The Archer is wake! The Swan is flying! Gold against blue An Arrow is lying. There is hunting in heaven— Sleep safe till to-morrow.
The Bears are abroad! The Eagle is screaming! Gold against blue Their eyes are gleaming! Sleep! Sleep safe till to-morrow.
The Sisters lie With their arms intertwining; Gold against blue Their hair is shining! The Serpent writhes! Orion is listening! Gold against blue His sword is glistening! Sleep! There is hunting in heaven— Sleep safe till to-morrow.
Now that I have cooled to you Let there be gold of tarnished masonry, Temples soothed by the sun to ruin That sleep utterly. Give me hand for the dances, Ripples at Philae, in and out, And lips, my Lesbian, Wall flowers that once were flame.
Your hair is my Carthage And my arms the bow, And our words arrows To shoot the stars Who from that misty sea Swarm to destroy us.
But you there beside me— Oh how shall I defy you, Who wound me in the night With breasts shining Like Venus and like Mars? The night that is shouting Jason When the loud eaves rattle As with waves above me Blue at the prow of my desire.
Lady of dusk wood fastnesses, Thou art my Lady. I have known the crisp splintering leaf-tread with thee on before, White, slender through green saplings; I have lain by thee on the grey forest floor Beside thee, my Lady.
Lady of rivers strewn with stones, Only thou art my Lady. Where thousand the freshets are crowded like peasants to a fair; Clear skinned, wild from seclusion, They jostle white armed down the tent-bordered thoroughfare Praising my Lady.
Elvira, by love’s grace There goeth before you A clear radiance Which maketh all vain souls Candles when noon is.
The loud clangour of pretenders Melteth before you Like the roll of carts passing, But you come silently And homage is given.
Now the little by-path Which leadeth to love Is again joyful with its many; And the great highway From love Is without passers.
The Fool’s Song
I tried to put a bird in a cage. O fool that I am! For the bird was Truth. Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put Truth in a cage!
And when I had the bird in the cage, O fool that I am! Why, it broke my pretty cage. Sing merrily, Truth; I tried to put Truth in a cage!
And when the bird was flown from the cage, O fool that I am! Why, I had nor bird nor cage. Sing merrily, Truth: I tried to put Truth in a cage! Heigh-ho! Truth in a cage.
From “The Birth of Venus,” Song
Come with us and play! See, we have breasts as women! From your tents by the sea Come play with us: it is forbidden!
Come with us and play! Lo, bare, straight legs in the water! By our boats we stay, Then swimming away Come to us: it is forbidden!
Come with us and play! See, we are tall as women! Our eyes are keen: Our hair is bright: Our voices speak outright: We revel in the sea’s green! Come play: It is forbidden!
Yes, there is one thing braver than all flowers; Richer than clear gems; wider than the sky; Immortal and unchangeable; whose powers Transcend reason, love and sanity!
And thou, beloved, art that godly thing! Marvellous and terrible; in glance An injured Juno roused against Heaven’s King! And thy name, lovely One, is Ignorance.
Take that, damn you; and that! And here’s a rose To make it right again! God knows I’m sorry, Grace; but then, It’s not my fault if you will be a cat.
An After Song
So art thou broken in upon me, Apollo, Through a splendour of purple garments— Held by the yellow-haired Clymène To clothe the white of thy shoulders— Bare from the day’s leaping of horses. This is strange to me, here in the modern twilight.
Mother of flames, The men that went ahunting Are asleep in the snow drifts. You have kept the fire burning! Crooked fingers that pull Fuel from among the wet leaves, Mother of flames You have kept the fire burning! The young wives have fallen asleep With wet hair, weeping, Mother of flames! The young men raised the heavy spears And are gone prowling in the darkness. O mother of flames, You who have kept the fire burning! Lo, I am helpless! Would God they had taken me with them!
O Crimson salamander, Because of love’s whim sacred! Swim the winding flame Predestined to disman him And bring our fellow home to us again.
Swim in with watery fang, Gnaw out and drown The fire roots that circle him Until the Hell-flower dies down And he comes home again.
Aye, bring him home, O crimson salamander, That I may see he is unchanged with burning— Then have your will with him, O crimson salamander.
The Death of Franco of Cologne: His Prophecy of Beethoven
It is useless, good woman, useless: the spark fails me. God! yet when the might of it all assails me It seems impossible that I cannot do it. Yet I cannot. They were right, and they all knew it Years ago, but I—never! I have persisted Blindly (they say) and now I am old. I have resisted Everything, but now, now the strife’s ended. The fire’s out; the old cloak has been mended For the last time, the soul peers through its tatters. Put a light by and leave me; nothing more matters Now; I am done; I am at last well broken! Yet, by God, I’ll still leave them a token That they’ll swear it was no dead man writ it; A morsel that they’ll mark well the day they bit it, That there’ll be sand between their gross teeth to crunch yet When goodman Gabriel blows his concluding trumpet. Leave me! And now, little black eyes, come you out here! Ah, you’ve given me a lively, lasting bout, year After year to win you round me darlings! Precious children, little gambollers! “farlings” They might have called you once, “nearlings” I call you now, I, first of all the yearlings, Upon this plain, for I it was that tore you Out of chaos! It was I bore you! Ah, you little children that go playing Over the five-barred gate, and will still be straying Spite of all that I have ever told you Of counterpoint and cadence which does not hold you— No more than chains will for this or that strange reason, But you’re always at some new loving treason To be away from me, laughing, mocking, Witlessly, perhaps, but for all that forever knocking At this stanchion door of your poor father’s heart till—oh, well At least you’ve shown that you can grow well However much you evade me faster, faster. But, black eyes, some day you’ll get a master, For he will come! He shall, he must come! And when he finishes and the burning dust from His wheels settles—what shall men see then? You, you, you, my own lovely children! Aye, all of you, thus with hands together Playing on the hill or there in a tether, Or running free, but all mine! Aye, my very namesakes Shall be his proper fame’s stakes. And he shall lead you! And he shall meed you! And he shall build you gold palaces! And he shall wine you from clear chalices! For I have seen it! I have seen it Written where the world-clouds screen it From other eyes Over the bronze gates of paradise!
Red cradle of the night, In you The dusky child Sleeps fast till his might Shall be piled Sinew on sinew.
Red cradle of the night, The dusky child Sleeping sits upright. Lo how The winds blow now! He pillows back; The winds are again mild.
When he stretches his arms out, Red cradle of the night, The alarms shout From bare tree to tree, Wild In afright! Mighty shall he be, Red cradle of the night, The dusky child!!
Miserly, is the best description of that poor fool Who holds Lancelot to have been a morose fellow, Dolefully brooding over the events which had naturally to follow The high time of his deed with Guinevere. He has a sick historical sight, if I judge rightly, To believe any such thing as that ever occurred. But, by the god of blood, what else is it that has deterred Us all from an out and out defiance of fear But this same perdamnable miserliness, Which cries about our necks how we shall have less and less Than we have now if we spend too wantonly?
Bah, this sort of slither is below contempt!
In the same vein we should have apple trees exempt From bearing anything but pink blossoms all the year, Fixed permanent lest their bellies wax unseemly, and the dear Innocent days of them be wasted quite.
How can we have less? Have we not the deed?
Lancelot thought little, spent his gold and rode to fight Mounted, if God was willing, on a good steed.
Still I bring flowers Although you fling them at my feet Until none stays That is not struck across with wounds: Flowers and flowers That you may break them utterly As you have always done.
Sure happily I still bring flowers, flowers, Knowing how all Are crumpled in your praise And may not live To speak a lesser thing.
Translations from the Spanish, “El Romancero”
Although you do your best to regard me With an air seeming offended, Never can you deny, when all’s ended, Calm eyes, that you did regard me.
However much you’re at pains to Offend me, by which I may suffer, What offence is there can make up for The great good he finds who attains you? For though with mortal fear you reward me, Until my sorry sense is plenished, Never can you deny, when all’s ended, Calm eyes, that you did regard me.
Thinking thus to dismay me You beheld me with disdain, But instead of destroying the gain, In fact with doubled good you paid me. For though you show them how hardly They keep off from leniency bended, Never can you deny, when all’s ended, Calm eyes, that you did regard me.
Ah, little green eyes, Ah, little eyes of mine, Ah, Heaven be willing That you think of me somewise.
The day of departure You came full of grieving And to see I was leaving The tears ‘gan to start sure With the heavy torture Of sorrows unbrightened When you lie down at night and When there to you dreams rise, Ah, Heaven be willing That you think of me somewise.
Deep is my assurance Of you, little green eyes, That in truth you realise Something of my durance Eyes of hope’s fair assurance And good premonition By virtue of whose condition All green colours I prize. Ah, Heaven be willing That you think of me somewise.
Would God I might know you To which quarter bended And why comprehended When sighings overflow you, And if you must go through Some certain despair, For that you lose his care Who was faithful always. Ah, Heaven be willing That you think of me these days.
Through never a moment I’ve known how to live lest All my thoughts but as one pressed You-ward for their concernment. May God send chastisement If in this I belie me And if it truth be My own little green eyes. Ah, Heaven be willing That you think of me somewise.
Poplars of the meadow, Fountains of Madrid, Now I am absent from you All are slandering me.
Each of you is telling How evil my chance is The wind among the branches, The fountains in their welling To every one telling You were happy to see. Now I am absent from you All are slandering me.
With good right I may wonder For that at my last leaving The plants with sighs heaving And the waters in tears were. That you played double, never Thought I this could be, Now I am absent from you All are slandering me.
There full in your presence Music you sought to waken, Later I’m forsaken Since you are ware of my absence. God, wilt Thou give me patience Here while suffer I ye, Now I am absent from you All are slandering me.
The day draweth nearer, And morrow ends our meeting, Ere they take thee sleeping Be up—away, my treasure!
Soft, leave her breasts all unheeded, Far hence though the master still remaineth! For soon uptil our earth regaineth The sun all embraces dividing. N’er grew pleasure all unimpeded, N’er was delight lest passion won, And to the wise man the fit occasion Has not yet refused a full measure: Be up—away, my treasure!
If that my love thy bosom inflameth With honest purpose and just intention, To free me from my soul’s contention Give over joys the day shameth; Who thee lameth he also me lameth, And my good grace builds all in thy good grace; Be up—away! Fear leaveth place, That thou art here, no more unto pleasure, Be up—away, my treasure!
