The Seven New York Elegies









The Fourth New York Elegy


The nightmares of the night are gone. Now the nightmares

of the day replace them under the pallid sun
of January. But the heart beats the same way,
like a door in the wind, banging against its frame,
that nobody will latch, for the house is empty
and creaks. Life is empty and creaks. It's like a yard,
a vacant lot ensconced in a housing project,
surrounded by low fences painted rusty red,
where winter plays alone, kicking piles of rubbish
(memory's dailies smudged in sentimental ink;
empty cans of soda stickier than old hopes,
clanging down the gutter like a leper's rattle)
running in circles, wild as a retarded child,
who mimics God knows what: flocks of pigeons? the plane
that just took off nearby with a roar? or the clouds
adrift within his mind? — while the cold air vibrates
with bellows from police sirens or car alarms
under a sky so frail it seems relieved to yield
to its own weight. Winter plays its games. Life looks on
at the snowmen it builds in parks, yards, public lawns —
a cold humanity without humanity;
a crowd of attendants for the pageant of cold
of which you are a part and to which I belong:
white paralyzed puppets, arms crooked like branches
unfit to hold a thing, stretched clumsily outward
to point at garbage bins tipped over by beggars,
aluminum idols fallen from what heavens,
their lids strewing the ground like battered embossed shields
their entrails scattering the pavement: cigarettes;
slices of half-eaten pizzas; Christmas tinsel;
paraphernalia of New Year's Eve... They stand
guard over the congealed snow that conceals the ground
with heaps of soiled fabric, cotton, surgical gauze
shredded by a splinter of unsubstantial sun
in this inhospitable world's hospital ward;
and over the shadows at their motionless feet,
their own, and trees', and birds', and buildings' — the shadows
of a reality that went stale or just went
away, without a glance backward at their bevy
of abstract mourners caught in a pointless remorse.
With faces contorted by the habit of pain
not pain itself, with sketchy bodies constricted
around their hearts' muteness, the snowmen keep their watch.
Who are they? Their eyes glow, though with a borrowed light.
What are they? They stand guard with a broom by their side,
as if given a chore no one else can perform,
an indispensable task, a crucial duty
resulting from the deeds of disobedient souls,
though no one remembers what it consisted in,
while vehement winter kisses them on the lips
as if to confuse them in its weeping embrace
so they'd forget our wrongs and winter's forbearance;
as if they were Vronsky confronting Anna K.;
as if clemency could find a way to their hearts
and pierce their imprecise flesh with physical ache
(Remember me, darling! Or, at least, remember
the rustle of my dress in the rustle of snow...
Are they what we became as winter beset us:
heirs to our actions, born from our endeavors;
and are we to lament, as they avert their eyes
from the iced Golgotha where our shadows are nailed:
my son, my son, alas, thou hast forsaken me!
Or are they winter's troops and proofs of winter's win,
since life has been reduced to lines: a thin landscape
of layers without depth and volumeless strata;
snow blanketing dead ground, sky blanketing snow, light
adding its brisk hatchings without caring to check
whether what it touches bleeds under its dry point
or merely lets out a trickle of water?
The nightmares of the day keep their watch in the yard —
and why not in papier-mâché top-hat and carrot-nosed?
We miss the nightmares of the night. We miss the moon,
the real moon: Our Lady of Wolves and woolly fields,
the matron of changes over changingness' scenes,
now soft-drummed gamelan in serpentine summer,
now frail sequin at dawn on dew-drunk autumn's gown.
We miss Psyche's oil-lamp and its rays on the war
the mind relentlessly wages against itself,
at it moves from the moon to the moon in the mind,
like a cat furiously racing after its tail...
But it has been replaced, that which we thought our own.
And we have been replaced. Perhaps even explained
by the corrosive light of these corralling days,
by rakes grinding their teeth over ice-waxed pavements,
by sparrows' feet after the sparrows flew away,
leaving complex symbols in rows of equations
that the Xs and Ys dead trees now scribble down
on snow's impeccable board with a bluish chalk
will solve effortlessly in dusk's deserted room.
There is not anyone, here and now, anymore
troubled by the cheap pun of an eye who, seeing
this frost, will remember Malines or Valenciennes.
There is no more Belgium, nor Spain, nor Florida:
cities turned to ashes and steeples tumbled down
in billows of plaster from vaporized Paris.
All people have frozen, like statues in a Park,
and statues were melted to cast winter's canons.
There is no more time, here, in winter time. There is
no more history. Just a place: this white realm
solemn snowmen people among hiemal trash,
under the pallid gem of putrid January;
as one is remembered of something like a rink
in Central Park at, say, 4:00 pm, in winter:
one sees linear trees by Buffet, not Brueghel,
haggard bushes atop emaciated trunks
like old brooms or brushes for Dickensian shoeblacks,
behind which silhouettes are bending, catching up
speed and guzzling down a mouthful of sharp air
thinner than breath... You look. You become what is seen:
a round surface of ice in a tattered tableau;
brown paths and brown roads throw their mesh of bloodless veins
on earth, which peels off hillsides from patchy snow-scabs;
a nacre sky; people obliviously skating;
