THE DEATH OF A CIRCUS ELEPHANT
--YouTube, 126,000+ hits
Because the weather of old film is Northerly
You find me as if looking through a window
Flawed in January. How ardent your breath,
Pent, like the gray mares of the bareback queen,
Restless in their freight-car shunted
To the margins of a year early last
Century, which opened with this minute
Of scandal and camphor, acid and shadow
Embezzled from my death. I’m little now.
The moon is old, the moon is a bald clown
Peddling arthritic routines; there are nights
When it is not too late, and something
Original remains, still powerful enough
To hurt you. Mumbai, Naples, Chicago,
Your wan vitreous midnights shut like lids
On so many incubators in torched pavilions
Of the Midway. Between the kootch show
And a numerate horse, plugged-in coffers
Performed before crowds, cow-eyed, as if
They witnessed reliquaries of blood liquefying.
I balanced the world on my back, violent
With chance and you called me Topsy; am I
Only that slave to you, or else victim?
I was uncontaminate, unprofane as those
Aisles of babies saved in their paradisal heat.
No sound attends my fall. I fall and I keep
Falling, a toy Ophelia. I repeat,
What failure or end of yours am I the dream of?
Before the electrodes’ skinny crown,
Before the smoke anyone, alone,
(I repeat) together, can watch boil
From my feet, there were your catarrhs, your
Furtive, strangled unwrappings, vagrant lusts
And irritations, everything (I repeat) my entrances
Converted into one clean current of feeling:
I was always that spark and apocalyptic
TO THE READER
Though others may serve me elsewhere,
For this time I must speak only to you
Who would not confess yourself ignorant!
My baroque hair had kindled the night
I ran through the door of the storm,
Thunder buttressing and vaulting the air
Over porches and gables, sashes and sills
And pediments of rain, which built a city
In the unfinished sleep of a blind girl. I, too,
Was tired. Tired of wandering around
This world like an eight-sided church—
With so many corners to stumble against!—
Vagrant at the crossroads looking for you,
My darling and dahlia exegete, if you could
Take this smoulder on my horizon of vision,
Receive these words and translate them
Liberally. That you’ll find this in your hands
Afterwards I might have helped but did not
I would have wished to write a poem
That listens but my boat left on the tide—
OVID IN AMERICA
--Tristia, for G. N.
Moving from winter to winter
Who are you, so far from home?
The suit woven of wool & glade,
Your polished cheek & leathers
Scoured away, as are the letters
On your T-shirt.
In this short space of warmth
& light, I’ve watched you pass
Your hand across your face
Again & again, stoking a blue
Furnace until it alone burned,
As wastes flare in the night
Outside city limits, a kind of
Monument to our ingenuities
You were my friend,
My colleague, and could be still,
Until you bend to your task,
Collecting a tribute of burger boxes,
Like 600 deer hearts, opened.
All things broil with an awful begetting.
We have both seen
The pear tree axed, dismantled,
& the branch broken for the fire
Blossoming again. Try once
More to remember every poem
Is written within this shadow
& all our changes costume,—
Exile, wretch, stranger, wanderer,
Pilgrim, luckless man.
TO THIS STRAUNGE FASSHION OF FORSAKING
From cliffs the natives plummeted, sealing
Themselves within the frigid waters,
And if out of their throats unskeined
Bird-calls of grief, only the murres,
Who dove as if to show them their way
Through the waves’ corridors, heard.
Understand, like you, they chose to endure
Among the names, not vanish like steam
From another perfume, insipid ghosts
Confused by our hurry of instruments,
Honey, wool, & ginger jars. Returned
A year later the English found the island
Empty. Silence, like centuries’ heaped up
Solitude, and a world pallid as a patient
Bled by winter’s scurvy of light.
At first I can only suck at air. I feel
The men’s lungs, then, freezing like sails,
Intricate rigging of bronchioles & alveoli
Singed in hoarfrost. Chilblains greased
By soft, fat talk of wealth, they gave shape
To their dis-ease through those grey weeks:
Pease, corn, & grain around a stone house
Filled with knives, bells, glimmerglasses,
Whistles, and the oven, leaving the smell
Of bread to haunt the air as they sailed away
Holds heavy with fool’s gold, the vision,
Corrosive as salt that waits also for you:
In the winter night alone is this the sea to come?