Although thou with a sleep art wresting, ’Tis rightful thou bringst it close, That of the favour one meeting shows An hundred may hence be attesting. ’Tis fitting too thou shouldst be mindful That the ease which we lose now, in kind, full Many a promise holds for our leisure; Ere they take thee sleeping; Be up—away, my treasure!
The coroner’s merry little children Have such twinkling brown eyes. Their father is not of gay men And their mother jocular in no wise, Yet the coroner’s merry little children Laugh so easily.
They laugh because they prosper. Fruit for them is upon all branches. Lo! how they jibe at loss, for Kind heaven fills their little paunches! It’s the coroner’s merry, merry children Who laugh so easily.
The corner of a great rain Steamy with the country Has fallen upon my garden.
I go back and forth now And the little leaves follow me Talking of the great rain, Of branches broken, And the farmer’s curses!
But I go back and forth In this corner of a garden And the green shoots follow me Praising the great rain.
We are not curst together, The leaves and I, Framing devices, flower devices And other ways of peopling The barren country.
Truly it was a very great rain That makes the little leaves follow me.
To Wish Myself Courage
On the day when youth is no more upon me I will write of the leaves and the moon in a tree top! I will sing then the song, long in the making— When the stress of youth is put away from me.
How can I ever be written out as men say? Surely it is merely an interference with the long song— This that I am now doing.
But when the spring of it is worn like the old moon And the eaten leaves are lace upon the cold earth— Then I will rise up in my great desire— Long at the birth—and sing me the youth-song!
Where shall I find you, you my grotesque fellows that I seek everywhere to make up my band? None, not one with the earthy tastes I require; the burrowing pride that rises subtly as on a bush in May.
Where are you this day, you my seven year locusts with cased wings? Ah my beauties how I long—! That harvest that shall be your advent— thrusting up through the grass, up under the weeds answering me, that shall be satisfying! The light shall leap and snap that day as with a million lashes!
Oh, I have you; yes you are about me in a sense: playing under the blue pools that are my windows— but they shut you out still, there in the half light.For the simple truth is that though I see you clear enough you are not there!
It is not that—it is you, you I want!
—God, if I could fathom the guts of shadows!
You to come with me poking into negro houses with their gloom and smell! In among children leaping around a dead dog! Mimicking onto the lawns of the rich! You! to go with me a-tip-toe, head down under heaven, nostrils lipping the wind!
When I was younger it was plain to me I must make something of myself. Older now I walk back streets admiring the houses of the very poor: roof out of line with sides the yards cluttered with old chicken wire, ashes, furniture gone wrong; the fences and outhouses built of barrel-staves and parts of boxes, all, if I am fortunate, smeared a bluish green that properly weathered pleases me best of all colors.
No one will believe this of vast import to the nation.
Chickory and Daisies
Lift your flowers on bitter stems chickory! Lift them up out of the scorched ground! Bear no foliage but give yourself wholly to that!
Strain under them you bitter stems that no beast eats— and scorn greyness! Into the heat with them: cool! luxuriant! sky-blue! The earth cracks and is shriveled up; the wind moans piteously; the sky goes out if you should fail.
I saw a child with daisies for weaving into the hair tear the stems with her teeth!
There is a bird in the poplars! It is the sun! The leaves are little yellow fish swimming in the river. The bird skims above them, day is on his wings. Phoebus! It is he that is making the great gleam among the poplars! It is his singing outshines the noise of leaves clashing in the wind.
An oblique cloud of purple smoke across a milky silhouette of house sides and tiny trees— a little village— that ends in a saw edge of mist-covered trees on a sheet of grey sky.
To the right, jutting in, a dark crimson corner of roof. To the left, half a tree:
—what a blessing it is to see you in the street again, powerful woman, coming with swinging haunches, breasts straight forward, supple shoulders, full arms and strong, soft hands (I’ve felt them) carrying the heavy basket. I might well see you oftener! And for a different reason than the fresh eggs you bring us so regularly.
Yes, you, young as I, with boney brows, kind grey eyes and a kind mouth; you walking out toward me from that dead hillside! I might well see you oftener.
My townspeople, beyond in the great world, are many with whom it were far more profitable for me to live than here with you. These whirr about me calling, calling! and for my own part I answer them, loud as I can, but they, being free, pass! I remain! Therefore, listen! For you will not soon have another singer.
First I say this: you have seen the strange birds, have you not, that sometimes rest upon our river in winter?
Let them cause you to think well then of the storms that drive many to shelter. These things do not happen without reason.
And the next thing I say is this: I saw an eagle once circling against the clouds over one of our principal churches— Easter, it was—a beautiful day!—: three gulls came from above the river and crossed slowly seaward! Oh, I know you have your own hymns, I have heard them— and because I knew they invoked some great protector I could not be angry with you, no matter how much they outraged true music—
You see, it is not necessary for us to leap at each other, and, as I told you, in the end the gulls moved seaward very quietly.
You who are so mighty, crimson salamander, hear me once more.
I lay among the half burned sticks at the edge of the fire. The fiend was creeping in. I felt the cold tips of fingers—
O crimson salamander!
Give me one little flame, one! that I may bind it protectingly about the wrist of him that flung me here, here upon the very center!
This is my song.
Surely there, among the great docks, is peace, my mind; there with the ships moored in the river. Go out, timid child, and snuggle in among the great ships talking so quietly. Maybe you will even fall asleep near them and be lifted into one of their laps, and in the morning— There is always the morning in which to remember it all!
Of what are they gossiping? God knows. And God knows it matters little for we cannot understand them. Yet it is certainly of the sea, of that there can be no question. It is a quiet sound. Rest! That’s all I care for now. The smell of them will put us to sleep presently. Smell! It is the sea water mingling here into the river— at least so it seems—perhaps it is something else—but what matter?
The sea water! It is quiet and smooth here! How slowly they move, little by little trying the hawsers that drop and groan with their agony. Yes, it is certainly of the high sea they are talking.
Then I raised my head and stared out over the blue February waste to the blue bank of hill with stars on it in strings and festoons— but above that: one opaque stone of a cloud just on the hill left and right as far as I could see; and above that a red streak, then icy blue sky!
It was a fearful thing to come into a man’s heart at that time: that stone over the little blinking stars they’d set there.
Why do I write today?
The beauty of the terrible faces of our nonentities stirs me to it:
colored women day workers— old and experienced— returning home at dusk in cast off clothing faces like old Florentine oak.
the set pieces of your faces stir me— leading citizens— but not in the same way.
The little sparrows hop ingenuously about the pavement quarreling with sharp voices over those things that interest them. But we who are wiser shut ourselves in on either hand and no one knows whether we think good or evil. Meanwhile, the old man who goes about gathering dog-lime walks in the gutter without looking up and his tread is more majestic than that of the Episcopal minister approaching the pulpit of a Sunday. These things astonish me beyond words.
Daisies are broken petals are news of the day stems lift to the grass tops they catch on shoes part in the middle leave root and leaves secure.
Black branches carry square leaves to the wood’s top. They hold firm break with a roar show the white!
Your moods are slow the shedding of leaves and sure the return in May!
We walked in your father’s grove and saw the great oaks lying with roots ripped from the ground.
Winter has spent this snow out of envy, but spring is here! He sits at the breakfast table in his yellow hair and disdains even the sun walking outside in spangled slippers:
He looks out: there is a glare of lights before a theater,— a sparkling lady passes quickly to the seclusion of her carriage. Presently under the dirty, wavy heaven of a borrowed room he will make re-inhaled tobacco smoke his clouds and try them against the sky’s limits!
I will teach you my townspeople how to perform a funeral— for you have it over a troop of artists— unless one should scour the world— you have the ground sense necessary.
See! the hearse leads. I begin with a design for a hearse. For Christ’s sake not black— nor white either—and not polished! Let it be weathered—like a farm wagon— with gilt wheels (this could be applied fresh at small expense) or no wheels at all: a rough dray to drag over the ground.
Knock the glass out! My God—glass, my townspeople! For what purpose? Is it for the dead to look out or for us to see how well he is housed or to see the flowers or the lack of them— or what? To keep the rain and snow from him? He will have a heavier rain soon: pebbles and dirt and what not. Let there be no glass— and no upholstery phew! and no little brass rollers and small easy wheels on the bottom— my townspeople what are you thinking of?
A rough plain hearse then with gilt wheels and no top at all. On this the coffin lies by its own weight.
No wreathes please— especially no hot house flowers. Some common memento is better, something he prized and is known by: his old clothes—a few books perhaps— God knows what! You realize how we are about these things my townspeople— something will be found—anything even flowers if he had come to that.
So much for the hearse. For heaven’s sake though see to the driver! Take off the silk hat! In fact that’s no place at all for him— up there unceremoniously dragging our friend out to his own dignity! Bring him down—bring him down! Low and inconspicuous! I’d not have him ride on the wagon at all—damn him— the undertaker’s understrapper! Let him hold the reins and walk at the side and inconspicuously too!
Then briefly as to yourselves: Walk behind—as they do in France, seventh class, or if you ride Hell take curtains! Go with some show of inconvenience; sit openly— to the weather as to grief. Or do you think you can shut grief in? What—from us? We who have perhaps nothing to lose? Share with us share with us—it will be money in your pockets. Go now I think you are ready.
Well, mind, here we have our little son beside us: a little diversion before breakfast!
Come, we’ll walk down the road till the bacon will be frying. We might better be idle? A poem might come of it? Oh, be useful. Save annoyance to Flossie and besides—the wind! It’s cold. It blows our old pants out! It makes us shiver! See the heavy trees shifting their weight before it. Let us be trees, an old house, a hill with grass on it! The baby’s arms are blue. Come, move! Be quieted!
So. We’ll sit here now and throw pebbles into this water-trickle.
Splash the water up! (Splash it up, Sonny!) Laugh! Hit it there deep under the grass.
See it splash! Ah, mind, see it splash! It is alive! Throw pieces of broken leaves into it. They’ll pass through. No! Yes—just!
Away now for the cows! But— It’s cold! It’s getting dark. It’s going to rain. No further!
Oh then, a wreath! Let’s refresh something they used to write well of.
Two fern plumes. Strip them to the mid-rib along one side. Bind the tips with a grass stem. Bend and intertwist the stalks at the back. So! Ah! now we are crowned! Now we are a poet!
