How often their predictable voices jostling the night air
within a scent’s reach of jonquils and jasmine
and the eyes’ blinded reach of the insoluable sphinx
turn ideas in themselves—a circulating zephyr—
too loudly, paradaisal and prismatic:
the silver words!—Death’s stealth
relinquishes finally nothing but their motion;
British, French, Turkish, German, Arabic,
mean nothing to the eclipsing god,
their silence wrought in menacing origin,
that has no halve, killing them where they’re standing.
The useless breasts, diminutive exchanges,
live in the shadow of their apocalyptic
certainty: beyond which there is nothing.
Why do the lovers speak
if not to disturb and unsettle eternal darkness?
The smooth figures shine
as if to reflect perpetual myriad
certainties, affirmations closed from inside.
The long halls deflect
their obsidian madness, tantalize
incognizable, implacable prophecies
unshouldering stone, imperfect and intact.
Confined within the silence of these walls.
Cracked boulders of glass
exact and exempt the traveller’s surmise,
deferring to look into his eyes
with so much passion as to scorch the will.
Perpetually the unborn fulfill
his destiny, beyond which nothing lies.
What in the end is rain?
Conceit and grammar
fructifying to undo white space,
wall they are carried past as to efface
their going there—humid and perfume and guide;
to this endless motion are allied
the arts of the static—the ribbon and the drawer,
the car parked in the same lot as before
the rain draws past: calyx and surmise!
The water birds and the east central herds
repattern music, figures in disguise,
the orphan stays inside.
Night like an opiate drowns
a sense of waiting. All carved on one door!
Think of it. Thousands of grids
that have their double not even in existence—
as if one steamy cloud of alphabet soup
hid not only birth and the father that is working
but the immemorial repeatable
vortex and mantle of the possible image:
descending so far beneath the immaculate sea
as to cast the city into its tributary,
reordering unity of the glozening sky.
Kempt here band of images that never die!
They tumble upside down, implacable grids
that wash out summer and anchor in the winter,
extend the fall into the breach of evening,
and block out night—the one eye of the gods.
So toward the mother, the mother of the father—
like crags of rock the sexless industry
that wordlessly prevails, and true north wind!
The tales of Beatrix Potter can’t rescind
her personal secretary, the ornamental willow!
Like lashes of repentance the closed hand
leaves just one crack for the boy King to enter
past ancient sleep to crawl out on the window
and see the city spread like landing gear
where orphans close on one immaculate rose!
What came before holds steadfast like a center
behind the mind’s blind decade, decadence
that even the talons of the sinless purchase!
Strangers upon the road to Troy. O boy!
So late to the images let one arise—
as if without reason. Pivoting on one end—
that all the city should drain down to this,
prophetic upon a porch, lead to a kiss.
Stranger, familiar still he cannot name!
But to observe it without thinking again!
That all the city should drain down to this—
vast and remembered, throbbing without pain,
pivoting on one stranger, who foresaw!
Who had provided the prophetic porch
that ended in the procession and the torch!
Come again! This image comes and comes again—
although the boy King’s mother be in Spain
or husbandless: is marked out bright and plain.
And end in rain. Just as it begins.
To wade through the perpetual hieroglyphs,
one constant stranger, visiting to tea.
The afternoon sinks down: Chinee! Chinee!
And though you have a lot to say to me,
blankets the evening and conceals the night—
as if one starry fog were shining bright
to be repaid with afterthoughts. One bliss!
Sinking into an opiatic haze
as if there were no number to its days.
I can’t recall! I can’t recall the sights
but, as if the silent film restarts,
and has a lot to say, the broken lights
serve to remember what they cannot name.
Yet the convincing armour of the wind
concedes no victory. The castles shroud
the statuary and the hall speaks loud
of what is not regained. Love is not stained!
if it be love. It is not for the crowd
to pick through dung reserved but for the king.
It is the solo party that shall fling
the name about, cross purposed with the wind.
