The Seven New York Elegies









The Sixth New York Elegy


The sharp short smell of frost lingers in the garden.

The sun, in blue apron and straw-lined, wooden clogs,
nonchalantly picks up apples in the orchard
where, fifty years ago (or is it seventy?),
a woman from Paris died as she was walking
shielded from daylight by a beige silk umbrella.
The sang-de-bœuf tiles in the kitchen have been washed
and a frothy smell of soap pervades morning's rooms,
lit by the cryptic stars of copper pots and pans.
Sheets are flapping on wires. Crows inspect old furrows.
The earth exhales the stringent fragrance of fresh dung
and ancient cycles of repetitive seasons.
A beam in the attic just moaned. Dust stirs and falls.
A peasant on his way, down the path, dwindles out
to a mere anecdote for the daydreaming eye.
She rests her elbows on the window sill and sighs.
Her book is on the chair. The shawl on her shoulders
is cashmere from Pont-l'Evêque. A gold medallion
gleams on her chest over a piece of lace, moistened
by her perspiration. She turns around and says
to the soft penumbra which surrounds her like flesh
nurtures desire: “There comes a time of disruption,
where guillotines are profoundest metaphysics.
At the end of the thought of the whole of the world,
they rise and cast shadows of exquisite stillness.”
The farm is still. A horsefly frantically flutters
around the Egyptian jewels of its own eyes,
too famished to find rest, even in satiation.
The woman turns around one more time. At the gates
a buggy stops. A man jumps to the muddy ground.
She looks at him and blushes. In the hearth, embers
from yesterday utter red words in ashen speech.
A smile drifts on and off her lips. With her left palm,
she smoothes out the creases on her percale dress.
Let us all gather now at her most hallowed feet;
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


The era of epic passed away intestate,
the season of Hera and hymn-humming heroes.
Clockwork time succeeded. On open-eyed billboards,
men and women study, as a single scholar,
the single large type writ of a simple dogma.
The world is now a place we blandly populate,
an extension of our fern-potted verandas.
Symbols of ourselves ring us like bumble-bees
pilfering the honey of simplistic blossoms.
They are symbols of a general point of view,
interprets of a theory larger than life
which begets a life smaller than all its parts' sum.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


In them the mind has found a peaceful domicile
where reality, wearing his livery, serves tea
at five o'clock sharp — with buttered crumpets — and dusts
Aunt Nelly's silverware every other Friday.
Men know men as neighbors or plaintiffs or bankers;
and women are mink coats from Queens purveyors' stores.
Their children dissect frogs and mice in the garden,
under the sterile cherry tree of dead summers;
and innocence is naught but fake snow, a touch-up
of white paint on the watercolored calendars
ethical beings buy from city firemen.
We have finally mastered our destinies.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


There is a time — there comes a time of destruction,
when destruction rises from completion itself
as a need in the heart for a dissonant love:
in the contented heart for dissatisfaction.
It comes at once and is at once commandeering
like a whirling dervish in a porcelain shop
whose porcelain hands pluck out porcelain flowers
from the beds of order to throw them at the feet
of disorder's divas. It comes after the noon
of the year. Before night. At random in the week
that is the life lived by the people born from time:
puffy eyes Saturday or Birmingham Monday.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


With a bang, the wind bursts open the window which
was ajar and blows wildly through the room. The books
take wing chaotically like sea-gulls in the wake
of a ship made of rocks and rocky reflections
of a chaotic sun. A violent bustle
is always part of virtuous harmony,
its twin of turbulence. The library babbles.
Knowledge is aflutter and old ladies aspire —
while browsing through cook-books, looking for recipes
for ginger-snaps or wild huckleberry preserves —
after the death of their cats and their canaries,
or their bingo partners, in the hot of their hearts.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


The winter man reclines on his bed. He will die
soon. He knows it and surveys this large certitude
which ripples around him like a swan-speckled pond,
or hematoma-like fields of anemones.
And the world he lived in will die too; and the word
which carried to his ears and his heart his world's psalms.
The winter man has known winter-winter, from which
sprung winter-spring followed by winter-summer. Now
is the end of winter-fall, November's nadir,
the final time. Cellars have been looted. Apples,
stored in attics, have turned to tender rot. But death,
to reach him, needs to force her violent way in him.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


She needs him to violently wish for their wedding.
She needs his helping hand to touch him, the whetted
sickle he swung in winter-July's fields to reap
winter wheat. All he built must now be razed and wrecked,
so that the spring man may convey May's certitudes
to his April people. The winter man reclines
on his bed and agrees. He becomes violent:
the willing man at the most violet hour
of death. He tramps upon his favorite crocuses
and mercilessly kills his kind and kin and self,
saying: “Violence is the imago of change!
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.”