Quickly! A bunch of little flowers for Flossie—the little ones only: a red clover, one blue heal-all, a sprig of bone-set, one primrose, a head of Indian tobacco, this magenta speck and this little lavender! Home now, my mind!— Sonny’s arms are icy, I tell you— and have breakfast!
It’s a strange courage you give me ancient star:
Shine alone in the sunrise toward which you lend no part!
Fool, put your adventures into those things which break ships— not female flesh.
Let there pass over the mind the waters of four oceans, the airs of four skies!
Return hollow-bellied, keen-eyed, hard! A simple scar or two.
Little girls will come bringing you roses for your button-hole.
Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!
You sullen pig of a man you force me into the mud with your stinking ash-cart!
Brother! —if we were rich we’d stick our chests out and hold our heads high!
It is dreams that have destroyed us.
There is no more pride in horses or in rein holding. We sit hunched together brooding our fate.
Well— all things turn bitter in the end whether you choose the right or the left way and— dreams are not a bad thing.
The old black-man showed me how he had been shocked in his youth by six women, dancing a set-dance, stark naked below the skirts raised round their breasts: bellies flung forward knees flying! —while his gestures, against the tiled wall of the dingy bath-room, swished with ecstasy to the familiar music of his old emotion.
Oh, black Persian cat! Was not your life already cursed with offspring?
We took you for rest to that old Yankee farm—so lonely and with so many field mice in the long grass— and you return to us in this condition—!
Oh, black Persian cat.
Wanderer moon smiling a faintly ironical smile at this brilliant, dew-moistened summer morning,— a detached sleepily indifferent smile, a wanderer’s smile,— if I should buy a shirt your color and put on a necktie sky blue where would they carry me?
Sweep the house clean, hang fresh curtains in the windows put on a new dress and come with me! The elm is scattering its little loaves of sweet smells from a white sky!
Who shall hear of us in the time to come? Let him say there was a burst of fragrance from black branches.
Artsybashev is a Russian. I am an American. Let us wonder, my townspeople, if Artsybashev tends his own fires as I do, gets himself cursed for the baby’s failure to thrive, loosens windows for the woman who cleans his parlor— or has he neat servants and a quiet library, an intellectual wife perhaps and no children—an apartment somewhere in a back street or lives alone or with his mother or sister—
I wonder, my townspeople, if Artsybashev looks upon himself the more concernedly or succeeds any better than I in laying the world.
I wonder which is the bigger fool in his own mind.
These are shining topics my townspeople but— hardly of great moment.
I know only the bare rocks of today. In these lies my brown sea-weed,— green quartz veins bent through the wet shale; in these lie my pools left by the tide— quiet, forgetting waves; on these stiffen white star fish; on these I slip bare footed!
Whispers of the fishy air touch my body; “Sisters,” I say to them.
A wind might blow a lotus petal over the pyramids—but not this wind.
Summer is a dried leaf.
Leaves stir this way then that on the baked asphalt, the wheels of motor cars rush over them,— gas smells mingle with leaf smells.
Oh, Sunday, day of worship!!!
The steps to the museum are high. Worshippers pass in and out. Nobody comes here today. I come here to mingle faiance dug from the tomb, turquoise colored necklaces and belched wind from the stomach; delicately veined basins of agate, cracked and discolored and the stink of stale urine!
Enter! Elbow in at the door. Men? Women? Simpering, clay fetish-faces counting through the turnstile. Ah!
This sarcophagus contained the body of Uresh-Nai, priestess to the goddess Mut, Mother of All—
Run your finger against this edge! —here went the chisel!—and think of an arrogance endured six thousand years without a flaw!
But love is an oil to embalm the body. Love is a packet of spices, a strong smelling liquid to be squirted into the thigh. No? Love rubbed on a bald head will make hair—and after? Love is a lice comber! Gnats on dung!
“The chisel is in your hand, the block is before you, cut as I shall dictate: this is the coffin of Uresh-Nai, priestess to the sky goddess,—built to endure forever! Carve the inside with the image of my death in little lines of figures three fingers high. Put a lid on it cut with Mut bending over the earth, for my headpiece, and in the year to be chosen I will rouse, the lid shall be lifted and I will walk about the temple where they have rested me and eat the air of the place:
Ah—these walls are high! This is in keeping.”
The priestess has passed into her tomb. The stone has taken up her spirit! Granite over flesh: who will deny its advantages?
Your death?—water spilled upon the ground— though water will mount again into rose-leaves— but you?—would hold life still, even as a memory, when it is over. Benevolence is rare.
Climb about this sarcophagus, read what is writ for you in these figures, hard as the granite that has held them with so soft a hand the while your own flesh has been fifty times through the guts of oxen,—read! “The rose-tree will have its donor even though he give stingily. The gift of some endures ten years, the gift of some twenty and the gift of some for the time a great house rots and is torn down. Some give for a thousand years to men of one face, some for a thousand to all men and some few to all men while granite holds an edge against the weather. Judge then of love!”
“My flesh is turned to stone. I have endured my summer. The flurry of falling petals is ended. Lay the finger upon this granite. I was well desired and fully caressed by many lovers but my flesh withered swiftly and my heart was never satisfied. Lay your hands upon the granite as a lover lays his hand upon the thigh and upon the round breasts of her who is beside him, for now I will not wither, now I have thrown off secrecy, now I have walked naked into the street, now I have scattered my heavy beauty in the open market. Here I am with head high and a burning heart eagerly awaiting your caresses, whoever it may be, for granite is not harder than my love is open, runs loose among you!
I arrogant against death! I who have endured! I worn against the years!”
But it is five o’clock. Come! Life is good—enjoy it! A walk in the park while the day lasts. I will go with you. Look! this northern scenery is not the Nile, but— these benches—the yellow and purple dusk— the moon there—these tired people— the lights on the water!
Are not these Jews and—Ethiopians? The world is young, surely! Young and colored like—a girl that has come upon a lover! Will that do?
Limb to limb, mouth to mouth with the bleached grass silver mist lies upon the back yards among the outhouses. The dwarf trees pirouette awkwardly to it— whirling round on one toe; the big tree smiles and glances upward! Tense with suppressed excitement the fences watch where the ground has humped an aching shoulder for the ecstasy.
Ecstatic bird songs pound the hollow vastness of the sky with metallic clinkings— beating color up into it at a far edge—beating it, beating it with rising, triumphant ardor,— stirring it into warmth, quickening in it a spreading change,— bursting wildly against it as dividing the horizon, a heavy sun lifts himself—is lifted— bit by bit above the edge of things,—runs free at last out into the open—! lumbering glorified in full release upward— songs cease.
In brilliant gas light I turn the kitchen spigot and watch the water plash into the clean white sink. On the grooved drain-board to one side is a glass filled with parsley— crisped green. Waiting for the water to freshen— I glance at the spotless floor—: a pair of rubber sandals lie side by side under the wall-table, all is in order for the night.
Waiting, with a glass in my hand —three girls in crimson satin pass close before me on the murmurous background of the crowded opera— it is memory playing the clown— three vague, meaningless girls full of smells and the rustling sound of cloth rubbing on cloth and little slippers on carpet— high-school French spoken in a loud voice!
Parsley in a glass, still and shining, brings me back. I take my drink and yawn deliciously. I am ready for bed.
If I when my wife is sleeping and the baby and Kathleen are sleeping and the sun is a flame-white disc in silken mists above shining trees,— if I in my north room danse naked, grotesquely before my mirror waving my shirt round my head and singing softly to myself: “I am lonely, lonely. I was born to be lonely. I am best so!” If I admire my arms, my face my shoulders, flanks, buttocks against the yellow drawn shades,—
who shall say I am not the happy genius of my household?
Portrait of a Woman in Bed
There’s my things drying in the corner: that blue skirt joined to the grey shirt—
I’m sick of trouble! Lift the covers if you want me and you’ll see the rest of my clothes— though it would be cold lying with nothing on!
I won’t work and I’ve got no cash. What are you going to do about it? —and no jewelry (the crazy fools)
But I’ve my two eyes and a smooth face and here’s this! look! it’s high! There’s brains and blood in there— my name’s Robitza! Corsets can go to the devil— and drawers along with them! What do I care!
My two boys? —they’re keen! Let the rich lady care for them— they’ll beat the school or let them go to the gutter— that ends trouble.
This house is empty isn’t it? Then it’s mine because I need it.
Oh, I won’t starve while there’s the Bible to make them feed me.
Try to help me if you want trouble or leave me alone— that ends trouble.
The county physician is a damned fool and you can go to hell!
You could have closed the door when you came in; do it when you go out. I’m tired.
Now? Why— whirl-pools of orange and purple flame feather twists of chrome on a green ground funneling down upon the steaming phallus-head of the mad sun himself— blackened crimson! Now?
Why— it is the smile of her the smell of her the vulgar inviting mouth of her! It is—Oh, nothing new nothing that lasts an eternity, nothing worth putting out to interest, nothing— but the fixing of an eye concretely upon emptiness!
Come! here are— cross-eyed men, a boy with a patch, men walking in their shirts, men in hats dark men, a pale man with little black moustaches and a dirty white coat, fat men with pudgy faces, thin faces, crooked faces slit eyes, grey eyes, black eyes old men with dirty beards, men in vests with gold watch chains. Come!
Dedicated to F. W.
Hard, chilly colors: straw grey, frost grey the grey of frozen ground: and you, O sun, close above the horizon! It is I holds you— half against the sky half against a black tree trunk icily resplendent!
Lie there, blue city, mine at last— rimming the banked blue grey and rise, indescribable smoky yellow into the overpowering white!
Portrait of a Young Man with a Bad Heart
Have I seen her? Only through the window across the street.
If I go meeting her on the corner some damned fool will go blabbing it to the old man and she’ll get hell. He’s a queer old bastard! Every time he sees me you’d think I wanted to kill him. But I figure it out it’s best to let things stay as they are— for a while at least.
It’s hard giving up the thing you want most in the world, but with this damned pump of mine liable to give out …
She’s a good kid and I’d hate to hurt her but if she can get over it—
it’d be the best thing.
Keller Gegen Dom
Witness, would you— one more young man in the evening of his love hurrying to confession: steps down a gutter crosses a street goes in at a doorway opens for you— like some great flower— a room filled with lamplight; or whirls himself obediently to the curl of a hill some wind-dancing afternoon; lies for you in the futile darkness of a wall, sets stars dancing to the crack of a leaf—
and—leaning his head away— snuffs (secretly) the bitter powder from his thumb’s hollow, takes your blessing and goes home to bed?