The coming of the age it is will find
what it possesses—that it hath one mind.
And cannot answer. Arvind! Arvind! Arvind!
Settle and possesseth of the wind
the one true beauty. Arrive and you will find
the treasure that hath left the past behind.
Out there, in the backyard, out by the sand box,
a world of laundry lines runs like planets to the stars,
it is so vast a world to call across,
and steeped and drenched in promise, like those stars
paired to grow brilliantly in shining pride.
Shapes retaining the imagination,
stepping forward, without even a voice to call,
but wrinkled by the wind, as if important,
the peach trees repeating what they made the planets,
endless, but even then a legend of loss.
Are memories real, or only imagination!
The oldest memories of rooms and flags . . .
They can’t have been, as this itself can’t be.
All is previous! Yet joyous to live inside them.
How often what is apparent is only a sideshow:
dressed up elaborately in a costume of crowds
and customs, signifying walls
memory erodes, more powerful than towers of steel,
their scattered archives as transient as Atlantis!
And yet you called my name and I was there,
pinnacled at the same height of the city,
at time’s perfection: emblem and ideal
two sets of eyes meet only at one time:
secret and brightest gem in Christmas’ setting.
Yes, they adon the sheerest silver robes
to perch upon the equinoctial stars
and see all myths surveyed and intertwined
and point out toward what the new year will find.
Then all alone, to sweep the dusty pavement
within four walls, and never to see reprieve!
Until the local minibus lets out
into vast caverns (its sudden new schedule)
of rooftops tangled by snow, sky and trees.
Matchless out here among the eternities!
As if in every direction they would climb
to know no end, but one obscurity.
This is love! To know one name and limb
squelched and silenced by the voice of god.
The driver lets another passenger inside
then you depart, aimless, unwitnessing,
here where the rooftops tumble upside down
and nothing that you think or do is known.
Still see them flying, fantastic, unrestrained,
like pearls of heaven, masters of the wind,
whose flags are sheer scarfs tattered by the cold!
To rise without reference upwardly so bold
their only aim! Mild avatars of fame!
What grisly mechanisms dash them down!
And how, how, how can they still believe
the icy zenith of the wind’s reprieve!
To cross as if in one magnificent X
the lofty channels of their tabooed wrecks
and still no shame, to leave us but a name,
or part of an engine that propelled their fame!
Above the heights they rise!
Shrinking our cities in their watery eyes,
their maps beyond compare!
Converging with the stars because they dare!
Harpo was also, know this, Paul Revere.
And Frankenstein, and Dracula, and Jane.
Or would you say that I have gone insane?
What would you do, then, to even the score?
And what is more, should the boy King stand clear
and leave the sword undrawn, and face the door?
I could tell you, so many times before!
How every store front is its own museum
and where we two meet in the eyes of heaven.
Traffic stop! And listen to me now!
The King has spoken, and he takes his bow.
O How! How could his little woman
be admitted to the judgement of heaven.
The judgement day is here, the day is now!
Moonlight like glass like milk like coconut milk
so far south that the pallet the mind strains
paints new predictions with or without rains
on the still obsolescent hacienda!
This double life is the very last mind bender
in an unconsidered life if it at last be born
in heirloom portraits and undiscovered silk.
What will the morning bring! For now to sleep
without escaping these promises so deep
the glass bric a brac shines with their insignia
and wheels into the dark, the vast enigma
of a life unlived—the whole world turns
and seals its secret as the man boy yearns
for his identity and figlia.
No mystery if the cats gather as this strange encounter
should have come to have emblematize the city:
for of all those who passed and paid homage to their peer
only you remained, after the room was clear.
The way is unsteady, past the museum of thoughts
that jostle the aftergoers after midnight,
but the way home straight: one shot of hammering train,
then silence. You enter the unexpectedly grand
unflowering existence, emptying your hand,
and admiring the disorderly filaments,
exacerbated desires the morning must put away.
