These poems do not live: it's a sad diagnosis.
They grew their toes and fingers well enough,
Their little foreheads bulged with concentration.
If they missed out on walking about like people
It wasn't for any lack of mother-love.
O I cannot explain what happened to them!
They are proper in shape and number and every part.
They sit so nicely in the pickling fluid!
They smile and smile and smile at me.
And still the lungs won't fill and the heart won't start.
They are not pigs, they are not even fish,
Though they have a piggy and a fishy air --
It would be better if they were alive, and that's what they were.
But they are dead, and their mother near dead with distraction,
And they stupidly stare and do not speak of her.
But I would rather be horizontal.
I am not a tree with my root in the soil
Sucking up minerals and motherly love
So that each March I may gleam into leaf,
Nor am I the beauty of a garden bed
Attracting my share of Ahs and spectacularly painted,
Unknowing I must soon unpetal.
Compared with me, a tree is immortal
And a flower-head not tall, but more startling,
And I want the one's longevity and the other's daring.
Tonight, in the infinitesimal light of the stars,
The trees and flowers have been strewing their cool odors.
I walk among them, but none of them are noticing.
Sometimes I think that when I am sleeping
I must most perfectly resemble them--
Thoughts gone dim.
It is more natural to me, lying down.
Then the sky and I are in open conversation,
And I shall be useful when I lie down finally:
The the trees may touch me for once, and the flowers have time for me.
I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus
With tigery stripes, and a face on it
Round as the moon, to stare up.
I want to be looking at them when they come
Picking among the dumb minerals, the roots.
I see them already -- the pale, star-distance faces.
Now they are nothing, they are not even babies.
I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important.
I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit!
My mirror is clouding over --
A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all.
The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.
I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam
In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it.
One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that.
They stay, their little particular lusters
Warmed by much handling. They almost purr.
When the soles of my feet grow cold,
The blue eye of my tortoise will comfort me.
Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots
Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell.
They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart
Under my feet in a neat parcel.
I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark,
And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.
Your clear eye is the one absolutely beautiful thing.
I want to fill it with color and ducks,
The zoo of the new
Whose name you meditate --
April snowdrop, Indian pipe,
Stalk without wrinkle,
Pool in which images
Should be grand and classical
Not this troublous
Wringing of hands, this dark
Ceiling without a star.
Little poppies, little hell flames,
Do you do no harm?
You flicker. I cannot touch you.
I put my hands among the flames. Nothing burns
And it exhausts me to watch you
Flickering like that, wrinkly and clear red, like the skin of a mouth.
A mouth just bloodied.
Little bloody skirts!
There are fumes I cannot touch.
Where are your opiates, your nauseous capsules?
If I could bleed, or sleep! -
If my mouth could marry a hurt like that!
Or your liquors seep to me, in this glass capsule,
Dulling and stilling.
But colorless. Colorless.
Lady, your room is lousy with flowers.
When you kick me out, that's what I'll remember,
Me, sitting here bored as a loepard
In your jungle of wine-bottle lamps,
Velvet pillows the color of blood pudding
And the white china flying fish from Italy.
I forget you, hearing the cut flowers
Sipping their liquids from assorted pots,
Pitchers and Coronation goblets
Like Monday drunkards. The milky berries
Bow down, a local constellation,
Toward their admirers in the tabletop:
Mobs of eyeballs looking up.
Are those petals of leaves you've paried with them ---
Those green-striped ovals of silver tissue?
The red geraniums I know.
Friends, friends. They stink of armpits
And the invovled maladies of autumn,
Musky as a lovebed the morning after.
My nostrils prickle with nostalgia.
Henna hags:cloth of your cloth.
They tow old water thick as fog.
The roses in the Toby jug
Gave up the ghost last night. High time.
Their yellow corsets were ready to split.
You snored, and I heard the petals unlatch,
Tapping and ticking like nervous fingers.
You should have junked them before they died.
Daybreak discovered the bureau lid
Littered with Chinese hands. Now I'm stared at
By chrysanthemums the size
Of Holofernes' head, dipped in the same
Magenta as this fubsy sofa.
In the mirror their doubles back them up.
Listen: your tenant mice
Are rattling the cracker packets. Fine flour
Muffles their bird feet: they whistle for joy.
And you doze on, nose to the wall.
This mizzle fits me like a sad jacket.
How did we make it up to your attic?
You handed me gin in a glass bud vase.
We slept like stones. Lady, what am I doing
With a lung full of dust and a tongue of wood,
Knee-deep in the cold swamped by flowers?
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful --
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
The word of a snail on the plate of a leaf?
It is not mine. Do not accept it.
Acetic acid in a sealed tin?
Do not accept it. It is not genuine.
A ring of gold with the sun in it?
Lies. Lies and a grief.
Frost on a leaf, the immaculate
Cauldron, talking and crackling
All to itself on the top of each
Of nine black Alps.
A disturbance in mirrors,
The sea shattering its grey one ----
Love, love, my season.
The hills step off into whiteness.
People or stars
Regard me sadly, I disappoint them.
The train leaves a line of breath.