Witness instead whether you like it or not a dark vinegar smelling place from which trickles the chuckle of beginning laughter
It strikes midnight.
Oh strong ridged and deeply hollowed nose of mine! what will you not be smelling? What tactless asses we are, you and I, boney nose, always indiscriminate, always unashamed, and now it is the souring flowers of the bedraggled poplars: a festering pulp on the wet earth beneath them. With what deep thirst we quicken our desires to that rank odor of a passing spring-time! Can you not be decent? Can you not reserve your ardors for something less unlovely? What girl will care for us, do you think, if we continue in these ways? Must you taste everything? Must you know everything? Must you have a part in everything?
Are you not weary, great gold cross shining in the wind— are you not weary of seeing the stars turning over you and the sun going to his rest and you frozen with a great lie that leaves you rigid as a knight on a marble coffin?
—and you, higher, still, robin, untwisting a song from the bare top-twigs, are you not weary of labor, even the labor of a song?
Come down—join me for I am lonely.
First it will be a quiet pace to ease our stiffness but as the west yellows you will be ready!
Here in the middle of the roadway we will fling ourselves round with dust lilies till we are bound in their twining stems! We will tear their flowers with arms flashing!
And when the astonished stars push aside their curtains they will see us fall exhausted where wheels and the pounding feet of horses will crush forth our laughter.
Sympathetic Portrait of a Child
The murderer’s little daughter who is barely ten years old jerks her shoulders right and left so as to catch a glimpse of me without turning round.
Her skinny little arms wrap themselves this way then that reversely about her body! Nervously she crushes her straw hat about her eyes and tilts her head to deepen the shadow— smiling excitedly!
As best as she can she hides herself in the full sunlight her cordy legs writhing beneath the little flowered dress that leaves them bare from mid-thigh to ankle—
Why has she chosen me for the knife that darts along her smile?
Sweet child, little girl with well shaped legs you cannot touch the thoughts I put over and under and around you.
This is fortunate for they would burn you to an ash otherwise. Your petals would be quite curled up.
This is all beyond you—no doubt, yet you do feel the brushings of the fine needles; the tentative lines of your whole body prove it to me; so does your fear of me, your shyness; likewise the toy baby cart that you are pushing— and besides, mother has begun to dress your hair in a knot. These are my excuses.
Love is like water or the air my townspeople; it cleanses, and dissipates evil gases. It is like poetry too and for the same reasons.
Love is so precious my townspeople that if I were you I would have it under lock and key— like the air or the Atlantic or like poetry!
The Old Men
Old men who have studied every leg show in the city Old men cut from touch by the perfumed music— polished or fleeced skulls that stand before the whole theater in silent attitudes of attention,— old men who have taken precedence over young men and even over dark-faced husbands whose minds are a street with arc-lights. Solitary old men for whom we find no excuses— I bow my head in shame for those who malign you. Old men the peaceful beer of impotence be yours!
If I say I have heard voices who will believe me?
“None has dipped his hand in the black waters of the sky nor picked the yellow lilies that sway on their clear stems and no tree has waited long enough nor still enough to touch fingers with the moon.”
I looked and there were little frogs with puffed out throats, singing in the slime.
In a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds crowded erect with desire against the sky— tense blue-grey twigs slenderly anchoring them down, drawing them in— two blue-grey birds chasing a third struggle in circles, angles, swift convergings to a point that bursts instantly!
Vibrant bowing limbs pull downward, sucking in the sky that bulges from behind, plastering itself against them in packed rifts, rock blue and dirty orange! But—
(Hold hard, rigid jointed trees!) the blinding and red-edged sun-blur— creeping energy, concentrated counterforce—welds sky, buds, trees, rivets them in one puckering hold! Sticks through! Pulls the whole counter-pulling mass upward, to the right, locks even the opaque, not yet defined ground in a terrific drag that is loosening the very tap-roots!
On a tissue-thin monotone of blue-grey buds two blue-grey birds, chasing a third, at full cry! Now they are flung outward and up—disappearing suddenly!
Crooked, black tree on your little grey-black hillock, ridiculously raised one step toward the infinite summits of the night: even you the few grey stars draw upward into a vague melody of harsh threads.
Bent as you are from straining against the bitter horizontals of a north wind—there below you how easily the long yellow notes of poplars flow upward in a descending scale, each note secure in its own posture—singularly woven.
All voices are blent willingly against the heaving contra-bass of the dark but you alone warp yourself passionately to one side in your eagerness.
A Portrait in Greys
Will it never be possible to separate you from your greyness? Must you be always sinking backward into your grey-brown landscapes—and trees always in the distance, always against a grey sky? Must I be always moving counter to you? Is there no place where we can be at peace together and the motion of our drawing apart be altogether taken up? I see myself standing upon your shoulders touching a grey, broken sky— but you, weighted down with me, yet gripping my ankles—move laboriously on, where it is level and undisturbed by colors.
You who had the sense to choose me such a mother, you who had the indifference to create me, you who went to some pains to leave hands off me in the formative stages,— (I thank you most for that perhaps) but you who with an iron head, first, fiercest and with strongest love brutalized me into strength, old dew-lap— I have reached the stage where I am teaching myself to laugh. Come on, take a walk with me.
Miserable little woman in a brown coat— quit whining! My hand for you! We’ll skip down the tin cornices of Main Street flicking the dull roof-line with our toe-tips! Hop clear of the bank! A pin-wheel round the white flag-pole.
And I’ll sing you the while a thing to split your sides about Johann Sebastian Bach, the father of music, who had three wives and twenty-two children.
I have discovered that most of the beauties of travel are due to the strange hours we keep to see them:
the domes of the Church of the Paulist Fathers in Weehawken against a smoky dawn—the heart stirred— are beautiful as Saint Peters approached after years of anticipation.
Though the operation was postponed I saw the tall probationers in their tan uniforms hurrying to breakfast!
—and from basement entrys neatly coiffed, middle aged gentlemen with orderly moustaches and well brushed coats
—and the sun, dipping into the avenues streaking the tops of the irregular red houselets, and the gay shadows dropping and dropping.
—and a young horse with a green bed-quilt on his withers shaking his head: bared teeth and nozzle high in the air!
—and a semicircle of dirt colored men about a fire bursting from an old ash can,
—and the worn, blue car rails (like the sky!) gleaming among the cobbles!
—and the rickety ferry-boat “Arden”! What an object to be called “Arden” among the great piers,—on the ever new river! “Put me a Touchstone at the wheel, white gulls, and we’ll follow the ghost of the Half Moon to the North West Passage—and through! (at Albany!) for all that!”
Exquisite brown waves—long circlets of silver moving over you! enough with crumbling ice-crusts among you! The sky has come down to you, lighter than tiny bubbles, face to face with you! His spirit is a white gull with delicate pink feet and a snowy breast for you to hold to your lips delicately!
The young doctor is dancing with happiness in the sparkling wind, alone at the prow of the ferry! He notices the curdy barnacles and broken ice crusts left at the slip’s base by the low tide and thinks of summer and green shell crusted ledges among the emerald eel-grass!
Who knows the Palisades as I do knows the river breaks east from them above the city—but they continue south —under the sky—to bear a crest of little peering houses that brighten with dawn behind the moody water-loving giants of Manhattan.
Long yellow rushes bending above the white snow patches; purple and gold ribbon of the distant wood: what an angle you make with each other as you lie there in contemplation.
Work hard all your young days and they’ll find you too, some morning staring up under your chiffonier at its warped bass-wood bottom and your soul— out! —among the little sparrows behind the shutter.
—and the flapping flags are at half mast for the dead admiral.
All this— was for you, old woman. I wanted to write a poem that you would understand. For what good is it to me if you can’t understand it? But you got to try hard— But— Well, you know how the young girls run giggling on Park Avenue after dark when they ought to be home in bed? Well, that’s the way it is with me somehow.
To a Solitary Disciple
Rather notice, mon cher, that the moon is tilted above the point of the steeple than that its color is shell-pink.
Rather observe that it is early morning than that the sky is smooth as a turquoise.
Rather grasp how the dark converging lines of the steeple meet at the pinnacle— perceive how its little ornament tries to stop them—
See how it fails! See how the converging lines of the hexagonal spire escape upward— receding, dividing! —sepals that guard and contain the flower!
Observe how motionless the eaten moon lies in the protecting lines.
It is true: in the light colors of morning brown-stone and slate shine orange and dark blue.
But observe the oppressive weight of the squat edifice! Observe the jasmine lightness of the moon.
Dedication for a Plot of Ground
This plot of ground facing the waters of this inlet is dedicated to the living presence of Emily Richardson Wellcome who was born in England; married; lost her husband and with her five year old son sailed for New York in a two-master; was driven to the Azores; ran adrift on Fire Island shoal, met her second husband in a Brooklyn boarding house, went with him to Puerto Rico bore three more children, lost her second husband, lived hard for eight years in St. Thomas, Puerto Rico, San Domingo, followed the oldest son to New York, lost her daughter, lost her “baby,” seized the two boys of the oldest son by the second marriage mothered them—they being motherless—fought for them against the other grandmother and the aunts, brought them here summer after summer, defended herself here against thieves, storms, sun, fire, against flies, against girls that came smelling about, against drought, against weeds, storm-tides, neighbors, weasels that stole her chickens, against the weakness of her own hands, against the growing strength of the boys, against wind, against the stones, against trespassers, against rents, against her own mind.
She grubbed this earth with her own hands, domineered over this grass plot, blackguarded her oldest son into buying it, lived here fifteen years, attained a final loneliness and—
If you can bring nothing to this place but your carcass, keep out.
You exquisite chunk of mud Kathleen—just like any other chunk of mud! —especially in April! Curl up round their shoes when they try to step on you, spoil the polish! I shall laugh till I am sick at their amazement. Do they expect the ground to be always solid? Give them the slip then; let them sit in you; soil their pants; teach them a dignity that is dignity, the dignity of mud!
Lie basking in the sun then—fast asleep! Even become dust on occasion.