But now: the full confession to the stranger.
The night drives like a rocket to its danger,
apart from the world, and with nothing to regret.
Philip Nikolayev!—at thirty-eight.
The night before our lifetime’s greatest party!
We stood outside the KGB Bar’s gate
and passed a joint around. He said:
I can’t remember what. I wrote it down
in a matchbook. Remember us when we’re dead.
Our life was wild with surprise and with surmise
and a half-inkling that it came but once,
could come no other way. We filled the dawn’s
streaky blue-red-yellow with words and weeds
on our own Hudson Bay; such were our deeds.
We were the toast of all the poets once,
and filled many rooms with much incessant laughter.
May god forgive us for what must come after.
Landis and Stephen! Discoveries in my bed!
A letter mailed at dawn. Geoffrey was gone.
Anything happened. Much synchronicity
confuses the immaculately precise.
No wonder who heaped these treasures in our eyes.
We hashed them out. In the parked car till dawn.
When every color from every shape was gone,
and all that remained was upside down in bed.
I talked the universe out of my head,
and you were my mirror. I was understood!
The poetry we wrote was more than good,
it was unreal and real. Now what we feel
descends to that world which exists beyond the grave.
Where no one sleeps, and language is our slave.
What was her name for hours past Sather Gate
and on the bus to San Luis Obispo
she was my cell phone wife. Enchanted life!
To see once more like a great enchilada
the spread out fields down to the central coast.
Life is a dream! That trip I liked the most
where in a storm—do I really this recall?—
they burned some candles, had painted on the wall
the “Madrigal” that Landis wrote for me.
I sojourned on a remote mountain top
where nearly every cell phone call would drop,
surrounded by wolves. And lions. Good Roy Kahn
drove me through torrential rain storms at dawn
to have coffee on the isolated pier.
Skittering images! Gone with the Wind,
The Love-Ins, Charles Boyer, Irene Dunne!
The signals mixed and crossed—an afterlife
of quantum time-ash—white hairs on my head!
Eternity a headline newsprint thin,
existing nowhere! Brought this back to Berkeley,
where much as I roamed, no people did I see.
Jack Spicer’s ghost! And Duncan’s!
What’s it to me
if these continue on and live
without a history?
My best friend died;
the winds, the pines, the redwoods are allied.
I am outside; does no one live inside?
Berkeley at night. The stellar enchilada
conveys my sympathies to the oblique
and passing tragic traffic. The physique
of unoperating restaurants without a key
hides my own matic. Deeper than that I go
to where the light shields chutelike on one static
querulous quest of footing where rats go
and no one bothers, I will meet no other.
This is life without sun, without father or mother,
where I may as well have killed my brother.
Eternity stops. Beyond that what else is there?
Just me and the moon. My footsteps.
Is the world real? Do these places exist?
I hear nothing. Soon I will see nothing.
how they return in the moment inevitable,
too scary to face. Huge crescendo of volume
to minor subtonic, then back again, a rock cliff’s face,
stark, sliding, struck by lightning, continually alternating,
unbearable revelation. Shrouded in darkness,
yet revealed. Horrible to look at. Those notes that are
what you heard are now binding. Yes, the expedition
was sent to Brazil by the British. Like Dracula or the Mummy,
they didn’t even know what they’d hear. Elusive revenge
of the gods, shaking the world, on a cliff’s edge,
stark (with lightning crackling, breaking the darkness).
Ancient, not to be fooled with.
Signals go out, received all over the world.
In imitation of the sun’s energy—
in its capacity of a direct motor.
Forces at work in hidden corners of nature.
Turning the Gunga or the Brahmaputra,
back to its sources. View us as simple men.
“not only that They existed”.
“given to Mr. Sinnett”. “the Master K.H.”.
Avalanche in the Karakorum Mts.
Letters will cease at her death.
Simultaneously in Tibet and Egypt,
in London and Paris, New York and San Francisco,
Los Angeles and Russia. Nearby in Peru.