a silly scene, a cliché, a vapid picture
to be hung in the lair of brooding concierges
who drool over letters from exotic countries
they may not deliver for some obscure motif:
unpaid rent, behavior of which they can't approve
because their hearts are empty and creak like worn steps,
or snow fell that woke up their hard-won arthritis.
You are subjugated by this shoddy vision,
caught in it like a fly in a drop of amber.
Your may add to it your doodles ad libitum
like a schoolboy who draws dragons through his textbooks
under the photographs of sepia battlefields.
You cannot transform it. It is real. You are not,
since you are submitted to its unvaryingness.
Your additions shall be of its nature, not yours,
since winter is winter and not your self's season:
it undoes what you are and turns it to refuse,
thrown on piles of hard snow snow will soon camouflage.
What is it you can bring in this mausoleum?
What is it you can add to this sterile structure?
Things — at most — which you'll coat in seeming emotions?
Stuff gathered at random: cars headlights reflected
on frosted window-panes; a redundant blueness
borrowed from plastic sheets flapping around scaffolds
which you saw this morning across a misty street
like Mallarmé's swan trapped in its poem's syntax;
a different light, recalled from another moment,
as it bobbed up and down in a different dwelling?
A this? A that? A cloud of dismembered details
that litter your imagination, like the dust
which sticks to your fingers at the end of the day
when you dig you hands deep in your gale-sheared jacket?
Trivia that would keep you company: a handful
of dull anecdotes and cheap memorabilia
of which you'll endlessly draw the inventory
in obsessive attempt to ascertain your self
as their center and common denominator
(item: a patch of sun on last July's threshold
near the house you rented by the shore of Cape Cod —
white sun splashing white house, white sea washing white shore
in a kingdom of white opposite to winter's;
item: a bronze morning set ablaze by flowers
the name of which ends up in -um, like they all do,
as if flowers came from the Seven Hills of Rome,
as if morning were an equestrian statue
erected in memoriam of a past glory;
item: a face you saw in the subway, a sort
of Fayoum: curly beard, irises of bright tar
under long eyelashes, longer than the desire
that seized you two minutes when your eyes locked before
he got off at Bleecker; item: your native tongue
which lurks beneath the foreign words of your exile
like a pike and snaps up each of them noisily
and then is gone — shadow fluider than remorse;
item: summer. Or Spring. Or Fall. Et caetera.
Moments and tiny seeds of dubious duration
in your palm like beads from a broken rosary)?
For you will add to it and you will call this life,
as your companions do around you on the rink,
who move en masse burdened with bundles of trivia,
who move and move clockwise, ever identical
to their motion and to the surrounding landscape
over which they stand guard, as life merely looks on
and freezes from the toes up to its tight-sealed lips.
You obey the collective choreography
and link loop after loop in minute minuets,
desperate to intaglio deep into the ice
and your life the toppled 8 of infinity —
but successful only in hewing oafish crawls,
graffiti, to describe this place without features:
maker's mark, craftsman's stamp, or mere embossed trademark:
made in France, made in Hong Kong, made in Disneyland...
Such are the constant nightmares of the day. Our minds
are now crushed by the weight of uniformity
and cannot establish a place of differences,
a mansion for constrasts and mental counter-mines,
a pagoda within, for the heart's tinkling bells,
in this winter palace we have been slammed shut in
by the force of winter and its Bersaglieri.
Now one plus one makes one, and two plus one makes one,
and all add to a mass in emulsion, a mess
of generalizations, a sphere-like weather
from which nothing evolves or escapes; not even
snowmen as they await the changing of the guard
or a dance instructor that will teach them to waltz,
teach them to one-two-three one-two-three while they'll hold
in the clumsy embrace of their unbending arms
the delicate body of laughing Anna K.
(Oh, darling... My darling... I wish that forever
we could dance through our lives as we now pirouette
under the sweet tinkles of crystal chandeliers
as they beget summer out of their snowy wax:
love's summer blossoming in the winter palace...
But, look through the window! Don't you see this poor child?
What is he mimicking with such frenzied gestures?
Why does he look upward? Why does he swallow snow?
Why are his lips so blue? Why does my heart beat so
when yours, oh my darling, seems deader than —
                                                                    The night
has now fallen over cities where concierges
turn on their TV for their favorite sitcoms
(the heartrending story of an adulteress
who threw herself under a train); and over rinks,
ringed round by ragged trees. Salt is thrown in the streets
and burns the earth. The air becomes sharper than glass.
People become shadows. Reality becomes
the nightmare the parting day will dream all night long,
as it is kept awake on its bed of hard snow
by the relentless beats of the persistent heart
while the mind stands alone in its besieged palace
and, through a bullet-starred window, in the North wing,
observes the changing of the guard of the snowmen.



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Cinquième New York Elegy



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