I lie here thinking of you:—
the stain of love is upon the world! Yellow, yellow, yellow it eats into the leaves, smears with saffron the horned branches that lean heavily against a smooth purple sky! There is no light only a honey-thick stain that drips from leaf to leaf and limb to limb spoiling the colors of the whole world—
you far off there under the wine-red selvage of the west!
A Rococo Study
Even in the time when as yet I had no certain knowledge of her She sprang from the nest, a young crow, Whose first flight circled the forest. I know now how then she showed me Her mind, reaching out to the horizon, She close above the tree tops. I saw her eyes straining at the new distance And as the woods fell from her flying Likewise they fell from me as I followed— So that I strongly guessed all that I must put from me To come through ready for the high courses.
But one day, crossing the ferry With the great towers of Manhattan before me, Out at the prow with the sea wind blowing, I had been wearying many questions Which she had put on to try me: How shall I be a mirror to this modernity? When lo! in a rush, dragging A blunt boat on the yielding river— Suddenly I saw her! And she waved me From the white wet in midst of her playing! She cried me, “Haia! Here I am, son! See how strong my little finger is! Can I not swim well? I can fly too!” And with that a great sea-gull Went to the left, vanishing with a wild cry— But in my mind all the persons of godhead Followed after.
“Come!” cried my mind and by her might That was upon us we flew above the river Seeking her, grey gulls among the white— In the air speaking as she had willed it: “I am given,” cried I, “now I know it! I know now all my time is forespent! For me one face is all the world! For I have seen her at last, this day, In whom age in age is united— Indifferent, out of sequence, marvelously! Saving alone that one sequence Which is the beauty of all the world, for surely Either there in the rolling smoke spheres below us Or here with us in the air intercircling, Certainly somewhere here about us I know she is revealing these things!”
And as gulls we flew and with soft cries We seemed to speak, flying, “It is she The mighty, recreating the whole world, This the first day of wonders! She is attiring herself before me— Taking shape before me for worship, A red leaf that falls upon a stone! It is she of whom I told you, old Forgiveless, unreconcilable; That high wanderer of by-ways Walking imperious in beggary! At her throat is loose gold, a single chain From among many, on her bent fingers Are rings from which the stones are fallen, Her wrists wear a diminished state, her ankles Are bare! Toward the river! Is it she there?” And we swerved clamorously downward— “I will take my peace in her henceforth!”
It was then she struck—from behind, In mid air, as with the edge of a great wing! And instantly down the mists of my eyes There came crowds walking—men as visions With expressionless, animate faces; Empty men with shell-thin bodies Jostling close above the gutter, Hasting—nowhere! And then for the first time I really saw her, really scented the sweat Of her presence and—fell back sickened! Ominous, old, painted— With bright lips, and lewd Jew’s eyes Her might strapped in by a corset To give her age youth, perfect In her will to be young she had covered The godhead to go beside me. Silent, her voice entered at my eyes And my astonished thought followed her easily: “Well, do their eyes shine, do their clothes fit? These live I tell you! Old men with red cheeks, Young men in gay suits! See them! Dogged, quivering, impassive— Well—are these the ones you envied?” At which I answered her, “Marvelous old queen, Grant me power to catch something of this day’s Air and sun into your service! That these toilers after peace and after pleasure May turn to you, worshippers at all hours!” But she sniffed upon the words warily— Yet I persisted, watching for an answer: “To you, horrible old woman, Who know all fires out of the bodies Of all men that walk with lust at heart! To you, O mighty, crafty prowler After the youth of all cities, drunk With the sight of thy archness! All the youth That come to you, you having the knowledge Rather than to those uninitiate— To you, marvelous old queen, give me always A new marriage—” But she laughed loudly— “A new grip upon those garments that brushed me In days gone by on beach, lawn, and in forest! May I be lifted still, up and out of terror, Up from before the death living around me— Tom up continually and carried Whatever way the head of your whim is, A burr upon those streaming tatters—” But the night had fallen, she stilled me And led me away.
At the first peep of dawn she roused me! I rose trembling at the change which the night saw! For there, wretchedly brooding in a corner From which her old eyes glittered fiercely— “Go!” she said, and I hurried shivering Out into the deserted streets of Paterson.
That night she came again, hovering In rags within the filmy ceiling— “Great Queen, bless me with thy tatters!” “You are blest, go on!” “Hot for savagery, Sucking the air! I went into the city, Out again, baffled onto the mountain! Back into the city! Nowhere The subtle! Everywhere the electric!”
“A short bread-line before a hitherto empty tea shop: No questions—all stood patiently, Dominated by one idea: something That carried them as they are always wanting to be carried, ‘But what is it,’ I asked those nearest me, ‘This thing heretofore unobtainable That they seem so clever to have put on now!’
“Why since I have failed them can it be anything but their own brood? Can it be anything but brutality? On that at least they’re united! That at least Is their bean soup, their calm bread and a few luxuries!
“But in me, more sensitive, marvelous old queen It sank deep into the blood, that I rose upon The tense air enjoying the dusty fight! Heavy drink were the low, sloping foreheads The flat skulls with the unkempt black or blond hair, The ugly legs of the young girls, pistons Too powerful for delicacy! The women’s wrists, the men’s arms, red Used to heat and cold, to toss quartered beeves And barrels, and milk-cans, and crates of fruit!
“Faces all knotted up like burls on oaks, Grasping, fox-snouted, thick-lipped, Sagging breasts and protruding stomachs, Rasping voices, filthy habits with the hands.
“Nowhere you! Everywhere the electric!
“Ugly, venemous, gigantic! Tossing me as a great father his helpless Infant till it shriek with ecstasy And its eyes roll and its tongue hangs out!—
“I am at peace again, old queen, I listen clearer now.”
Never, even in a dream, Have I winged so high nor so well As with her, she leading me by the hand, That first day on the Jersey mountains! And never shall I forget The trembling interest with which I heard Her voice in a low thunder: “You are safe here. Look child, look open-mouth! The patch of road between the steep bramble banks; The tree in the wind, the white house there, the sky! Speak to men of these, concerning me! For never while you permit them to ignore me In these shall the full of my freed voice Come grappling the ear with intent! Never while the air’s clear coolness Is seized to be a coat for pettiness; Never while richness of greenery Stands a shield for prurient minds; Never, permitting these things unchallenged Shall my voice of leaves and varicolored bark come free through!” At which, knowing her solitude, I shouted over the country below me: “Waken! my people, to the boughs green With ripening fruit within you! Waken to the myriad cinquefoil In the waving grass of your minds! Waken to the silent phoebe nest Under the eaves of your spirit!”
But she, stooping nearer the shifting hills Spoke again. “Look there! See them! There in the oat field with the horses, See them there! bowed by their passions Crushed down, that had been raised as a roof beam! The weight of the sky is upon them Under which all roof beams crumble. There is none but the single roof beam: There is no love bears against the great firefly! At this I looked up at the sun Then shouted again with all the might I had. But my voice was a seed in the wind. Then she, the old one, laughing Seized me and whirling about bore back To the city, upward, still laughing Until the great towers stood above the marshland Wheeling beneath: the little creeks, the mallows That I picked as a boy, the Hackensack So quiet that seemed so broad formerly: The crawling trains, the cedar swamp on the one side— All so old, so familiar—so new now To my marvelling eyes as we passed Invisible.
Eight days went by, eight days Comforted by no nights, until finally: “Would you behold yourself old, beloved?” I was pierced, yet I consented gladly For I knew it could not be otherwise. And she—“Behold yourself old! Sustained in strength, wielding might in gript surges! Not bodying the sun in weak leaps But holding way over rockish men With fern free fingers on their little crags, Their hollows, the new Atlas, to bear them For pride and for mockery! Behold Yourself old! winding with slow might— A vine among oaks—to the thin tops: Leaving the leafless leaved, Bearing purple clusters! Behold Yourself old! birds are behind you. You are the wind coming that stills birds, Shakes the leaves in booming polyphony— Slow, winning high way amid the knocking Of boughs, evenly crescendo, The din and bellow of the male wind! Leap then from forest into foam! Lash about from low into high flames Tipping sound, the female chorus— Linking all lions, all twitterings To make them nothing! Behold yourself old!” As I made to answer she continued, A little wistfully yet in a voice clear cut: “Good is my overlip and evil My underlip to you henceforth: For I have taken your soul between my two hands And this shall be as it is spoken.”
St. James’ Grove
And so it came to that last day When, she leading by the hand, we went out Early in the morning, I heavy of heart For I knew the novitiate was ended The ecstasy was over, the life begun.
In my woolen shirt and the pale blue necktie My grandmother gave me, there I went With the old queen right past the houses Of my friends down the hill to the river As on any usual day, any errand. Alone, walking under trees, I went with her, she with me in her wild hair, By Santiago Grove and presently She bent forward and knelt by the river, The Passaic, that filthy river. And there dabbling her mad hands, She called me close beside her. Raising the water then in the cupped palm She bathed our brows wailing and laughing: “River, we are old, you and I, We are old and by bad luck, beggars. Lo, the filth in our hair, our bodies stink! Old friend, here I have brought you The young soul you long asked of me. Stand forth, river, and give me The old friend of my revels! Give me the well-worn spirit, For here I have made a room for it, And I will return to you forthwith The youth you have long asked of me: Stand forth, river, and give me The old friend of my revels!”
And the filthy Passaic consented!
Then she, leaping up with a fierce cry: “Enter, youth, into this bulk! Enter, river, into this young man!” Then the river began to enter my heart, Eddying back cool and limpid Into the crystal beginning of its days. But with the rebound it leaped forward: Muddy, then black and shrunken Till I felt the utter depth of its rottenness The vile breadth of its degradation And dropped down knowing this was me now. But she lifted me and the water took a new tide Again into the older experiences, And so, backward and forward, It tortured itself within me Until time had been washed finally under, And the river had found its level And its last motion had ceased And I knew all—it became me. And I knew this for double certain For there, whitely, I saw myself Being borne off under the water! I could have shouted out in my agony At the sight of myself departing Forever—but I bit back my despair For she had averted her eyes By which I knew well what she was thinking— And so the last of me was taken.
Then she, “Be mostly silent!” And turning to the river, spoke again: “For him and for me, river, the wandering, But by you I leave for happiness Deep foliage, the thickest beeches— Though elsewhere they are all dying— Tallest oaks and yellow birches That dip their leaves in you, mourning, As now I dip my hair, immemorial Of me, immemorial of him Immemorial of these our promises! Here shall be a bird’s paradise, They sing to you remembering my voice: Here the most secluded spaces For miles around, hallowed by a stench To be our joint solitude and temple; In memory of this clear marriage And the child I have brought you in the late years. Live, river, live in luxuriance Remembering this our son, In remembrance of me and my sorrow And of the new wandering!”
