The Seven New York Elegies









The Second New York Elegy


ome by the window. See these fruit on the blue plate

I got I don't know where, a flea market perhaps
on a day similar to today's mist and rain
in another city built on mist mixed with rain
in gray adorable — unless it was a gift
from a friend now away, or dead, or forgetting
that we were ever friends, trafficking love's trite gifts
for betrayals. But look. Two pears. A persimmon.
Opal-like beads of grape next to some tangerines
of imperfect orange near the day's perfect gloom,
their rotund shapes aglow with such a profound sheen
it radiates inward, in motionless circles
of softness so complete and so necessary
it discards the luster of this rain-grainy day,
and yet makes it a part of its silent statement
of blue plate bearing fruit, of fruit intensely round,
displayed in their ripeness like a disclosed secret,
as they compose a scene of exquisite splendor
so perfect that it is inhuman, so precise
it excludes us: we feel ashamed and rejected;
rebuffed — even though we will never be nearer
this outside resplendence, never more accepted
by it than we are now as we gaze upon it.
What is it? Do you know? What deserts us so much
we stumble in ourselves as on a broken step,
and would cry if we could or weren't so numbed out
by the repetition of such experiences?
It seems as if we stood behind a simple door
no sentinel defends, and yet could not enter
to partake of the bread that was broken, the wine
that was shared lips to lips in most sacred silence,
though we can see the loaf and the jug yet untouched;
or think that we saw them and feast on their regret;
or say that we dreamed them and mourn. But what is it?
Tell me. What ceaselessly trembles within ourselves,
tortured by a famine nothing ever appeased
except, sometimes, its pain?
                                           Go near the window. Look
at these fruit on the plate, this contingent still life,
this bit from the bounty of the external world;
these common diamonds and paltry emeralds,
topazes, cornelians. They are just what they are:
goods, made available in autumn, one can buy
and consume and forget. Or leave to rot. Or paint.
One of the pears tapers near the dark brittle stem
and sets the frailest bronze by a fainter yellow,
and the faintest yellow amidst acid lemon,
gorging its baroque bumps with fulfilled promises
of skin-adhered-to flesh in fantastic fragrance:
Elizabethan pearl, orchard-rhinoceros.
You may eat it. You will. Or I will. But the pear
will remain beyond us, even as we bite it:
a purely physical instance, a mellow-melodious
stone that does not look toward us but resists us
and resists our mind's hunger for certitude,
and the imagination's hunger for a ground
where its own fruit would grow.
                                             Or take the persimmon
in your hand and keep it there a while. Look at it,
suspended in mid-air like a metonymy
for the sun that did not grace us with his presence
on this rain-ringing day. Its color offsets you
as it beams near to you nearer than you have been
to yourself this whole day. Its opaque effulgence
is almost revulsive. It utters assertions
that make you blush and shrink and vainly look for words
which would shield you against its raging roug'd ember.
Yet it cares for nothing, save its intrinsic stance,
the undisclosed object of its cinnabar speech.
It is like Christ — a Christ among others, a red
merciful Lord hammered to its carmine duty,
while at his feet men go playing dice or spitting
on the sweat-soakèd hill where bones grow out of bones —
though a fatherless Christ who stands empty-handed
and ignores us and keeps expelling what we are
from what it is that is in cardinal.
                                                Blue plate
and autumn's fruit. The day is fading. A few cars,
along streets night will claim as her own in her time,
drive by under the rain, water-winged Pegasus
that will never take off. The gods are dead. Were they
ever alive, ever companions, ever near —
kinship of sorts, gaudy peers, sharing our lives
through majolica-days and moonlight mirrored nights,
eating the fruit we picked, growing the fruit we loved;
part (if the crueler part) of this very earth
and perfect images of our imperfections,
locking with divine clasp mankind's broken necklace?
But they're gone. Or they died. The banquet was canceled.
Or never was scheduled. The beads of the necklace
rolled under the table. Topazes, cornelians
we attempt to collect out of futility
“since now both heaven and hell are one, and here[1]” . Hell
is this hour and here: Manhattan, New York State,
on this rain-graying day. Or anywhere, in fact,
where men live and men die, composing endlessly
their world, parts of a world they could call partly theirs,
while objects endure obstinately in their pose
in the utmost outside of the real, in its peace
as place within a time that needs nothing but things;
a place that never was magnified as Eden
or defiled as Hades; a mere site of silence.
Hell is here and trivial: a mall, where one purchases
sufferings one can't find in junk-mail catalogs
one's actions slip under the locked door of one's soul.
And so is paradise. Just a department store
one presumes. “Sale on bliss! Check it out! Sale on doom!
Check it out! Check it out!” — in harpy-harpooned howls...
Heaven and hell are here and now: they are the earth.
This earth. The only one: things' natura rerum
as nature of all things and bleak poem thereof.
No more difference — no more fading from celestial
cerulean to rust to sinister sulfur...

