yesterday’s reach and to-morrow’s,
Out of sight though they lie of to-day,
There have been and there yet shall be sorrows
That smite not and bite not in play.
The life and the love thou despisest,
These hurt us indeed, and in vain,
O wise among women, and wisest,
Our Lady of Pain.

Who gave thee thy wisdom? what stories
That stung thee, what visions that smote?
Wert thou pure and a maiden, Dolores,
When desire took thee first by the throat?
What bud was the shell of the blossom
That all men may smell to and pluck?
What milk fed thee first at what bosom?
What sins gave thee suck?

We shift and bedeck and bedrape us,
Thou art noble and nude and antique;
Libitina thy mother, Priapus
Thy father, a Tuscan and Greek.
We play with light loves in the portal,
And wince and relent and refrain;
Loves die, and we know thee immortal,
Our Lady of Pain.

Fruits fail and love dies and time ranges;
Thou art fed with perpetual breath,
And alive after infinite changes,
And fresh from the kisses of death;
Of languours rekindled and rallied,
Of barren delights and unclean,
Things monstrous and fruitless, a pallid
And poisonous queen.

Could you hurt me, sweet lips, though I hurt you?
Men touch them, and change in a trice
The lilies and languours of virtue
For the raptures and roses of vice;
Those lie where thy foot on the floor is,
These crown and caress thee and chain,
O splendid and sterile Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

There are sins it may be to discover,
There are deeds it may be to delight.
What new work wilt thou find for thy lover,
What new passions for daytime or night?
What spells that they know not a word of
Whose lives are as leaves overblown?
What tortures undreamt of, unheard of,
Unwritten, unknown?

Ah beautiful passionate body
That never has ached with a heart!
On thy mouth though the kisses are bloody,
Though they sting till it shudder and smart,
More kind than the love we adore is,
They hurt not the heart or the brain,
O bitter and tender Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

As our kisses relax and redouble,
From the lips and the foam and the fangs
Shall no new sin be born for men’s trouble,
No dream of impossible pangs?
With the sweet of the sins of old ages
Wilt thou satiate thy soul as of yore?
Too sweet is the rind, say the sages,
Too bitter the core.

Hast thou told all thy secrets the last time,
And bared all thy beauties to one?
Ah, where shall we go then for pastime,
If the worst that can be has been done?
But sweet as the rind was the core is;
We are fain of thee still, we are fain,
O sanguine and subtle Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

By the hunger of change and emotion
By the thirst of unbearable things,
By despair, the twin-born of devotion
By the pleasure that winces and stings,
The delight that consumes the desire,
The desire that outruns the delight,
By the cruelty deaf as a fire
And blind as the night,

By the ravenous teeth that have smitten
Through the kisses that blossom and bud,
By the lips intertwisted and bitten
Till the foam has a savour of blood,
By the pulse as it rises and falters,
By the hands as they slacken and strain,
I adjure thee, respond from thine altars,
Our Lady of Pain.

Wilt thou smile as a woman disdaining
The light fire in the veins of a boy?
But he comes to thee sad, without feigning,
Who has wearied of sorrow and joy;
Less careful of labour and glory
Than the elders whose hair has uncurled;
And young, but with fancies as hoary
And grey as the world.

I have passed from the outermost portal
To the shrine where a sin is a prayer;
What care though the service be mortal?
O our Lady of Torture, what care?
All thine the last wine that I pour is,
The last in the chalice we drain,
O fierce and luxurious Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

All thine the new wine of desire,
The fruit of four lips as they clung
Till the hair and the eyelids took fire,
The foam of a serpentine tongue,
The froth of the serpents of pleasure,
More salt than the foam of the sea,
Now felt as a flame, now at leisure
As wine shed for me.

Ah thy people, thy children, thy chosen,
Marked cross from the womb and perverse!
They have found out the secret to cozen
The gods that constrain us and curse;
They alone, they are wise, and no other;
Give me place, even me, in their train,
O my sister, my spouse, and my mother,
Our Lady of Pain.

For the crown of our life as it closes
Is darkness, the fruit thereof dust;
No thorns go as deep as a rose’s,
And love is more cruel than lust.
Time turns the old days to derision,
Our loves into corpses or wives;
And marriage and death and division
Make barren our lives.

And pale from the past we draw nigh thee,
And satiate with comfortless hours;
And we know thee, how all men belie thee,
And we gather the fruit of thy flowers;
The passion that slays and recovers,
The pangs and the kisses that rain
On the lips and the limbs of thy lovers,
Our Lady of Pain.

The desire of thy furious embraces
Is more than the wisdom of years,
On the blossom though blood lie in traces,
Though the foliage be sodden with tears.
For the lords in whose keeping the door is
That opens to all who draw breath
Gave the cypress to love, my Dolores,
The myrtle to death.