Breakfast is served in the Alps.
They have written, they have written. Written. Written.
An Old Lady in the Natural History Museum
And should the afternoon go down
upon the echo of the brown
enumeration of our race
and leaving a residual face
exempt us from this constant place
still see incognizant the sign
levelled between the smile and frown
and cropped hedge the long anodyne
and evening parallel they drown.
For there thin lips and watered eye
are hunched upon the citadel
in deep inversions of the sky
and permutations of the town
that the old crone will never tell.
At Karnak the boy king was buried alive.
The burial party silenced. Three thousand years passed.
At the last moment of the concession to dig
the sixteen steps were discovered. The unbroken seals.
The mummy walked. Who saw it went insane.
The Lord patron died of a mosquito bite.
Ten years passed. The annual expedition
of British complained about the Cairo museum.
A stranger was found there at night, by the scrolls of Amen-Ra.
A beautiful aristocratic Egyptian woman
sleepwalked out of an international cocktail party,
was found unconscious on the steps of the Museum.
A guard was dead, and the old ageless guide
requested once again to be let inside.
How many times bungling boys from Brooklyn
will tear up the screen with their jokes and women.
Did they know Hart Crane? At evening’s silver party
they are the least likely of all to go insane,
but peopling the leaves beyond the orchestra
might catch a glimpse of the heroine’s golden bra,
but what of it? They’re sailing out at dawn,
impersonally speculating on
the cleanest outcome for the neighborhood.
Sometimes the roughest wiseguys must do good.
An Asian don checks their progression
but at last by their concession
they occupy the ingenue’s obsession.
Even the luckless smile at what they’ve done.
These laundry lines lead nowhere, whipped by rain.
Perhaps each in some window survives a stain.
Impenetrable cubicles, stacked and spread out grid
fortified and multiplied by discolored brick
and blocks of concrete emptied of their makers.
The sky drifts black and blue, but no one sees
primordial origins, stark auguric trees,
pretexts of order crumbling to disorder.
Death shakes the silence that the worn heart leaves.
Just where the east with central west aligns
I found myself alone. The cell phone lines
broke through the silence of obscuring brick
and blocks of limestone where the decades pass
unnoticed. Time’s grand central coordinates!
The flowers fluttered at the first signs of spring,
and my voice drowned, an all too eager familiar.
You walked me towards you, darker and hard to see.
Had I arrived on time? You wanted me
one earlier April. Time lasts too long to be
of use to the living. Stumbling I found you.
Was it too hard to be
where everything passes, to hear you talk to me?
To ride the train home, your hand upon my knee . . .
for Joe Green
Saturday westerns. Munching on granola
like Leon Erroll in the Siberian wastes,
I cannot separate myself from place,
from Little Miss Marker or from Robert Newton,
the Scarlet Pimpernel with his silk suit on,
Bud Abbott shooting on a mountain side,
is home more real!
The walls are separate from what I feel
and the ceiling slides into the woods
whose sun burns in my eyes. The library
is voices that I see. I’ve closed the door
and uncoil like a snake upon the floor.
My mother cries! Put the books on the shelf!
You’ve climbed entirely into yourself!
Why should the aged eagle spread his wing?
I’ll tell you why. Because to watch Santa bring
a billion presents from the frozen pole
all by himself is less than heartening.
He brings them door to door
with Hyperborean speed. You who are converted
are harnessed to his creed though you have skirted
the issue. Who is that dark stranger?
That sickly twisted dying frozen ranger
who captivates the grove where you, too, rove.
I think he is myself! The least sure elf
mixes these patterns and brings them to the slatterns
who place them in dust till Easter on the shelf.
They call him Stetson, I have four sure bets on.
The chair she sits in like a burnished throne
happens to be the King’s, and is my own.
Maybe I too descend into parody
but not without esoteric clarity.
