The Seven New York Elegies









The Fifth New York Elegy


The weather influences the mind even more

than syntax does. Spring comes to our senses through veins
winter neglected, since he went straight to the heart
and built upon its stone a church of abstraction,
a shelter for the geometrical mind. But,
with a sticky finger's gentle touch, spring awakes
upon the humid lips of our half-parted mouths
the bitter tang of death-as-struggle we call love.
We now stand at the frosty gate of mottled March
and behold misty beasts grazing the halcyon sky —
moon-horned, moon-eyed, their tongues extravagant carmine —
as invisible flies zigzag through the warm air
in invisible patterns of unperceived grace.
A passion for questions fills the murmuring air,
a lust for justification gleaned from the blue
and the pale of the sky as its spins a new sun.
The old ground of the mind melts away with the snow.
Will the grass grow tonight and welcome us at dawn
with the sharp moist profuse scent of ferruginous
substances cooked in secret in the earth's belly
as our feet hit the night-chilled linoleum
in our one bedrooms where radio-alarms
talk of a war waged in the back of our minds
(January 15th. The liberation of
Kuwait has now begun, repeats a general,
or somebody's spokesman, with martial concision
and self-importance, while in the background cameras
frantically click-clack like so many storks' bills
regurgitating for their blind brood half-chewed earthworms
And will the squirrel share his trove of nuts with us?
Birds hop and call and cock their tiny ruffled heads.
The presence that is air strides among us lightly.
A tiara encircles her head. Glass bangles,
speckled with gold, softly tinkle around her wrists.
All is awash in a haze of sensuous weakness,
a mixture of remorse and vague expectations...
The smell of dust rises from the streets' crevices
like the ghost of a friend (Whom is it we'll forget
to bury according to the rites at the end
of our next combat, I cannot imagine —
we would angrily retort. I cannot, you say,
as you rest your head at the X of your arms crossed
upon the wooden end of your sharp javelin
and squint your eyes to discern Xerxes' Immortals
through the glare of the day. But we know that we shall
leave dead friends behind us, so that they will provide
us with our memories and regrets and questions
which will feast upon them like crows and urubus
It checks you on your way home with incertitude
as if a homeless form had extended its arm
toward you without a word. Begging. But for what?
Money? Mere attention? An endorsement perhaps
regarding the basis of your community:
some album of faded photographs to browse through,
shoulder to shoulder, knee rubbing against a thigh
(Remember? Korea... How easy it all seemed,
and how our comradery looked stronger that the steel
of our rifles smoking across our khaki laps
in the trenches, under the drip-dropping of rain
over the tarpaulin we had pitched as quarters!
Porcelain sky; porcelain weather; porcelain
people: blown up to pieces of petal-like beauty...
I will never forget good ol' McArthur. You
mean you don't? It can't be! No? You don't? Not a thing?
The smell of dust drifts off. An imprecise Naples
trembles in the dusk-damasked purple atmosphere
as the end of the street becomes bright Vesuvius,
spurting violet steam over a citrine shore.
Unseen fishes splash against unseen prows and oars,
disturbing salty constellations caught in nets
of migratory green. It is spring, you mutter,
like an infestation of the blood. Or is it?
Is it the one answer? Oh it is, and it is!,
confirms with a flicker of her hand the woman
who walks her hairless dog down your street every night
and smells of cheap chypre. And the street lamp confirms.
And the gleaming car hoods tepid with vicious heat
confirm it. All whisper: Spring, the devious fellow;
the half castrato lout who smuggles toxic hopes
into our tight-knit communities of despair;
the plague-infected rat; the final foreigner
whose mumbled mispronunciations compel us
to utter and have faith in queer words like the word
          Ah! Yes: love... This concert of crystal crickets
in the red plush darkness of the heart's theater;
these puny pizzicati on our psyche's lute
we realize denote nothing more than our lust,
though an operatic one, a fussy diva,
a Madame Butterfly on fake Nippon tiptoes
using Chérubin's ribbons in lieu of obi...