Horse the colour of rust,
Hooves, dolorous bells ----
All morning the
Morning has been blackening,
A flower left out.
My bones hold a stillness, the far
Fields melt my heart.
To let me through to a heaven
Starless and fatherless, a dark water.
The word, defining, muzzles; the drawn line
Ousts mistier peers and thrives, murderous,
In establishments which imagined lines
Can only haunt. Sturdy as potatoes,
Stones, without conscience, word and line endure,
Given an inch. Not that they're gross (although
Afterthought often would have them alter
To delicacy, to poise) but that they
Shortchange me continuously: whether
More or other, they still dissatisfy.
Unpoemed, unpictured, the potato
Bunches its knobby browns on a vastly
Superior page; the blunt stone also.
The Sunday lamb cracks in its fat.
Sacrifices its opacity. . . .
A window, holy gold.
The fire makes it precious,
The same fire
Melting the tallow heretics,
Ousting the Jews.
Their thick palls float
Over the cicatrix of Poland, burnt-out
They do not die.
Grey birds obsess my heart,
Mouth-ash, ash of eye.
They settle. On the high
That emptied one man into space
The ovens glowed like heavens, incandescent.
It is a heart,
This holocaust I walk in,
O golden child the world will kill and eat.
It happens. Will it go on? ----
My mind a rock,
No fingers to grip, no tongue,
My god the iron lung
That loves me, pumps
Dust bags in and out,
Let me relapse
While the day outside glides by like ticker tape.
The night brings violets,
Tapestries of eyes,
The soft anonymous
Talkers: 'You all right?'
The starched, inaccessible breast.
Dead egg, I lie
On a whole world I cannot touch,
At the white, tight
Drum of my sleeping couch
Photographs visit me-
My wife, dead and flat, in 1920 furs,
Mouth full of pearls,
As flat as she, who whisper 'We're your daughters.'
The still waters
Wrap my lips,
Eyes, nose and ears,
Cellophane I cannot crack.
On my bare back
I smile, a buddha, all
Falling from me like rings
Hugging their lights.
Of the magnolia,
Drunk on its own scents,
Asks nothing of life.
The smile of iceboxes annihilates me.
Such blue currents in the veins of my loved one!
I hear her great heart purr.
From her lips ampersands and percent signs
Exit like kisses.
It is Monday in her mind: morals
Launder and present themselves.
What am I to make of these contradictions?
I wear white cuffs, I bow.
Is this love then, this red material
Issuing from the steele needle that flies so blindingly?
It will make little dresses and coats,
It will cover a dynasty.
How her body opens and shuts --
A Swiss watch, jeweled in the hinges!
O heart, such disorganization!
The stars are flashing like terrible numerals.
ABC, her eyelids say.
This is winter, this is night, small love --
A sort of black horsehair,
A rough, dumb country stuff
Steeled with the sheen
Of what green stars can make it to our gate.
I hold you on my arm.
It is very late.
The dull bells tongue the hour.
The mirror floats us at one candle power.
This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither
Only to blow
Them huge again, violent giants on the wall.
One match scratch makes you real.
At first the candle will not bloom at all --
It snuffs its bud
To almost nothing, to a dull blue dud.
I hold my breath until you creak to life,
Small and cross. The yellow knife
Grows tall. You clutch your bars.
My singing makes you roar.
I rock you like a boat
Across the Indian carpet, the cold floor,
While the brass man
Kneels, back bent, as best he can
Hefting his white pillar with the light
That keeps the sky at bay,
The sack of black! It is everywhere, tight, tight!
He is yours, the little brassy Atlas --
Poor heirloom, all you have,
At his heels a pile of five brass cannonballs,
No child, no wife.
Five balls! Five bright brass balls!
To juggle with, my love, when the sky falls.
The night is only a sort of carbon paper,
Blueblack, with the much-poked periods of stars
Letting in the light, peephole after peephole --
A bonewhite light, like death, behind all things.
Under the eyes of the stars and the moon's rictus
He suffers his desert pillow, sleeplessness
Stretching its fine, irritating sand in all directions.
Over and over the old, granular movie
Exposes embarrassments--the mizzling days
Of childhood and adolescence, sticky with dreams,
Parental faces on tall stalks, alternately stern and tearful,
A garden of buggy rose that made him cry.
His forehead is bumpy as a sack of rocks.
Memories jostle each other for face-room like obsolete film stars.
He is immune to pills: red, purple, blue --
How they lit the tedium of the protracted evening!
Those sugary planets whose influence won for him
A life baptized in no-life for a while,
And the sweet, drugged waking of a forgetful baby.
Now the pills are worn-out and silly, like classical gods.
Their poppy-sleepy colors do him no good.
His head is a little interior of grey mirrors.
Each gesture flees immediately down an alley
Of diminishing perspectives, and its significance
Drains like water out the hole at the far end.
He lives without privacy in a lidless room,
The bald slots of his eyes stiffened wide-open
On the incessant heat-lightning flicker of situations.
Nightlong, in the granite yard, invisible cats
Have been howling like women, or damaged instruments.
Already he can feel daylight, his white disease,
Creeping up with her hatful of trivial repetitions.