The least sure elf
is pining to be made into his self,
but I have already explained myself.
Pure tragedy must needs be humourless
and poetry will not be cured unless
its certain tragedy is made refined.
I too among that Harbour Dawn have pined
for quintessential pure lucidity,
perceived the cortex of the trinity,
and each emotion to its word assigned.
Manhattan in the rain. I couldn’t speak
when Uncle Sid drove me in from Rockaway.
What did I want? To visit the punk rock shops.
The statue of liberty seemed oxidized and locked,
too fleeting, like shops I only saw when they were closed,
left for another lifetime. What would we have said if we talked?
Head of the Vice Squad. My mind was exploding with vice.
When I came back from England I was lost,
and sat in my Aunt’s house in Far Rockaway
watching Abbott and Costello night and day,
as vacuum cleaner salesmen, rival clans,
detectives, photographers, victims of circumstance.
I pilfered the attic for Pogo and Mark Twain,
ate seven kinds of cereal (she had three sons),
and saw Mrs. Wiggs and the Cabbage Patch again.
Words! How can I deploy a dozen at once
on top of each other, the way I might read a page
backwards and forewards, in one photographic instant,
stretching the tongue in all directions at once,
to say the unsayable, cumulative and percussive
explosions signifying an enduring silence,
one fusion of confluence and inclusion,
packed with the weight, the indivisible density,
of all remembered experience and emotion,
and fraught with primordial defiance of the linear,
stabilizing possibility in one vocable,
one sound of thesis and antithesis,
one word for everything, all words in one,
a form large enough into which to put anything!
Anne Britton. Why do my thoughts always come back to this?
How on the edge and outskirts of the city
high on a hill worthy of Disney, or Seuss, or Mr. Burns,
high on a hill overlooking
what seemed like all the world—
crags and crevices, shadows, and blinkering lights,
some corner where a cobweb spun, where
nobody entered, where in another world
of brick on brick, orphaned, without witnesses
perhaps an old lady—kindly and unobserved—
may have fed animals she talked to,
called names, her heirs—a mildewed carpet
byzantian and worn amid the high mantles
and rafters seen by the impossibly small.
Branches grow in all directions at once.
Their black silhouettes enclose
the opposite of the city that surrounds them—
even then the white air of orphanic pilgrimages.
They dine on spaghetti! The instruments measure gold!
And when in the longing that descends in darkness
they take their cue to motion
(all things are there!) what never happened slows
into familiar memory, and the winds whip
their thousand frames and borders (enticing as lace),
in cross purposes, symphonies of erasure,
expansions of dimension and perspective
extending outwards down every road and lane,
groaning and growing inward, cross hatched by the rain
(whose sudden abundance even now overflows).
Spring nights in high school—some legend revealed
as far as all the laundry lines could take you
through a universe of backyards, to a distant and returning star.
Like a cock’s crow plunging beneath the planets
to the mythic origins of what we are.
Revealed! So in celebration we circled
the little town, for all lines are a circle,
coming and going the same, till you grow tall
and strong, worthy of bearing a name:
like shrouds of darkness the points we pierced
with our individual lights, passing and hailing like stars,
until all was uncovered, each one knew each one,
the circle completed, a simultaneity
of all points from A to D to Z.
for Isabel Biderman
Finally to see with eyes of onyx and jade—
what’s always there. Cleopatra with her crown
gives O’s for X’s, gives X’s for O’s
perpetually working towards the city’s center
by katty-corner, wishes too grand to grant
—for who can both live in the rarest palace
and be its guest? Passing again and again
brings nothing closer—a few feet in the end
and all is different. Different and the same!
A better life, taller and rising to heaven
(the dog escapes, returns according to plan).
Fabulous laughter lives in the hereafter.
The cat withdraws into its impregnable dream.
The actor leaving the palace is just a man.
Each is the same, each different and the same.