The Late Singer
Here it is spring again and I still a young man! I am late at my singing. The sparrow with the black rain on his breast has been at his cadenzas for two weeks past: What is it that is dragging at my heart? The grass by the back door is stiff with sap. The old maples are opening their branches of brown and yellow moth-flowers. A moon hangs in the blue in the early afternoons over the marshes. I am late at my singing.
Winter is long in this climate and spring—a matter of a few days only—a flower or two picked from mud or from among wet leaves or at best against treacherous bitterness of wind, and sky shining teasingly, then closing in black and sudden, with fierce jaws.
March, you remind me of the pyramids, our pyramids— stript of the polished stone that used to guard them! March, you are like Fra Angelico at Fiesole, painting on plaster!
March, you are like a band of young poets that have not learned the blessedness of warmth (or have forgotten it).
At any rate— I am moved to write poetry for the warmth there is in it and for the loneliness— a poem that shall have you in it March.
See! Ashur-ban-i-pal, the archer king, on horse-back, in blue and yellow enamel! with drawn bow—facing lions standing on their hind legs, fangs bared! his shafts bristling in their necks!
Sacred bulls—dragons in embossed brickwork marching—in four tiers— along the sacred way to Nebuchadnezzar’s throne hall! They shine in the sun, they that have been marching— marching under the dust of ten thousand dirt years.
Now— they are coming into bloom again! See them! marching still, bared by the storms from my calendar —winds that blow back the sand! winds that enfilade dirt! winds that by strange craft have whipt up a black army that by pick and shovel bare a procession to the god, Marduk!
Natives cursing and digging for pay unearth dragons with upright tails and sacred bulls alternately— in four tiers— lining the way to an old altar! Natives digging at old walls— digging me warmth—digging me sweet loneliness— high enamelled walls.
My second spring— passed in a monastery with plaster walls—in Fiesole on the hill above Florence.
My second spring—painted a virgin—in a blue aureole sitting on a three-legged stool, arms crossed— she is intently serious, and still watching an angel with colored wings half kneeling before her— and smiling—the angel’s eyes holding the eyes of Mary as a snake’s holds a bird’s. On the ground there are flowers, trees are in leaf.
But! now for the battle! Now for murder—now for the real thing! My third springtime is approaching!
Winds! lean, serious as a virgin, seeking, seeking the flowers of March.
Seeking flowers nowhere to be found, they twine among the bare branches in insatiable eagerness— they whirl up the snow seeking under it— they—the winds—snakelike roar among yellow reeds seeking flowers—flowers.
I spring among them seeking one flower in which to warm myself!
I deride with all the ridicule of misery— my own starved misery.
Counter-cutting winds strike against me refreshing their fury!
Come, good, cold fellows! Have we no flowers? Defy then with even more desperation than ever—being lean and frozen!
But though you are lean and frozen— think of the blue bulls of Babylon.
Fling yourselves upon their empty roses— cut savagely!
But— think of the painted monastery at Fiesole.
Berket and the Stars
A day on the boulevards chosen out of ten years of student poverty! One best day out of ten good ones. Berket in high spirits—“Ha, oranges! Let’s have one!” And he made to snatch an orange from the vender’s cart.
Now so clever was the deception, so nicely timed to the full sweep of certain wave summits, that the rumor of the thing has come down through three generations—which is relatively forever!
A middle-northern March, now as always— gusts from the south broken against cold winds— but from under, as if a slow hand lifted a tide, it moves—not into April—into a second March, the old skin of wind-clear scales dropping upon the mould: this is the shadow projects the tree upward causing the sun to shine in his sphere.
So we will put on our pink felt hat—new last year! —newer this by virtue of brown eyes turning back the seasons—and let us walk to the orchid-house, see the flowers will take the prize to-morrow at the Palace. Stop here, these are our oleanders. When they are in bloom— You would waste words It is clearer to me than if the pink were on the branch. It would be a searching in a colored cloud to reveal that which now, huskless, shows the very reason for their being.
And these the orange-trees, in blossom—no need to tell with this weight of perfume in the air. If it were not so dark in this shed one could better see the white. It is that very perfume has drawn the darkness down among the leaves. Do I speak clearly enough? It is this darkness reveals that which darkness alone loosens and sets spinning on waxen wings— not the touch of a finger-tip, not the motion of a sigh. A too heavy sweetness proves its own caretaker. And here are the orchids! Never having seen such gaiety I will read these flowers for you: This is an odd January, died—in Villon’s time. Snow, this is and this the stain of a violet grew in that place the spring that foresaw its own doom.
And this, a certain July from Iceland: a young woman of that place breathed it toward the south. It took root there. The color ran true but the plant is small.
This falling spray of snowflakes is a handful of dead Februarys prayed into flower by Rafael Arevalo Martinez of Guatemala. Here’s that old friend who went by my side so many years: this full, fragile head of veined lavender. Oh that April that we first went with our stiff lusts leaving the city behind, out to the green hill— May, they said she was. A hand for all of us: this branch of blue butterflies tied to this stem.
June is a yellow cup I’ll not name; August the over-heavy one. And here are— russet and shiny, all but March. And March? Ah, March— Flowers are a tiresome pastime. One has a wish to shake them from their pots root and stem, for the sun to gnaw.
Walk out again into the cold and saunter home to the fire. This day has blossomed long enough. I have wiped out the red night and lit a blaze instead which will at least warm our hands and stir up the talk. I think we have kept fair time. Time is a green orchid.
If you had come away with me into another state we had been quiet together. But there the sun coming up out of the nothing beyond the lake was too low in the sky, there was too great a pushing against him, too much of sumac buds, pink in the head with the clear gum upon them, too many opening hearts of lilac leaves, too many, too many swollen limp poplar tassels on the bare branches! It was too strong in the air. I had no rest against that springtime! The pounding of the hoofs on the raw sods stayed with me half through the night. I awoke smiling but tired.
Go to sleep—though of course you will not— to tideless waves thundering slantwise against strong embankments, rattle and swish of spray dashed thirty feet high, caught by the lake wind, scattered and strewn broadcast in over the steady car rails! Sleep, sleep! Gulls’ cries in a wind-gust broken by the wind; calculating wings set above the field of waves breaking. Go to sleep to the lunge between foam-crests, refuse churned in the recoil. Food! Food! Offal! Offal! that holds them in the air, wave-white for the one purpose, feather upon feather, the wild chill in their eyes, the hoarseness in their voices— sleep, sleep …
Gentlefooted crowds are treading out your lullaby. Their arms nudge, they brush shoulders, hitch this way then that, mass and surge at the crossings— lullaby, lullaby! The wild-fowl police whistles, the enraged roar of the traffic, machine shrieks: it is all to put you to sleep, to soften your limbs in relaxed postures, and that your head slip sidewise, and your hair loosen and fall over your eyes and over your mouth, brushing your lips wistfully that you may dream, sleep and dream—
A black fungus springs out about lonely church doors— sleep, sleep. The Night, coming down upon the wet boulevard, would start you awake with his message, to have in at your window. Pay no heed to him. He storms at your sill with cooings, with gesticulations, curses! You will not let him in. He would keep you from sleeping. He would have you sit under your desk lamp brooding, pondering; he would have you slide out the drawer, take up the ornamented dagger and handle it. It is late, it is nineteen-nineteen— go to sleep, his cries are a lullaby; his jabbering is a sleep-well-my-baby; he is a crackbrained messenger.
The maid waking you in the morning when you are up and dressing, the rustle of your clothes as you raise them— it is the same tune. At table the cold, greenish, split grapefruit, its juice on the tongue, the clink of the spoon in your coffee, the toast odors say it over and over.
The open street-door lets in the breath of the morning wind from over the lake. The bus coming to a halt grinds from its sullen brakes— lullaby, lullaby. The crackle of a newspaper, the movement of the troubled coat beside you— sleep, sleep, sleep, sleep … It is the sting of snow, the burning liquor of the moonlight, the rush of rain in the gutters packed with dead leaves: go to sleep, go to sleep. And the night passes—and never passes—
Overture to a Dance of Locomotives
Men with picked voices chant the names of cities in a huge gallery: promises that pull through descending stairways to a deep rumbling. The rubbing feet of those coming to be carried quicken a grey pavement into soft light that rocks to and fro, under the domed ceiling, across and across from pale earthcolored walls of bare limestone.
Covertly the hands of a great clock go round and round! Were they to move quickly and at once the whole secret would be out and the shuffling of all ants be done forever.
A leaning pyramid of sunlight, narrowing out at a high window, moves by the clock: disaccordant hands straining out from a center: inevitable postures infinitely repeated—
Two—twofour—twoeight! Porters in red hats run on narrow platforms. This way ma’m! —important not to take the wrong train! Lights from the concrete ceiling hang crooked but— Poised horizontal on glittering parallels the dingy cylinders packed with a warm glow—inviting entry— pull against the hour. But brakes can hold a fixed posture till— The whistle!
Not twoeight. Not twofour. Two!
Gliding windows. Colored cooks sweating in a small kitchen. Taillights—
In time: twofour! In time: twoeight!
—rivers are tunneled: trestles cross oozy swampland: wheels repeating the same gesture remain relatively stationary: rails forever parallel return on themselves infinitely. The dance is sure.
Tracks of rain and light linger in the spongy greens of a nature whose flickering mountain—bulging nearer, ebbing back into the sun hollowing itself away to hold a lake— or brown stream rising and falling at the roadside, turning about, churning itself white, drawing green in over it—plunging glassy funnels fall— And—the other world— the windshield a blunt barrier: Talk to me. Sh! they would hear us. —the backs of their heads facing us— The stream continues its motion of a hound running over rough ground.
Trees vanish—reappear—vanish: detached dance of gnomes—as a talk dodging remarks, glows and fades. —The unseen power of words— And now that a few of the moves are clear the first desire is to fling oneself out at the side into the other dance, to other music. Peer Gynt. Rip Van Winkle. Diana.