This is desire, you say. But I say spring is not
a time for love. It is a salacious season,
a flux of blood gurgling among turgid tissues,
a hoisting of colors by unruly children:
chili red, acid green, tart lemon, candy blue
in drippings and zebra-markings of frantic hues
cut out from super heroes fanzines, on the pole
of the discolored past. It comes to you, playing
a trombone, not a flute; a bombastic tuba;
and blasts your ear-drums with pandemoniac bellows
in Straussian oumpapums and aztecan rattles
which balloon up your belly with grotesque growlings...
A bear... Not a gazelle... An ape in rut, ogling
every banana as an innuendo...
And it is death's beloved child. The one minion
she glamorizes with an expensive raiment,
for he remembers her in the heat of his heart,
remembers her features as he digs torpid bulbs
and squeezes out of them a chalice of fragrance,
half alive and half dead, half bruise and half new skin;
and he remembers her glory and her power
in the very secret of erotic traffics
when the creature shivers and sighs and releases
a sweat of saps more sour than foxglove blossoms
from which she brews the taste of damnation to come.
Hail and rainbows jingle at the hem of his robe.
Waxed mauve branches of almond or cherry trees
adorn his head, from which silky petals sprinkle
his square shoulders, where blue jays rest and joust and jab.
His irises are made of a thin film of ice;
his cheeks of spongy moss; his lips of vivid air.
At his call, all things rise that had been nullified
by winter's appeasement in winter's remission
of all sentences. All rise and all are confronted
anon with sexual bequest and accusation;
by friezes of buds' pompoms and flowers' froufrous;
by showers of pollen and a vibratile air
divided up in masses of blue and of wet,
of cold agile bodies in circulating herds
and gossamer substances afloat through the day;
by sweet voices calling for vehement pursuits
in the frail underbrush or across gleaming fields.
All rise and are confronted and shiver and sigh
as they ready themselves for the reproduction
of their limbs and their lot; as they dispose themselves
in eccentric circles round this central urging
where death holds court and a mirror for them to see
the future their present will become without them.

Who is it you desire when you desire me,
when desire between us becomes so effulgent
it turns impersonal; so radiant it seems
we stand under an aurora borealis
at the very polar of a circular North,
witnessing in silence a blaze in the distance
as the air set afire with versicolored ice
moves around us, whistling, and seething, and shrieking,
and breaks into slivers of cantilating glass
among landscapes of tangles and turquoise angles?
We stand erect under its petrifying glare
as if it were nap time in a Chirico town
and look each other up and down with cruel eyes
reduced to two mere slits slashed on a mask of gold...
Who is it? It is not I — but a magnified
version of your lusting for an end to all lust:
the final obstacle against which to collapse
and evade the reiteration of desire.
Not an answer or a gloss. An apocalypse.
Your desire is not yours, either, the way your face
is not yours but belongs to the one who sees it,
to the crowd that surrounds it, or the solitude
on which it rests like a trinket on a watch chain.
It stalks you, yet eludes you. It is an order
of sorts, a builder of stations for processions
of the Holy Body toward the Holy Land
of cemeteries. Yet it is also the bread
and the wine brought to you for each of your Suppers
lit by the trembling halo of weeping candles
on the carefully pressed white linen tablecloth;
the loaf that will sustain your nocturnal panics;
the rough ruby liquor that will give you the strength
to imagine a day different from yesterday.
It is the savior who dies for your redemption
on another body's cross-like extended arms,
and is resurrected almost immediately;
his hot face next to yours, his tongue parting your lips
like a youthful Moses dividing the waters;
his eyes boring into your eyes; his palms and feet
bleeding a hallowed chrism; his forehead drenched
with a perspiration that drips onto your lips,
the astringency of which reminds you of spring.
Yet it is the tyrant who will put you to death
or recall to your mind her sway over your days
as you look into the eyes of your thousand sons,
into the violet eyes of your progeny,
the aster irises pulsating with your blood
and see there not your imagination's making —
a world contained in the outline of your shadow
as it encompasses the world which contains you,
an extension and boundless magnification —
but your own undoing and hers, the final fruit
of the final summer under the final night.