The most fabulous windows let three sets of eyes
aligned at Christmas, at the center of the world,
admire its fusion of the past and future,
one after another, converting pleasure from pain,
in endless profusion, each image containing each image,
imponderably long, too long for the eyes to sustain
for its duration: faith and hope and renewal!
The makers of the world gather each jewel
with humour and innovation
and admiration of the classic forms
defying dispersion: and glittering with grace!
Mapping with silver and pearls the planets in space!
Each, one by one, her pilgrimage to that place.
The motors roar! No calendars erase
each different corner that they signify,
though each is drenched in darkness! And perfumes,
like vintage draughts and plumage that caress
the mind’s thumbprint-tip, periscope windowscapes
elapsing into silence, gone too fast.
Where they remain—as if ever they stood
imagination to its single undrinkable clasp
in primitive tribal echoes no word can grasp
except as a hieroglyph—untested, real,—
are only verified in what we feel
we know, so staggeringly slow
they speed up till they are backwards before they go,
in pillowed images, stung by the asp.
You might have been anyone. Your relatives anyone.
The place—where were we?—might have been any place.
After dinner and talk that can only go so far
we moved beyond the doorbell as if to be understood
by going so far—no direction but to fall
in the betweenness of hours up the zig zag of streets
where no one calls and everything repeats
the insistent identityless rhythm
that is our shield and passport—unhearable beats
seeking the eternal and lost child.
Unanswerable and hung up on a star
like all the nights we died anonymous
moving dead leaves like beads across the wind,
retiring all our talk in the monstrous dark.
In the garden the night is directionless,
the wind one wind, unfathomably far
and relinquishing time in its shrill precipice.
The flowers stand and shine, returning no images.
From what corner have they come,
standing sentry apart from all the sleepers,
as if one permanent incognizable sign
to be read in the cosmos for an eternity.
The basement casements, dusty with disuse,
convey with their impregnably abstruse
recalcitrance an inner life, to all
who are among the living of no use.
The wide walkways of the stars divide
chapters of our lives like music in reverse.
These inner courtyards frame at least as well
the towering cognizances like a sea of soup
that hem in all that you can never tell.
The bricks besplatter clatter, drown and droop
in the time’s eye that waits too long for you
who betoken all that you have to do
and still surmise the patchwork of the skies
that spanks all basketballs and infancies
where the brick prisons rise and the trees trough
the fog as if it couldn’t get enough
of being, and where you look as of surprise!
Retired on night busses these secrets doff
their caps, and settling their feet up
look westward upon each immaculate roof
as if it might be home. Drink from this cup.
BEN MAZER was born in 1964 in New York City. Lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Studied with Seamus Heaney and William Alfred at Harvard University. Studied with Christopher Ricks, Geoffrey Hill, and Archie Burnett at the Editorial Institute, Boston University (MA, Ph.D.). His poetry has been published widely in international literary periodicals, including Harvard Review, Verse, Pequod, Fulcrum, Stand, Salt, Agenda, Boston Review, Jacket Magazine, Harvard Magazine, Poetry Wales, Horizon Review, Warwick Review, Van Gogh’s Ear, Vallum, The Brooklyn Rail, Poetry Daily, and The Wolf. His most recent collections of poems in the United States are Poems (The Pen & Anvil Press) and January 2008 (Dark Sky Books), both published in 2010. His new collection of poems in India is Tales of the Buckman Tavern (Mumbai: Poetrywala, 2012). He is the editor of Selected Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (Harvard University Press, 2010), Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 by Landis Everson (Graywolf Press, 2006, winner of the Emily Dickinson Prize from the Poetry Foundation), and a forthcoming critical edition of the Complete Poems of John Crowe Ransom (Boston: Un-Gyve Press). He is a contributing editor to The Battersea Review, and to Fulcrum: an Annual of Poetry and Aesthetics, to which he contributed the anthologies The Berkeley Renaissance and Poetry and Harvard in the 1920s. He has, in addition, published several chapbooks including, most recently, two verse plays.