If I were young I would try a new alignment— alight nimbly from the car, Good-bye!— Childhood companions linked two and two criss-cross: four, three, two, one. Back into self, tentacles withdrawn. Feel about in warm self-flesh. Since childhood, since childhood! Childhood is a toad in the garden, a happy toad. All toads are happy and belong in gardens. A toad to Diana!
Lean forward. Punch the steersman behind the ear. Twirl the wheel! Over the edge! Screams! Crash! The end. I sit above my head— a little removed—or a thin wash of rain on the roadway —I am never afraid when he is driving— interposes new direction, rides us sidewise, unforseen into the ditch! All threads cut! Death! Black. The end. The very end—
I would sit separate weighing a small red handful: the dirt of these parts, sliding mists sheeting the alders against the touch of fingers creeping to mine. All stuff of the blind emotions. But—stirred, the eye seizes for the first time—The eye awake!— anything, a dirt bank with green stars of scrawny weed flattened upon it under a weight of air—For the first time!— or a yawning depth: Big! Swim around in it, through it— all directions and find vitreous seawater stuff— God how I love you!—or, as I say, a plunge into the ditch. The end. I sit examining my red handful. Balancing —this—in and out—agh.
Love you? It’s a fire in the blood, willy-nilly! It’s the sun coming up in the morning. Ha, but it’s the grey moon too, already up in the morning. You are slow. Men are not friends where it concerns a woman? Fighters. Playfellows. White round thighs! Youth! Sighs—! It’s the fillip of novelty. It’s—
Mountains. Elephants humping along against the sky—indifferent to light withdrawing its tattered shreds, worn out with embraces. It’s the fillip of novelty. It’s a fire in the blood.
Oh get a flannel shirt, white flannel or pongee. You’d look so well! I married you because I liked your nose. I wanted you! I wanted you in spite of all they’d say—
Rain and light, mountain and rain, rain and river. Will you love me always? —A car overturned and two crushed bodies under it.—Always! Always! And the white moon already up. White. Clean. All the colors. A good head, backed by the eye—awake! backed by the emotions—blind— River and mountain, light and rain—or rain, rock, light, trees—divided: rain-light counter rocks-trees or trees counter rain-light-rocks or—
Myriads of counter processions crossing and recrossing, regaining the advantage, buying here, selling there —You are sold cheap everywhere in town!— lingering, touching fingers, withdrawing gathering forces into blares, hummocks, peaks and rivers—river meeting rock —I wish that you were lying there dead and I sitting here beside you.— It’s the grey moon—over and over. It’s the clay of these parts.
The Desolate Field
Vast and grey, the sky is a simulacrum to all but him whose days are vast and grey, and— In the tall, dried grasses a goat stirs with nozzle searching the ground. —my head is in the air but who am I … ? And amazed my heart leaps at the thought of love vast and grey yearning silently over me.
It is a willow when summer is over, a willow by the river from which no leaf has fallen nor bitten by the sun turned orange or crimson. The leaves cling and grow paler, swing and grow paler over the swirling waters of the river as if loath to let go, they are so cool, so drunk with the swirl of the wind and of the river— oblivious to winter, the last to let go and fall into the water and on the ground.
Approach of Winter
The half stripped trees struck by a wind together, bending all, the leaves flutter drily and refuse to let go or driven like hail stream bitterly out to one side and fall where the salvias, hard carmine,— like no leaf that ever was— edge the bare garden.
Again I reply to the triple winds running chromatic fifths of derision outside my window: Play louder. You will not succeed. I am bound more to my sentences the more you batter at me to follow you. And the wind, as before, fingers perfectly its derisive music.
Snow: years of anger following hours that float idly down— the blizzard drifts its weight deeper and deeper for three days or sixty years, eh? Then the sun! a clutter of yellow and blue flakes— Hairy looking trees stand out in long alleys over a wild solitude. The man turns and there— his solitary track stretched out upon the world.
To Waken an Old Lady
Old age is a flight of small cheeping birds skimming bare trees above a snow glaze. Gaining and failing they are buffetted by a dark wind— But what? On harsh weedstalks the flock has rested, the snow is covered with broken seedhusks and the wind tempered by a shrill piping of plenty.
All the complicated details of the attiring and the disattiring are completed! A liquid moon moves gently among the long branches. Thus having prepared their buds against a sure winter the wise trees stand sleeping in the cold.
They call me and I go It is a frozen road past midnight, a dust of snow caught in the rigid wheeltracks. The door opens. I smile, enter and shake off the cold. Here is a great woman on her side in the bed. She is sick, perhaps vomiting, perhaps laboring to give birth to a tenth child. Joy! Joy! Night is a room darkened for lovers, through the jalousies the sun has sent one gold needle! I pick the hair from her eyes and watch her misery with compassion.
The Cold Night
It is cold. The white moon is up among her scattered stars— like the bare thighs of the Police Sergeant’s wife—among her five children … No answer. Pale shadows lie upon the frosted grass. One answer: It is midnight, it is still and it is cold … ! White thighs of the sky! a new answer out of the depths of my male belly: In April … In April I shall see again—In April! the round and perfect thighs of the Police Sergeant’s wife perfect still after many babies. Oya!
The sky has given over its bitterness. Out of the dark change all day long rain falls and falls as if it would never end. Still the snow keeps its hold on the ground. But water, water from a thousand runnels! It collects swiftly, dappled with black cuts a way for itself through green ice in the gutters. Drop after drop it falls from the withered grass-stems of the overhanging embankment.
The hostess, in pink satin and blond hair—dressed high—shone beautifully in her white slippers against the great silent bald head of her little-eyed husband! Raising a glass of yellow Rhine wine in the narrow space just beyond the light-varnished woodwork and the decorative column between dining-room and hall, she smiled the smile of water tumbling from one ledge to another.
We began with a herring salad: delicately flavoured saltiness in scallops of lettuce-leaves.
The little owl-eyed and thick-set lady with masses of grey hair has smooth pink cheeks without a wrinkle. She cannot be the daughter of the little red-faced fellow dancing about inviting lion-headed Wolff the druggist to play the piano! But she is. Wolff is a terrific smoker: if the telephone goes off at night—so his curled-haired wife whispers—he rises from bed but cannot answer till he has lighted a cigarette.
Sherry wine in little conical glasses, dull brownish yellow, and tomatoes stuffed with finely cut chicken and mayonnaise!
The tall Irishman in a Prince Albert and the usual striped trousers is going to sing for us. (The piano is in a little alcove with dark curtains.) The hostess’s sister—ten years younger than she—in black net and velvet, has hair like some filmy haystack, cloudy about the eyes. She will play for her husband.
My wife is young, yes she is young and pretty when she cares to be—when she is interested in a discussion: it is the little dancing mayor’s wife telling her of the Day nursery in East Rutherford, ’cross the track, divided from us by the railroad—and disputes as to precedence. It is in this town the saloon flourishes, the saloon of my friend on the right whose wife has twice offended with chance words. Her English is atrocious! It is in this town that the saloon is situated, close to the railroad track, close as may be, this side being dry, dry, dry: two people listening on opposite sides of a wall!—The Day Nursery had sixty-five babies the week before last, so my wife’s eyes shine and her cheeks are pink and I cannot see a blemish.
Ice-cream in the shape of flowers and domestic objects: a pipe for me since I do not smoke, a doll for you.
The figure of some great bulk of a woman disappearing into the kitchen with a quick look over the shoulder. My friend on the left who has spent the whole day in a car the like of which some old fellow would give to an actress: flower-holders, mirrors, curtains, plush seats—my friend on the left who is chairman of the Streets committee of the town council —and who has spent the whole day studying automobile fire-engines in neighbouring towns in view of purchase—my friend, at the Elks last week at the breaking-up hymn, signalled for them to let Bill—a familiar friend of the saloon-keeper—sing out all alone to the organ—and he did sing!
Salz-rolls, exquisite! and Rhine wine ad libitum. A masterly caviare sandwich.
The children flitting about above stairs. The councilman has just bought a National eight—some car!
For heaven’s sake I mustn’t forget the halves of green peppers stuffed with cream cheese and whole walnuts!
I have had my dream—like others— and it has come to nothing, so that I remain now carelessly with feet planted on the ground and look up at the sky— feeling my clothes about me, the weight of my body in my shoes, the rim of my hat, air passing in and out at my nose—and decide to dream no more.
The Dark Day
A three-day-long rain from the east— an interminable talking, talking of no consequence—patter, patter, patter. Hand in hand little winds blow the thin streams aslant. Warm. Distance cut off. Seclusion. A few passers-by, drawn in upon themselves, hurry from one place to another. Winds of the white poppy! there is no escape!— An interminable talking, talking, talking … it has happened before. Backward, backward, backward.
Time the Hangman
Poor old Abner, old white-haired nigger! I remember when you were so strong you hung yourself by a rope round the neck in Doc Hollister’s barn to prove you could beat the faker in the circus—and it didn’t kill you. Now your face is in your hands, and your elbows are on your knees, and you are silent and broken.
To a Friend
Well, Lizzie Anderson! seventeen men—and the baby hard to find a father for!
What will the good Father in Heaven say to the local judge if he do not solve this problem? A little two pointed smile and—pouff!— the law is changed into a mouthful of phrases.
The Gentle Man
I feel the caress of my own fingers on my own neck as I place my collar and think pityingly of the kind women I have known.
The Soughing Wind
Some leaves hang late, some fall before the first frost—so goes the tale of winter branches and old bones.
O my grey hairs! You are truly white as plum blossoms.
Subtle, clever brain, wiser than I am, by what devious means do you contrive to remain idle? Teach me, O master.
Leaves are greygreen, the glass broken, bright green.
By constantly tormenting them with reminders of the lice in their children’s hair, the School Physician first brought their hatred down on him, But by this familiarity they grew used to him, and so, at last, took him for their friend and adviser.
It was an icy day. We buried the cat, then took her box and set fire to it in the back yard. Those fleas that escaped earth and fire died by the cold.
Memory of April
You say love is this, love is that: Poplar tassels, willow tendrils the wind and the rain comb, tinkle and drip, tinkle and drip— branches drifting apart. Hagh! Love has not even visited this country.
An old willow with hollow branches slowly swayed his few high bright tendrils and sang:
Love is a young green willow shimmering at the bare wood’s edge.