You say: “The smell of dust may hover through the day
but it finds satisfaction in what is as is;
it is the expression of the place, its parlance
adapted to its time, and not a remembrance
of friends lost we do not remember befriending.”
You add: “Spring belongs to the most diaphanous mind;
it is a celadon scarab's frail alighting
in a rose-circumscribed hour, a speck of grace.”
You say: “In spring, all things are part of the season,
of the lilac-laced lulls that replace the hours.
Street corners seem lighter than they were this morning:
more polite, more reserved, made of gray velveteen
or beige nebulous gauze — like props in the windows
of Harry Winston Inc. for jewels to rest on
and shine luxuriously. Something European
has been added to their routine geometries
of pigeon-haunted stones and sparrow-haloed trees.
Maroon Naples gives way to Nice and mimosa.
Desire is a pollen, a powdery sprinkle
an innocuous word in an innocent mouth.
Not the roots, as they feast upon skulls and wet bones
mingling geology with etymology
to feed the utterances of noisy branches —
but the scent and the sweet exaltation of scents.
The imagination agrees to be at home
again, for a moment, in this world spring submits
to her heed,” you pretend. It may be true. Or is,
after all. She sits down on a bench in the Park:
a tiny old lady with a careful hairdo
and tiny smiles directed at the passers by
of whose clothes and acts she approves with a nod.
She fashions a cosmos of urbane cosmetic,
a planet of perfect proportions, a haven
for blue skies, whence zephyr descends on fluffy wings
to comb thickets and groves of ethereal growths
and play innocent games with innocent beings;
where red-eyed white rabbits frolic among the legs
of manicured white lambs as red-eyed turtle doves
graciously preen their white feathers powdered with dew
and white pink-rung petals on softly swaying trees;
where life would be the life of an idealist
from the point of view of a sentimentalist:
a perpetual scene from a candy-box top,
where creation happened once and for all, without
having to be concerned with its procreation,
abstracted from the gross necessity of sex,
the rubicund rigmarole of copulation.
There she remains lady of total compunction
and Queen Victoria to Viceroys truncated
from their vices; vestal to an electric fire;
statue erected
                      — oops —
                                      statue built to her own
fantasy, when fantasy goes stale and repeats
the past's ruminations as fresh revelations,
renouncing reality's fluctuating monde
for the demimondaine's devotion to Mary.
But at her modest back an obscene lake begins
thawing in sonorous slabs of clot-clatter ice,
and spring on the rebound hisses among bushes
an impertinent theme in licentious whistles
like loud fish-wives' catcalls at the end of the day,
after the boats have docked and fish is aglitter
in palpitating signs of despair, by the nets
hung from lithe antennas — airy snood for the moon —
through which constellations slowly migrate eastward
from blue to bottle blue to most secretive dark;
after the boats have docked and Vesuvius stutters
utterances of reds and oranges and greens.
She catches herself mimicking this obscure din,
these hums and brouhahas of foreign origin.
She chews on this pâté of material vowels
and is satiated. Hunger is satisfied
that she did not know she felt. The world she composed
slowly dissolves away like a manor of mist
for it offered nothing and it stood for nothing,
neither for her nor for itself: a mere structure,
a kissing of mirrors in the dead of the night,
save for the need it represented of a place,
of a physical place to be part and peer of
in physicality. Need engenders desire,
the way peaches answer August's imperial thirst.
Naples rises again, borne on her own desire
born from the world around spring summoned and sustained.
Her desire rises, a second dusk within
dusk, a second season within the balmy air.
Naples rises: a town of torpor and tumult
where men — ah, yes: men — meander in star-lit streets,
arm in arm, speaking softly with softer voices,
perplexed, perhaps, and perhaps vaguely exalted
by the weight and the whirr of the sea in their limbs,
by the smell of the sea as it pervades their minds
with a melancholy of mellifluous tones
(At le Chemin des Dames, there's this fellow of mine;
can't remember his name. His face'd been blasted off...
Bloody mess... He was all ascreamin' an' tryin'
to tear the skin from his head. Rats — they were runnin'
all over him in the mud, giddy with the stench
of blown up flesh. Or perhaps because it was spring:
and daisies were in bloom, and heart-shaped lilac trees
hung in mid-air a fragrance more poignant than death.
She breathes and she touches her cheek with her hand.
She brushes her lips with the tip of her fingers