There remains this blue plate, then, this handful of fruit,
these forms and these textures, these soft-spoken perfumes;
this infinite patience of infinite ardor
we can guess at, but not approach, or partake in.
Two pears. A persimmon. Grapes. A few tangerines
on a plate which was glazed rather offhandedly,
since one can feel the clay, the granulose substance
which repeats or contrasts with the fruit's skins and rinds
here and there: metaphor for the mind and its prey,
for the mind as it broods over its shortcomings,
coating them with tinctures it patchily applies.
Nature versus culture again? Or more simply:
objects? Things in a world of things and perceptions?
How they seem to concur to some higher accord...
Look: by the way they sit on the plate; their bearing;
the juxtaposition of green near paler green
near glossy glassy blue by ocher exalted;
red dip-deepened yellow next to marble-waxed sheen;
by their poised stand at the center of centralness,
like praying men assembled around a candle
night carves out of their prayers in somber amber,
they extol an order beyond necessity,
a kind of luxury made of coincidence
with its own profusion of subdued abundance:
a balance that is not a balance but a bliss;
a pause within a pause of transient excellence;
a moment without end, rung by time's effluxion —
and it's as if we could hear a deeper music
rising from a richer, rounder silence, as if
we could feel a summer more profound than August
and a thirst fresher than its quenching, a desire
rising from abstraction, ending in abstraction —
dwellers for a minute in life's minutiae,
where our world of words and this world of ours
would stand, lips to lips, hands about to join, their breasts
about to touch on the porcelain of a third
blue, subtle, physical, world of immediacy
where life would live stiller than still life, death would live
a life tenderer than stillness...
                                             This cannot be.
Or this could be, but is not — except in the mind,
as it strives to counter reality's pressure
with its own hyperbole, a commedia dell'arte
of harlequins sequined in second-hand notions,
installing in the moon a violet rabbit,
opposing to the sun a Venetian lantern,
to a handful of fruit a picturesque cortege
of Javanese shadows that never saw Java
where PLEASURE follows PAIN by INDIFFERENCE pursued
as the night stalks the day on starry cothurnus
under darkness's moth-like flutters round light's flickers.
This can't be. We live. The fruit persist. They resist
being and not being, unlike us. Their tragic
is cosmic comic too: a solemn buffoonery
serenely condensed in opaque indifference.
They resist and refuse. Yet they bear witness of
a violence larger than its application,
like a lion locked in a violin, a force
without target; a beast frost-furred and winter-fanged,
a silvery killer in utter innocence
perched on a rocky limb, in a dry-point landscape,
which will leap and claw us — which has leaped and killed us,
and now resumes its seat on its point of survey,
as we resume our walk along our blooded trail,
wide-eyed, our hearts pounding, pain's salt shrinking our mouths
while physical snow falls from metaphysics' skies.
And yet thus they linger: fragrant fruit on a plate
that stall the mind's fury and feed it with fervor,
as we too linger there, near the plate, near the night,
near the mind that is ours, somnolent spectators
of a struggle we could describe as love-making
of the mind and the fruit, of the world and our creeds,
had we only an imagination as real
as reality — bystanders of little faith,
haphazard companions attending their long fight
from which we'll only feel the ensuing tristesse,
the post-coital gloom no coitus warrants,
unless the tears we call to our sad rescue,
the copper-tasting drips that will break their way in
down our cheeks, seeping from the soul's cheap salina,
are semen of sorts.
                             Night falls like the fruit that fell
in the orchard of space through time's broken branches
and rolled all the way up to our consciousnesses.
It falls in memory. Not in actuality.
On rooms already dark and beds long unslept in
that keep forgotten bodies' remembered warm shapes;
on tables which are not used for any supper
anymore but are still strewn with crumbs and wine-spots
one leans over and reads as banal epitaphs.
It falls and is the night: perhaps to protect us
from things' cathedral lures. Perhaps to besmirch us.
It sets another fruit — a purpureal plum,
its skin softer than sin or remorse, its softness
of the ripest, deepest kind: a maternal sphere
counterweighing our eye with its nigriscent globe —
but a fruit that is not among the fruit that is,
a structure of desire, of pellucid longing,
like a pool by a mosque where heavens become near,
and all for an instant regains a composure
it never had: the fruit, their colors, their textures,
the blue-next-to-bluntest in ebullient hues
of liquider orange; their virulent intent;
the short poem thereof made of words without speech
and of touch and of smell — and all is melody
that is not. The question that hasn't been answered
neither by you nor me nor by silence remains
there, poised like the fruit are poised in fruitness. What is
this that deserts us so? And why the door ajar
onto a spent repast near which hands are suspended
holding a fruit of air lined by lilac street-lamps,
just lit up, tulip-like? Your shadow near the plate
which turns to shadow, is part of the melody
too. And your grieving glance. And the pain you dispose
with a long ingrained craft on your soul's porcelain
near, say, your mind's window in the dusky night-fall...
Your motionless body balanced up by your world
and mine where cars race through like shiny chariots
driven by hurried gods, are part of this music,
this nocturne which night hums as it proceeds to clasp
on Manhattan's shoulders of buildings and bridges
a frangible necklace of fragrant cornelians.

[1] Wallace Stevens, Esthétique du Mal


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Troisième New York Elegy



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