The Seven New York Elegies









The Third New York Elegy


It is now November and the mind is wounded.

It is November night and the mind lays dying
by the excrescences of its anxieties
as it reclines wrapped in metaphysics' swathing
like an Egyptian prince of disputed lineage
surrounded by a bric-a-brac of replicas...

Cigarette-smoke filled room. Bluish. Set next to night
as cheek next to pillow. Stars next to dark nothing.
A Manhattan room: bricks, wooden floors, low ceilings
with ease anonymous, unimportant, mattress
directly on the floor that feigns to gleam and fails,
dust in the corners - old, almost artificial,
as if it did not know World War II was over
and lived parsimoniously on sugar coupons
waiting to take again its flight and land on black
massive bakelite phones - clamors of vine-like pipes
banging wildly the way a rescued suicide
bangs his head on the wall to forget, to recall
not even he knows what, or cares to know: to kill
time, to tame it, make it beat a big-band tempo;
snake-like pipes a-hissing obscene secrets; slices
of silence in-between; slabs of viscous muteness
falling with a wet thump on the wind-patrolled street
like towels on the face of a sweaty boxer
who'll die on the fourth round from something in his brain:
a pipe-like vein bursting, a memory breakdown;
glaring bulb dangling down from a contorted wire
painted white: the paint flakes - it flakes off the walls, too,
like urban plain-tree's bark. The bulb moves to and fro
almost invisibly. Yet it stirs up shadows
at random near the plinths, among the crinkled sands
of the sheets as they shroud the body which reclines
on the summary couch that could be a stretcher
in an emergency room's overflow, or, still,
a sculpture in a museum of modern art:
the molding in plaster of some artist's lover
in hackneyed symbol for vulnerability
or for man's solitude in big cities. Splashes
of color here and there: blue, red, yellow books-spines
on fake natural wood shelves: Charles Dickens' Bleak House,
Dos Passos' Manhattan, Anthology of French
Twentieth Century Poetry, Lectures in
America... A pair of jeans. One orange sock.
A green shirt, bundled up. With metallic buttons.
Gap probably: the kind one can see worn by stars
on big black-and-white posters near bus-stops under
some elegantly lettered silly utterance
that sticks to one's mind like chewing-gum on a shoe.
Few individual sounds. A general murmur;
a Niagara-like muffled roar. But the wind,
from time to time, brings forth a clear noise so clean-cut
it hurts: a car alarm, an ambulance perhaps,
a fire-truck, afar, somewhere East. Loud howling,
which pulsates like the vein under the boxer's skull,
then vanishes, stitching a throbbing scar of screams
along First Avenue. Or footsteps, in the street:
an exact tip-tapping that sounds like keys depressed
on an old typewriter spelling out foreign words
learned from a grandmother but the meaning of which
(Russian? Yiddish perhaps? Or Neapolitan?
What was it she mumbled as she stirred up the mud
she called soup and would drink with loud liquid noises?
is gone - as goes the wind furiously through the night
where it angrily grabs fire-escape's gratings
and rattles them as if it could not remember
that it is the Spirit and blows whither it wills...

Tonight the world is empty, but its emptiness
is litter of fragments from a broken figure
or a scattered matter - like pieces from a jar
one dropped as one was trying to feel its fashion -
like a chrysanthemum at the end of its bloom
which strews the piano with Japanese languor;
or like words from prayers, from which faith has long ebbed
that one heard dropping round one's kneeling without noise,
the way turquoise insects, at the end of summer,
fall from a fading sky fainter than their wing-sheaths.
Reality is gone and the mind's confronted
with its desolation and incapacity
to sustain life's behest for a vital order,
or even its own desire for such an order.
It's now only the mind of a self. A detail,
some trivial fraction from a conjectured whole;
the droning of a bee in lieu of honey heat.
Not a point of balance, but a speck - just the mind,
that is: a thing among others, made of desire
the way things are made, say, of clay, or clouds, or clump,
and trapped therein. The mind records and registers
its disinheritance with an anxious interest.
It does not procreate anymore but shivers,
chirping like a cricket deciphering the moon
as it spells out darkness's archaic dialect,
night's epic as composed by nocturnal scholars
who turned en masse into one word of its stanzas
and left no clue as to the meaning of their writ.
It sees the darkest rose's helicoid bloom
perforating life's core and taking root in it
and gyrating toward the darkest abstraction
of the most somber blood, and is devastated.
Night is no more the day's concluding anecdote,
an attic where dust falls on forgotten hours,
the sun's servants quarters under slanted zinced roofs
where the mind may repose as lunar disciple
rapt in his reading of night's incunabula
and keen on composing a world by the candle
of his words - but it is a volumeless abyss,
the realization of absolute exile
when exile is itself a place one cannot reach
anymore, a garden which outgrew its own growth
and froze as time and place, a manner of image
under a pane of glass so deeply reflective
one sees oneself and not the image, one beholds
one's own seeing, one's eyes frozen by space and time
as they become image too: one beholds, but can't
understand nor accept nor refuse; one perceives
the sheer alienation of perceiving.
The world
                is gone away and the mind is wilting:
a second chrysanthemum by the first, but one
for which winter is always final and never

It needs healing, the mind, And the world
requests to be restored to its restive splendor.
Though maybe not tonight. Not in November light
crisper and more brittle than an unleavened bread
flaking among bitterly aromatic herbs.
You should plan a wedding then. A ceremony
of antinomies. I should. We should.
                         We will not
for we cannot, since we froze as time and as place.