and finds there a biting of bitterness, a tang
of defiant freshness. Her desire rises
higher than she, higher still till it too fashions
a world it calls its own on which reality
shines like an April sun and moon, like the radiance
that haloes a lover's silhouette on the threshold
of his welcome. She stands up. The wind's gentle touch
combs her hair with a lover's tenderness and sighs.
She is now a young girl. One of the mind's daughters.
Her violet eyes shine with a violent sheen
as she looks the world up and down, seeking a match
to her young force. A passionate ardor froths
among the bushes and finds shelter in her chest
and is exhaled again as indigo vapor
over the lemon shores of an italic world,
where visible fishes splash against prows and oars,
scattering limpid stars of migratory green
on the full moon's mantilla. She walks a few steps,
and stops, and smiles. “Spring is not an or the answer,”
she says with buoyancy. ”The syntax of seasons
is the syntax of the mind. It is the primer
and clanking abacus where the mind learns the ways
of the world he creates out of the world that is.
It is the book, but not the text scholars will write;
the exquisite summa rerum omnium mundi;
the candle by the book; the wall by the candle
where a growth of ivy snarls a growth of gold leaves;
the necessary id which the necessitous
will fervently decline for yet another term.
Spring is not an answer but another costume
for the harlequined student in reality
to wear in the parade of the world's appearance;
and it is to the mind what love is to desire:
an elusive Naples at the end of a thought,
of an essential thought vying to be final;
a city half seen and half willed in crimson light;
a pulsion of colors, of aromas, of sounds,
fennel blue, oyster white, humid dawn emerald
by a Mediterranean sea of romping hues
where men at dusk ambling the kelp-coppered jetties
and soft-pacing women of Etruscan bearing
stand in the warmth of each man's and woman's desire
as it striates the night with hot scintillations.”
She says and feels at peace. She says and feels a fire
of peace growing brighter with each one of her breaths,
a red-rough-rouge coral of incandescent ease.
All is now in order and part of its order.
Berries grow on low bushes for children to find
and prick their fingers with the necessary thorns,
losing a drop of blood which will wake on their lips
the ferruginous taste of death-as-acceptance
they will learn to call love. It is midday. Midnight.
Herds of deer graze the sky under the moon's antlers.
The horizon is ring for the earth to receive
on her wedding day with herself as earth and dream.
And the lark
                   lo! the lark, the clamorous fellow,
calls for another day akin to yesterday.
The imagination and its reality
and the reality which the mind encounters
at each of his moments are at rest in the room
of stellar certitude. The wine was poured and sipped
and spilled into the sea that rolls on their roof-tiles.
They lie down skin to kin. They exchange benign words
of peace mixed with wonder and vague expectations.
It is now time for you. You should go and join her.
She's been waiting for you on a bench in a park.
You should take her hand in yours and propose to her.
You should woo her with words that are words of desire
beyond desire; with words born from the balmy air
as it desires an air warmer than its own warmth;
words heard from lilac-trees as they desire a bloom
more fragrant than their own, a rapture of perfumes
in mauve constellations of the profoundest blue;
with expressions learned even from the smell of dust
as it drifts off the street's crevices and whispers
(Where was it? There? Or there? Who cares about the name
of this rathole anyway? Verdun — or Dunkirk —
Stalingrad — Hiroshima — Sedan — Cannae —
Dresden — Azincourt? The earth does not bear a name,
the big mama, but bears us as we fall and lie
down on her monstrous bosom of dirt blent with rocks.
Where was it? Here? Or there? Only one thing matters
now: as I was falling, as the sky receded
beyond my reach and the ground grew larger than I,
I felt under my arm a soft branch, and my palm
brushed against a tuft of grass soaked in my blood's gush,
and on my face — as it hit its final pillow —
I felt a gentle touch, as of a child's finger,
and smelt a gentle smell, as of a maiden's skin...
And a bird called... And a moon shone... And a flower
sprinkled my half-parted lips with the taste of dew.
Then I learned I could close my eyes upon the world,
upon the good of it and the better of it,
for it seemed a good world in the sweet light of spring
the stories and sorrows of the ones who have died.



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Sixième New York Elegy



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