The city is a map of cheerful twitters now,
And everywhere people, eyes mica-silver and blank,
Are riding to work in rows, as if recently brainwashed.
A smile fell in the grass.
And how will your night dances
Lose themselves. In mathematics?
Such pure leaps and spirals ----
Surely they travel
The world forever, I shall not entirely
Sit emptied of beauties, the gift
Of your small breath, the drenched grass
Smell of your sleeps, lilies, lilies.
Their flesh bears no relation.
Cold folds of ego, the calla,
And the tiger, embellishing itself ----
Spots, and a spread of hot petals.
Have such a space to cross,
Such coldness, forgetfulness.
So your gestures flake off ----
Warm and human, then their pink light
Bleeding and peeling
Through the black amnesias of heaven.
Why am I given
These lamps, these planets
Falling like blessings, like flakes
Six sided, white
On my eyes, my lips, my hair
Touching and melting.
Since Christmas they have lived with us,
Guileless and clear,
Taking up half the space,
Moving and rubbing on the silk
Invisible air drifts,
Giving a shriek and pop
When attacked, then scooting to rest, barely trembling.
Yellow cathead, blue fish ----
Such queer moons we live with
Instead of dead furniture!
Straw mats, white walls
And these traveling
Globes of thin air, red, green,
The heart like wishes or free
Old ground with a feather
Beaten in starry metals.
Brother is making
His balloon squeak like a cat.
Seeming to see
A funny pink world he might eat on the other side of it,
Back, fat jug
Contemplating a world clear as water.
Shred in his little fist.
Pure? What does it mean?
The tongues of hell
Are dull, dull as the triple
Tongues of dull, fat Cerebus
Who wheezes at the gate. Incapable
Of licking clean
The aguey tendon, the sin, the sin.
The tinder cries.
The indelible smell
Of a snuffed candle!
Love, love, the low smokes roll
From me like Isadora's scarves, I'm in a fright
One scarf will catch and anchor in the wheel.
Such yellow sullen smokes
Make their own element. They will not rise,
But trundle round the globe
Choking the aged and the meek,
Hothouse baby in its crib,
The ghastly orchid
Hanging its hanging garden in the air,
Radiation turned it white
And killed it in an hour.
Greasing the bodies of adulterers
Like Hiroshima ash and eating in.
The sin. The sin.
Darling, all night
I have been flickering, off, on, off, on.
The sheets grow heavy as a lecher's kiss.
Three days. Three nights.
Lemon water, chicken
Water, water make me retch.
I am too pure for you or anyone.
Hurts me as the world hurts God. I am a lantern ----
My head a moon
Of Japanese paper, my gold beaten skin
Infinitely delicate and infinitely expensive.
Does not my heat astound you. And my light.
All by myself I am a huge camellia
Glowing and coming and going, flush on flush.
I think I am going up,
I think I may rise ----
The beads of hot metal fly, and I, love, I
Am a pure acetylene
Attended by roses,
By kisses, by cherubim,
By whatever these pink things mean.
Not you, nor him.
Not him, nor him
(My selves dissolving, old whore petticoats) ----
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in
I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.
I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.
I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses
And my history to the anaesthetist and my body to surgeons.
They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff
Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,
So it is impossible to tell how many there are.
My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.
Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage ----
My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,
My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;
Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.
I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat
Stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.
Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley
I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books
Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.
I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.
I didn't want any flowers, I only wanted
To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
How free it is, you have no idea how free ----
The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them
Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.
The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe
Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.
Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
They are subtle: they seem to float, though they weigh me down,
Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their colour,
A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.
Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.
The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,
And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow
Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,
And I hve no face, I have wanted to efface myself.
The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.
Before they came the air was calm enough,
Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.
Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river
Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.
They concentrate my attention, that was happy
Playing and resting without committing itself.
The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;
They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,
And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
And comes from a country far away as health.
Not easy to state the change you made.
If I'm alive now, then I was dead,
Though, like a stone, unbothered by it,
Staying put according to habit.
You didn't just tow me an inch, no--
Nor leave me to set my small bald eye
Skyward again, without hope, of course,
Of apprehending blueness, or stars.
That wasn't it. I slept, say: a snake
Masked among black rocks as a black rock
In the white hiatus of winter--
Like my neighbors, taking no pleasure
In the million perfectly-chisled
Cheeks alighting each moment to melt
My cheeks of basalt. They turned to tears,
Angels weeping over dull natures,
But didn't convince me. Those tears froze.
Each dead head had a visor of ice.
And I slept on like a bent finger.
The first thing I was was sheer air
And the locked drops rising in dew
Limpid as spirits. Many stones lay
Dense and expressionless round about.
I didn't know what to make of it.
I shone, mice-scaled, and unfolded
To pour myself out like a fluid
Among bird feet and the stems of plants.
I wasn't fooled. I knew you at once.
Tree and stone glittered, without shadows.
My finger-length grew lucent as glass.
I started to bud like a March twig:
An arm and a leg, and arm, a leg.
From stone to cloud, so I ascended.
Now I resemble a sort of god
Floating through the air in my soul-shift
Pure as a pane of ice. It's a gift.