From chaos to ideas of chaos, to idols,
to the idle ennui of idolization,
to destruction: the mind is a simple machine.
Though its poems are not. Illustration:
                                                         you said
that, where I saw a pear, you saw a mandolin.
We sat down and described our differences
of perception, and thus gave birth to a third world
where pear's pizzicati composed fall's serenade.
It was a perfect world for there we were perfect,
propounders of its soil and soluble sunsets,
gods of the land playing d'Anjou and Bartlet lutes;
bearing it and yet born from its mythology.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


But all mythologies are genealogies:
fastidious recordings of necessary falls;
X begot Y, and Z begot a human race,
whence comes Mr. Johnson in his dark three-piece suit,
the simple man, who lives in simple suburbia
built on the emplacement of faded Olympia.
For him pear and mandolin are facts, not accords,
not fabulous music heard in Eden's festhalls,
but quantities. The canons of Messrs. Johnson
are canons of the world as it grows worldlier,
as the mind grows colder than its own inventions
and sees them as doggerel in its dogmatism.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


It is night. Trees spew stars like useless olive pits
behind the screens where insects crash with frying sounds.
Mr. Johnson feels at ease with the universe
which throws sensible constellations on the floor
and the ceiling of the room of his well-being.
His feet rest on an ottoman. He reads the book
of things by the light of his ideas about them.
Doors and windows are locked in door-and-windowhood.
The book falls with a thump then sinks into the rug,
and the world grows staler than last month's newspapers.
Objects turn to powder and ideas to despair.
Mr. Johnson becomes his own memorial.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary,


he cries. “I feel a call, in my contented heart,
for a love more dissonant than the love I feel,
a furious passion for dissatisfaction,
like a dove in a bush cloyed by her cooing world
calling after the hawk which will claw her phoenix.
The need for destruction is a fervent clamor
for rejuvenescence in ceaseless changingness.
It rises from the heart of completion itself,
even in the lives of the johnsonest Johnsons,
dwellers in a dated and disenchanted world
where we act through values and traffic in values,
slabs of ice clattering over congealed rivers.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


An order of things is most extreme violence.
It vies with reality to carve idols out
of the fluid idiom she spoke in oblivion.
Yet its necessity is unavoidable
if gazelles are to graze in a world of gazelles,
not of gavials. It grows up to be part of things,
a thing itself among its peers, a natural,
say, a palm man asleep in his palm lover's arms
untangled from his roots. The violence within
evades him and becomes the violence without,
which undoes him as it recasts reality
in a novel order, a fresher, freer, grove.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.


And this is what I hear; this cry for violence
like a new born baby's wail in a cathedral.

It is midnight. The man in the moon sups on pears
and plucks love songs out on his lunar mandolin.
A junkyard has replaced Mr. Johnson's cottage:
a door here; a chair there; a rug; a torn up book.
On cracked windows, fragments of fractured stars scribble
fragmented assertions about Mr. Johnson,
stating: “Mr. Johnson, this most violent man,
is on his way to Zanzibar, isle of pepper,
terra torri-torpid. There he'll found a kingdom,
and will wed his guitar and father multitudes.
Let us all praise for him Saint Emma Bovary


The order of winter has been destroyed today
and spring iconoclasts are at work in the streets.
A brutal blue bell bellows above the steeples,
thrashing away pennants of pallid blotted blue.
Broken are the mirrors of the lakes — and puddles
plash the mud where snowmen would mount their drowsy guard.
An extreme vehemence fills the air with extreme
sweetness-swiftness as scythe-like swallows slash the sky
with shrieking wings. Winter lays waning and wounded
down the gutter where rolled its icicle idols.
Now comes the time of the hyacinth-assassins:
children of time are children of violent aims.
Let us all praise today Saint Emma Bovary.




She is strewn on her bed, getting acquainted with
an arseniced world. She is in pain but refuses
to be deduced from pain felt or present poison.
A peddler in the street sings his seductive song
of silk and brandenburgs. What was it that was there
which is now death's wisdom? What was it?
                 Ah, yes... The large river upon which gondolas
offer mere anecdotes to the inquiring eye;
the Ganges at the end of all mythologies.
Bells toll. But not for her: for a too human God
snatched in humanity. A horse snorts. A shutter
bangs against So-and-so's potted petunias.
Who plays the viola, at the end of her thoughts —
a long forgotten tune? She turns her head slowly
on the marble pillow. There they are. And where else
could they have been? She smiles and whispers as she dies:
“Violence and values are halves of the same fruit;
music from the same score; contrapuntal outlines
of metaphor's ferocious and felicitous
wedding of two things like the pear which you will eat
and the mandolin I shall play eternally”



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Septième New York Elegyi



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