And they laughed, changing hands in the measure,
And they mixed and made peace after strife;
Pain melted in tears, and was pleasure;
Death mingled with blood, and was life.
Like lovers they melted and tingled,
In the dusk of thine innermost fane;
In the darkness they murmured and mingled,
Our Lady of Pain.

In a twilight where virtues are vices,
In thy chapels, unknown of the sun,
To a tune that enthralls and entices,
They were wed, and the twain were as one.
For the tune from thine altar hath sounded
Since God bade the world’s work begin,
And the fume of thine incense abounded,
To sweeten the sin.

Love listens, and paler than ashes,
Through his curls as the crown on them slips,
Lifts languid wet eyelids and lashes,
And laughs with insatiable lips.
Thou shalt hush him with heavy caresses,
With music that scares the profane;
Thou shalt darken his eyes with thy tresses,
Our Lady of Pain.

Thou shalt bind his bright eyes though he wrestle,
Thou shalt chain his light limbs though he strive;
In his lips all thy serpents shall nestle,
In his hands all thy cruelties thrive.
In the daytime thy voice shall go through him,
In his dreams he shall feel thee and ache;
Thou shalt kindle by night and subdue him
Asleep and awake.

Thou shalt touch and make redder his roses
With juice not of fruit nor of bud;
When the sense in the spirit reposes,
Thou shalt quicken the soul through the blood.
Thine, thine the one grace we implore is,
Who would live and not languish or feign,
O sleepless and deadly Dolores,
Our Lady of Pain.

Dost thou dream, in a respite of slumber,
In a lull of the fires of thy life,
Of the days without name, without number,
When thy will stung the world into strife;
When, a goddess, the pulse of thy passion
Smote kings as they revelled in Rome;
And they hailed thee re-risen, O Thalassian,
Foam-white, from the foam?

When thy lips had such lovers to flatter;
When the city lay red from thy rods,
And thine hands were as arrows to scatter
The children of change and their gods;
When the blood of thy foemen made fervent
A sand never moist from the main,
As one smote thm, their lord and thy servant,
Our Lady of Pain.

On sands by the storm never shaken,
Nor wet from the washing of tides;
Nor by foam of the waves overtaken,
Nor winds that the thunder bestrides;
But red from the print of thy paces,
Made smooth for the world and its lords,
Ringed round with a flame of fair faces,
And splendid with swords.

There the gladiator, pale for thy pleasure,
Drew bitter and perilous breath;
There torments laid hold on the treasure
Of limbs too delicious for death;
When the gardens were lit with live torches;
When the world was a steed for thy rein;
When the nations lay prone in thy porches,
Our Lady of Pain.

When, with flame all around him aspirant,
Stood flushed, as a harp-player stands,
The implacable beautiful tyrant,
Rose-crowned, having death in his hands;
And a sound as the sound of loud water
Smote far through the flight of the fires,
And mixed with the lightning of slaughter
A thunder of lyres.

Dost thou dream of what was and no more is,
The old kingdoms of earth and the kings?
Dost thou hunger for these things, Dolores,
For these, in a new world of things?
But thy bosom no fasts could emaciate,
No hunger compel to complain
Those lips that no bloodshed could satiate,
Our Lady of Pain.

As of old when the world’s heart was lighter,
Through thy garments the grace of thee glows,
The white wealth of thy body made whiter
By the blushes of amorous blows,
And seamed with sharp lips and fierce fingers,
And branded by kisses that bruise;
When all shall be gone that now lingers,
Ah, what shall we lose?

Thou wert fair in the fearless old fashion,
And thy limbs are as melodies yet,
And move to the music of passion,
With lithe and lascivious regret.
What ailed us, O gods, to desert you
For creeds that refuse and restrain?
Come down and redeem us from virtue,
Our Lady of Pain.

All shrines that were Vestal are flameless,
But the flame has not fallen from this;
Though obscure be the god, and though nameless
The eyes and the hair that wqe kiss;
Low fires that love sits by and forges
Fresh heads for his arrows and thine;
Hair loosened and soiled in mid orgies
With kisses and wine.

Thy skin changes country and colour,
And shrivels or swells to a snake’s.
Let it brighten and bloat and grow duller,
We know it, the flames and the flakes,
Red brands on it smitten and bitten,
Round skies where a star is a stain,
And the leaves with thy litanies written,
Our Lady of Pain.

On thy bosom though many a kiss be,
There are none such as knew it of old.
Was it Alciphron once or Arisbe,
Male ringlets or feminine gold,
That thy lips met with under the statue,
Whence a look shot out sharp after thieves
From the eyes of the garden-god at you
Across the fig-leaves?