The dayseye hugging the earth in August, ha! Spring is gone down in purple, weeds stand high in the corn, the rainbeaten furrow is clotted with sorrel and crabgrass, the branch is black under the heavy mass of the leaves— The sun is upon a slender green stem ribbed lengthwise. He lies on his back— it is a woman also— he regards his former majesty and round the yellow center, split and creviced and done into minute flowerheads, he sends out his twenty rays—a little and the wind is among them to grow cool there!
One turns the thing over in his hand and looks at it from the rear: brownedged, green and pointed scales armor his yellow. But turn and turn, the crisp petals remain brief, translucent, greenfastened, barely touching at the edges: blades of limpid seashell.
Yellow, yellow, yellow, yellow! It is not a color. It is summer! It is the wind on a willow, the lap of waves, the shadow under a bush, a bird, a bluebird, three herons, a dead hawk rotting on a pole— Clear yellow! It is a piece of blue paper in the grass or a threecluster of green walnuts swaying, children playing croquet or one boy fishing, a man swinging his pink fists as he walks— It is ladysthumb, forgetmenots in the ditch, moss under the flange of the carrail, the wavy lines in split rock, a great oaktree— It is a disinclination to be five red petals or a rose, it is a cluster of birdsbreast flowers on a red stem six feet high, four open yellow petals above sepals curled backward into reverse spikes— Tufts of purple grass spot the green meadow and clouds the sky.
Her body is not so white as anemony petals nor so smooth—nor so remote a thing. It is a field of the wild carrot taking the field by force; the grass does not raise above it. Here is no question of whiteness, white as can be, with a purple mole at the center of each flower. Each flower is a hand’s span of her whiteness. Wherever his hand has lain there is a tiny purple blemish. Each part is a blossom under his touch to which the fibres of her being stem one by one, each to its end, until the whole field is a white desire, empty, a single stem, a cluster, flower by flower, a pious wish to whiteness gone over— or nothing.
One leaves his leaves at home being a mullen and sends up a lighthouse to peer from: I will have my way, yellow—A mast with a lantern, ten fifty, a hundred, smaller and smaller as they grow more—Liar, liar, liar! You come from her! I can smell djer-kiss on your clothes. Ha, ha! you come to me, you—I am a point of dew on a grass-stem. Why are you sending heat down on me from your lantern?—You are cowdung, a dead stick with the bark off. She is squirting on us both. She has had her hand on you!—Well?—She has defiled ME.—Your leaves are dull, thick and hairy.—Every hair on my body will hold you off from me. You are a dungcake, birdlime on a fencerail.— I love you, straight, yellow finger of God pointing to—her! Liar, broken weed, duncake, you have— I am a cricket waving his antenae and you are high, grey and straight. Ha!
When I am alone I am happy. The air is cool. The sky is flecked and splashed and wound with color. The crimson phalloi of the sassafrass leaves hang crowded before me in shoals on the heavy branches. When I reach my doorstep I am greeted by the happy shrieks of my children and my heart sinks. I am crushed.
Are not my children as dear to me as falling leaves or must one become stupid to grow older? It seems much as if Sorrow had tripped up my heels. Let us see, let us see! What did I plan to say to her when it should happen to me as it has happened now?
In the flashes and black shadows of July the days, locked in each other’s arms, seem still so that squirrels and colored birds go about at ease over the branches and through the air.
Where will a shoulder split or a forehead open and victory be?
Nowhere. Both sides grow older.
And you may be sure not one leaf will lift itself from the ground and become fast to a twig again.
And yet one arrives somehow, finds himself loosening the hooks of her dress in a strange bedroom— feels the autumn dropping its silk and linen leaves about her ankles. The tawdry veined body emerges twisted upon itself like a winter wind … !
To a Friend Concerning Several Ladies
You know there is not much that I desire, a few crysanthemums half lying on the grass, yellow and brown and white, the talk of a few people, the trees, an expanse of dried leaves perhaps with ditches among them. But there comes between me and these things a letter or even a look—well placed, you understand, so that I am confused, twisted four ways and—left flat, unable to lift the food to my own mouth: Here is what they say: Come! and come! and come! And if I do not go I remain stale to myself and if I go— I have watched the city from a distance at night and wondered why I wrote no poem. Come! yes, the city is ablaze for you and you stand and look at it.
And they are right. There is no good in the world except out of a woman and certain women alone for certain things. But what if I arrive like a turtle with my house on my back or a fish ogling from under water? It will not do. I must be steaming with love, colored like a flamingo. For what? To have legs and a silly head and to smell, pah! like a flamingo that soils its own feathers behind. Must I go home filled with a bad poem? And they say: Who can answer these things till he has tried? Your eyes are half closed, you are a child, oh, a sweet one, ready to play but I will make a man of you and with love on his shoulder—!
And in the marshes the crickets run on the sunny dike’s top and make burrows there, the water reflects the reeds and the reeds move on their stalks and rattle drily.
Youth and Beauty
I bought a dishmop— having no daughter— for they had twisted fine ribbons of shining copper about white twine and made a towsled head of it, fastened it upon a turned ash stick slender at the neck straight, tall— when tied upright on the brass wallbracket to be a light for me— and naked, as a girl should seem to her father.
My wife’s new pink slippers have gay pom-poms. There is not a spot or a stain on their satin toes or their sides. All night they lie together under her bed’s edge. Shivering I catch sight of them and smile, in the morning. Later I watch them descending the stair, hurrying through the doors and round the table, moving stiffly with a shake of their gay pom-poms! And I talk to them in my secret mind out of pure happiness.
Upon the table in their bowl in violent disarray of yellow sprays, green spikes of leaves, red pointed petals and curled heads of blue and white among the litter of the forks and crumbs and plates the flowers remain composed. Cooly their colloquy continues above the coffee and loud talk grown frail as vaudeville.
The Tulip Bed
The May sun—whom all things imitate— that glues small leaves to the wooden trees shone from the sky through bluegauze clouds upon the ground. Under the leafy trees where the suburban streets lay crossed, with houses on each corner, tangled shadows had begun to join the roadway and the lawns. With excellent precision the tulip bed inside the iron fence upreared its gaudy yellow, white and red, rimmed round with grass, reposedly.
The world begins again! Not wholly insufflated the blackbirds in the rain upon the dead topbranches of the living tree, stuck fast to the low clouds, notate the dawn. Their shrill cries sound announcing appetite and drop among the bending roses and the dripping grass.
My shoes as I lean unlacing them stand out upon flat worsted flowers under my feet. Nimbly the shadows of my fingers play unlacing over shoes and flowers.
In this world of as fine a pair of breasts as ever I saw the fountain in Madison Square spouts up of water a white tree that dies and lives as the rocking water in the basin turns from the stonerim back upon the jet and rising there reflectively drops down again.
I stopped the car to let the children down where the streets end in the sun at the marsh edge and the reeds begin and there are small houses facing the reeds and the blue mist in the distance with grapevine trellises with grape clusters small as strawberries on the vines and ditches running springwater that continue the gutters with willows over them. The reeds begin like water at a shore their pointed petals waving dark green and light. But blueflags are blossoming in the reeds which the children pluck chattering in the reeds high over their heads which they part with bare arms to appear with fists of flowers till in the air there comes the smell of calamus from wet, gummy stalks.
The Widow’s Lament in Springtime
Sorrow is my own yard where the new grass flames as it has flamed often before but not with the cold fire that closes round me this year. Thirtyfive years I lived with my husband. The plumtree is white today with masses of flowers. Masses of flowers load the cherry branches and color some bushes yellow and some red but the grief in my heart is stronger than they for though they were my joy formerly, today I notice them and turn away forgetting. Today my son told me that in the meadows, at the edge of the heavy woods in the distance, he saw trees of white flowers. I feel that I would like to go there and fall into those flowers and sink into the marsh near them.
Light Hearted William
Light hearted William twirled his November moustaches and, half dressed, looked from the bedroom window upon the spring weather.
Heigh-ya! sighed he gaily leaning out to see up and down the street where a heavy sunlight lay beyond some blue shadows.
Into the room he drew his head again and laughed to himself quietly twirling his green moustaches.
Portrait of the Author
The birches are mad with green points the wood’s edge is burning with their green, burning, seething—No, no, no. The birches are opening their leaves one by one. Their delicate leaves unfold cold and separate, one by one. Slender tassels hang swaying from the delicate branch tips— Oh, I cannot say it. There is no word. Black is split at once into flowers. In every bog and ditch, flares of small fire, white flowers!—Agh, the birches are mad, mad with their green. The world is gone, torn into shreds with this blessing. What have I left undone that I should have undertaken
O my brother, you redfaced, living man ignorant, stupid whose feet are upon this same dirt that I touch—and eat. We are alone in this terror, alone, face to face on this road, you and I, wrapped by this flame! Let the polished plows stay idle, their gloss already on the black soil. But that face of yours—! Answer me. I will clutch you. I will hug you, grip you. I will poke my face into your face and force you to see me. Take me in your arms, tell me the commonest thing that is in your mind to say, say anything. I will understand you—! It is the madness of the birch leaves opening cold, one by one.
My rooms will receive me. But my rooms are no longer sweet spaces where comfort is ready to wait on me with its crumbs. A darkness has brushed them. The mass of yellow tulips in the bowl is shrunken. Every familiar object is changed and dwarfed. I am shaken, broken against a might that splits comfort, blows apart my careful partitions, crushes my house and leaves me—with shrinking heart and startled, empty eyes—peering out into a cold world.
In the spring I would drink! In the spring I would be drunk and lie forgetting all things. Your face! Give me your face, Yang Kue Fei! your hands, your lips to drink! Give me your wrists to drink— I drag you, I am drowned in you, you overwhelm me! Drink! Save me! The shad bush is in the edge of the clearing. The yards in a fury of lilac blossoms are driving me mad with terror. Drink and lie forgetting the world.
And coldly the birch leaves are opening one by one. Coldly I observe them and wait for the end. And it ends.
The Lonely Street
School is over. It is too hot to walk at ease. At ease in light frocks they walk the streets to while the time away. They have grown tall. They hold pink flames in their right hands. In white from head to foot, with sidelong, idle look— in yellow, floating stuff, black sash and stockings— touching their avid mouths with pink sugar on a stick— like a carnation each holds in her hand— they mount the lonely street.
The Great Figure
Among the rain and lights I saw the figure 5 in gold on a red firetruck moving with weight and urgency tense unheeded to gong clangs siren howls and wheels rumbling through the dark city.