Night. Then morning, jangled up by garbage pick-up;
battered tin lids clashing loudly Wagnerian-like
for curlered Walküre, or crashing to the ground
like silver shields escaped from dying soldiers' grips;
slow syncopated beeps of trucks as they back up:
fifes, maybe, calling for the oncoming slaughter,
or Stymphalian birds awakened by the smoke
that rose from Hercules's pyre; streets littered with
tonight's membra disjecta: newspapers, fruit rinds,
crumbs of fortune cookies, dead flowers, plastic, foil,
cigarette butts, front pages from New York Newsday
or the loud New York Post's headline of yesterday
(What was it? Big black signs, typographic cymbals
clashing in front of eyes like smudged firecrackers...
containers of lotions bled of their creamy life,
tufts of hair caught between a broken comb's gray fangs,
amputated armchairs, TVs like Cyclopes
whose dream-filled convex eyes no Ulysses blinded,
supine bodies wrapped up in torn cardboard boxes,
asleep like unfaithful disciples near a hill
where olive trees whisper in angelic voices
as the wind rolls away a broken quart of gin
distilled in New Jersey down the gutter's gurgles
on which the slant sun will shine like on a chalice;
a few leaves, an all pervasive dust, two puddles
of last week's rain or tears from forgotten saviors
languidly soaked up by a stained mattress losing
its viscera...

                  For now it's three in the morning.
Earlier? I can't tell. Or later? But who cares?
Time here is a matter of digital numbers
flickering in turquoise blue or bright ember red
on radio-alarms or along a driveway,
part of a billboard ad for Newport cigarettes.
You perceive it with your eyes and not with your ears
in the drip-dropping sounds of carillons and chimes.
It's an image flashing among other images:
that of a stretch of land where days become suburbs
near straight roads in counties of barren abstraction;
and near and far are just signs over gas-stations.
It is part of space, like water-towers are part
of the monotonous corn-fields by which one drives;
a prop rented from a salvage shop for modern
renditions of Shakespeare or Goldoni, and not
another dimension of things as things' echoes,
not the chiaroscuro upon which they engrave
the precious cameo of their lineaments
not frontally, but sideways, toward penumbra...

Nocturnal moments. Thoughts made of memory's dust,
itself made of cheating with your self's sense of time.
Feelings too weak ever to become emotions,
like ants crawling over a butterfly's carcass.
Gestures. Some limited; some larger than your aim;
myriads of gestures, never fully completed,
awkwardly suspended between rest and motion,
repeated on the floor by the lamp's childishness
as it draws bobbed outlines of what being might be
if it were whole and not the result of attempts
toward being in sketches without much metier
of clowns clad in ridiculous mottles of hues.
Three am. Four am. Four and a half am.
A telephone rings insistently in a flat
from which people moved out more than a year ago.
It stops a few minutes then rings again. The wind
sweeps away flurries, on the chicken-wired sun-deck,
mixed with greasy ashes from the barbecue's bin
and dies sobbing down the chimney. The deepened sky
seems to recede and shrink, giving way to a blue
deeper than grief, sharper than pain: a barren blue,
like a motionless explosion of violets
in a crystal vial their tumefied azure
will crack open, hurling its transparent splinters
throughout pale November... Over the bed, the mind
relentlessly tosses the body on the sheets
as if it were a couple of clattering dice
in a gambling joint from a B minus movie:
a head here; a leg there; hands clutched into a fist;
the half open mouth littered with meaningless words
it sputters at irregular intervals, words
from a foreign language, unstressed, monotonous
like the muffled amen of a gregorian chant,
a litany of sounds from the Book of the Dead:
perhaps an atropopaic invocation
to be recited, eyes closed and palms extended,
a crux anseata dangling down on one's chest
as mallard ducks alight among soft swaying reeds,
as impassive Gods weigh one's soul in the Kingdom
of Osiris, an inventory, a tally
of one's worldly possessions and experiences
(Cigarette-smoke filled room Bluish Set next to night
as cheek next to pillow Stars next to dark nothing
A Manhattan room Bricks Wooden floors Low ceilings
Or just a tune, a mere air, a refrain from yore
which popped up in the mind and lingers there; a verse
from a poem: Est-ce ainsi que les hommes vivent?...
Is this the way men live? A French poem? How strange...
But, after all, why not? This is the way men live
as they struggle at night with the relentless mind;
whether in a Parisian chambre or a bedroom
somewhere in November's pellucid Manhattan,
reclining on mattresses thrown onto the floors,
by a tall window pane, transparent as panic,
which occupies a wall by itself across which
facades carve upon darkness their square half-seen shapes
like funeral granite steles on which their windows
scribble hieroglyphic missives for UFOs,
scarring the face exiled in the reflecting glass,
on whose wounds night applies a patch of sooty rag...
Whose face is it? My face perhaps? Or yours?
Or an anonymous visage, since you and I,
and everyone as well, are now anonymous,
bodies buried en masse in forgotten valleys,
common Tutankhamons, mere physical details
of a merely physical world void of wholeness,
chaotically adrift betwixt fall and winter?
Whom is it we betrayed, that we were left alone,
exiled from time and place, frozen in place and time,
in the mastaba of this long November night,
laying by our mind and its ruminations,
laying by our mind and the decorations
it paints in palimpsestic frescoes of shadows:
corteges of moments, cavalcades of places;
bright fruit neatly piled up, plucked, beheaded poultry;
stacks of breads; clay-sealed jars of palm wine or reed beer;
layers of hand-woven linen thinner than haze;
clusters of Nile berries; turquoise scarabs; flowers;
throngs of servants toiling crab-like; trays of pastries;
gods, and men, and women; effigies of a world
it cannot reach anymore if it ever could,
except in replicas disguised as memories,
except as a moraine of dusty bric-a-brac?
But whose face is it that faces us as we lift
our heads and peer through the impalpable darkness?
Whose face in lieu of ours has been etched in the glass?



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Quatrième New York Elegyi



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