Then still, through dry seasons and moister,
One god had a wreath to his shrine;
Then love was the pearl of his oyster,
And Venus rose red out of wine,
We have all done amiss, choosing rather
Such loves as the wise gods disdain;
Intercede for us thou with thy father,
Our Lady of Pain.

In spring he had crowns of his garden,
Red corn in the heat of the year,
Then hoary green olives that harden
When the grape-blossom freezes with fear;
And milk-budded myrtles with Venus
And vine-leaves with Bacchus he trod;
And ye said, “We have seen, he hath seen us,
A visible God.”

What broke off the garlands that girt you?
What sundered you spirit and clay?
Weak sins yet alive are as virtue
To the strength of the sins of that day.
For dried is the blood of thy lover,
Ipsithilla, contracted the vein;
Cry aloud, “Will he rise and recover,
Our Lady of Pain?”

Cry aloud; for the old world is broken;
Cry out; for the Phrygian is priest,
And rears not the bountiful token
And spreads not the fatherly feast.
From the midmost of Ida, from shady
Recesses that murmur at morn,
They have brought and baptized her, Our Lady,
A goddess new-born.

And the chaplets of old are above us,
And the oyster-bed teems out of reach;
Old poets outsing and outlove us,
And Catullus makes mouths at our speech.
Who shall kiss, in thy father’s own city,
With such lips as he sang with, again?
Intercede for us all of thy pity,
Our Lady of Pain.

Out of Dindymus heavily laden
Her lions draw bound and unfed
A mother, a mortal, a maiden,
A queen over death and the dead.
She is cold, and her habit is lowly,
Her temple of branches and sods;
Most fruitful and virginal, holy,
A mother of gods.

She hath wasted with fire thine high places,
She hath hidden and marred and made sad
The fair limbs of the Loves, the fair faces
Of gods that were goodly and glad.
She slays, and her hands are not bloody;
She moves as a moon in the wane,
White-robed, and thy raiment is ruddy,
Our Lady of Pain.

They shall pass and their places be taken,
The gods and the priests that are pure,
They shall pass, and shalt thou not be shaken?
They shall perish, and shalt thou endure?
Death laughs, breathing close and relentless
In the nostrils and eyelids of lust,
With a pinch in his fingers of scentless
And delicate dust.

But the worm shall revive thee with kisses;
Thou shalt change and transmute as a god,
As the rod to a serpent that hisses,
As the serpent again to a rod.
Thy life shall not cease though thou doff it;
Thou shalt live until evil be slain,
And the good shall die first, said thy prophet,
Our Lady of Pain.

Did he lie? did he laugh? does he know it,
Now he lies out of reach, out of breath,
Thy prophet, thy preacher, thy poet,
Sin’s child by incestuous Death?
Did he find out in fire at his waking,
Or discern as his eyelids lost light,
When the bands of his body were breaking
And all came in sight?

Who has known all the evil before us,
Or the tyrannous secrets of time?
Though we match not the dead men that bore us
At a song, at a kiss, at a crime –
Though the heathen outface and outlive us,
And our lives and our longings are twain –
Ah, forgive us our virtues, forgive us,
Our Lady of Pain.

Who are we that embalm and embrace thee
With spices and savours of song?
What is time, that his children should face thee?
What am I, that my lips do thee wrong?
I could hurt thee – but pain would delight thee;
Or caress thee – but love would repel;
And the lovers whose lips would excite thee
Are serpents in hell.

Who now shall content thee as they did,
Thy lovers, when temples were built
And the hair of the sacrifice braided
And the blood of the sacrifice spilt,
In Lampsacus fervent with faces,
In Aphaca red from thy reign,
Who embraced thee with awful embraces,
Our Lady of Pain?

Where are they, Cotytto or Venus,
Astarte or Ashtaroth, where?
Do their hands as we touch come between us?
Is the breath of them hot in thy hair?
From their lips have thy lips taken fever,
With the blood of their bodies grown red?
Hast thou left upon earth a believer
If these men are dead?

They were purple of raiment and golden,
Filled full of thee, fiery with wine,
Thy lovers, in haunts unbeholden,
In marvellous chambers of thine.
They are fled, and their footprints escape us,
Who appraise thee, adore, and abstain,
O daughter of Death and Priapus,
Our Lady of Pain.

What ails us to fear overmeasure,
To praise thee with timorous breath,
O mistress and mother of pleasure,
The one thing as certain as death?
We shall change as the things that we cherish,
Shall fade as they faded before,
As foam upon water shall perish,
As sand upon shore.

We shall know what the darkness discovers,
If the grave-pit be shallow or deep;
And our fathers of old, and our lovers,
We shall know if they sleep not or sleep.
We shall see whether hell be not heaven,
Find out whether tares be not grain,
And the joys of the seventy times seven,
Our Lady of Pain.

 Comments Off on Algernon Swinburne – Dolores