The Case for Memory

 

Language belongs to the saint children.

They speak and I have the power to translate.

María Sabina

 

 

The Case for Memory

 

I was amok & fearless

twice deceived

for which I sought out

satisfactions

in a tree. Too carelessly

I reached for love

& beaten down

I found you

in a froth or frenzy

spent my days around

the pan yards.

I would ask no help from those

whose trust is weak

but I would buy the latest

& the least.

I live for something practical

the case for memory

I set one foot into the space

the others leave abandoned.

Not your lord or slave

I meet you

in an equal clash of wills

& face you down.

I only touch the ground

on Sundays

 

 

The Burning House

 

It was always dark.

The red hole’s

wetness threatened

the lost sheep.

Sharp exchanges

were not clearly heard.

Rivers did

not flow.

You did not defend

your brother.

We ascend

toward progress.

I scratch fire &

remove it from your throat.

I run out of

distant shadows

now that no one

tries to stop

the passage from a city

that is drowning.

You must dodge

the summer fire

to free your soul.

You cannot stand

back of the burning

house from which

strangers emerge

like wolves

to run you down.

 

 

Where God Is Light

 

The lost in hell

among the rat-faced

killers.

I am with them.

Standing at the tunnel’s mouth

the water underneath

I see the figures floating

raised in air

then pitched into the vortex.

Here where god is light

a brown globe

hangs above

a burning hell.

Eyes turn right.

Hieronymus (my namesake)

let me lift this picture

from your hands.

I cherish walking in your circles.

Do you think the light is wet?

Forget it little father

& go home.

Return the keys to management.

When someone asks

if you believe in god

turn cautious.

There are now angels everywhere.

Never look back.

 

 

I Have Paid the Price & Lost

 

God of the universe

manqué

you issue from my mouth.

I watch you dying.

Muscles like flowers gather

at your throat.

You shake a wrist at me.

Your watchband comes apart

& freezes.

I can see you with a babe

propped on your lap

or else a lamb.

Old man with blisters

working against time

you plunge a knife

into my book.

The babe limp as a doll

tilts forward

gagging.

A man in chains

sucks

on a woman’s breast.

Feet walk

without a body.

I have paid the price & lost.

And you?

Have you watched them play

the game of tribute?

And have you failed to pay

& won?

 

 

A Real Man

 

Mangled fingers

push the stones aside.

The scars run deep.

Hate suits

the human face

far better

than a mask

The price of happiness

is wisdom.

Stones that interfere

with speech

will interfere with sleep

no longer.

Soon he wipes away

the stain.

The motor seems outrageous.

Back & forth

he walks.

I watch the fathers

growing

throwing caution to the winds.

My body hovers

in an air

the man can hold forever

in his sights.

I do not trust his way

of dealing.

He & I

are brothers

for this moment

only.

Watch his fingers closing.

He is a real man

when he murders

is he not?

 

 

There Is Never Enough Time

 

Above the clouds

is nothing

but a leprous

single star. (B. Brecht)

The more I look at it

the less I feel.

I try to recollect. I shake

a distant hand

& pay for laughter.

The odds are heavily

against me.

There is never enough time.

When I place a foot

in the hot water

someone declares me lost.

I smile into a mirror

& my face

glares back.

A father holds his babe

up to the light.

Where will it lead us?

Heaven is no place for fools.

I run my fingers

through your hair

& feel the universe

shut down.

 

 

I Am Mad by Turns

 

When I close my eyes

I see them.

Never more & never clearer

than they were

before your heart broke.

I am mad by turns.

Those who lead me to the trough

can never

make me drink.

The time shines like a signal

from my wrist.

Every pattern you observe

will disappear

even those the stars make

in their long sleep.

Is that enough to please us?

I am moved to say it

moved too that Blackburn died so young

& Armand now.

I am waiting for everyone

to die.

For this the just man

spews but holds

his ground.

His strength too distant

to return his hands

two pools of sweat.

He must resemble someone

I saw walking backwards

once & up a flight of stairs

a tray of food

in gentle balance

letting go

& hurtling

to his death among

the thorns.

 

 

A Cruel Nirvana

 

Half dead

is still alive

& half alive is too.

So keep it rolling

I declare.

The others mingle in a room

atop the city

where a fire burns.

They sing.

I sing among them.

Then I push my way through

with my thumbs.

I eke a living

from a stone.

Hard knocks are bound to follow.

I can hear

a water song

close by my ear

& track it

where it leads me.

It is summer

but the trees

are dead.

They vanish with

our fallen friends.

The eye in torment

brings them down

each mind a little world

a cruel nirvana.

 

 

The Fire Deep Inside

 

My penis in the shape

of my own heart

rests on the pillows. (F. Picabia)

I taste a liquor never brewed

out of your lips.

The generals are gathering.

They stare into each other’s eyes

through mirrors.

With a display of wounds

we signal them

& turn away. I am the last

because the fire

deep inside

burns till it’s morning.

Poetry is made in bed

for some for me

the call of life is stronger.

I walk & see my shadow

hanging upside down

with yours. The way

your mouth says I

is just like mine.

I multiply

the little portion

that your fingers

spill.

I cannot comprehend

the way men kill

or laugh. I will not

vouch for them.

There is a space to burrow in

under the covers.

The way he wants to kiss

while vomiting

is part of life. The way

he calls on death

trumpets his own.

 

 

I Prefer a Poem with Spaces

 

I like to crack my words

between my teeth.

I tie my hair back

in a knot

& little care

how well it suits me.

The unearthing of a coin

under the streets

leaves us all shrieking.

I can pretend to think all thoughts

at once.

Seldom for me

is frequent

for my friends.

I prefer a poem with spaces

to a block of prose.

I do not mention roses. (G. Stein)

The thrill of climbing

makes me wring my hands

in glee.

You see me

& you

look away.

You ask me to be cautious.

I can reply to you

if time allows

if not I can stand still.

A poor girl reaches out her hand

but I have nothing left

for her not rhyme

nor reason.

We are all feckless

when it comes to love --

still more to justice.

 

 

A Town Called Meter

 

There is a town called meter

north of Spain.

In it the dead still live

& I have seen them,

who am hungrier than them

not angrier.

I stand among them

with my forged

credentials, calling

on the rest to follow

suit. A bunch of drifters

rubs against me

men with iron spoons

gouging my heart.

I stumble after them

into a town square

sunk below sea level

hard & dry.

A gay parade

files past me

inching up the steps.

I stop a while

my feet in broken flight

over the stones.

The night flows from my eye

the day holds back.

I learn to mimic birds

caught in the brambles.

I have a stark

vocabulary

letting my heart keep time,

my throat in rapture

crying out to you:

the mask! the mask!

in perfect rhythm.

 

 

I Can’t Say Who I Am

 

I can’t say who I am (A. Baraka)

but go for it

& speak

as if I knew it.

Time is half the story

so is death.

I run from shadows

to avoid old people

maddened by God.

I follow animals

whose eyes at night

mirror my face.

Seeing myself asleep

I touch my arm.

I celebrate

new forms of sex.

I am frantic

knowing that nobody

has a way out

or a face

more marked than

mine.

I was not

born live. (J. Holzer)

The case for memory

grows weaker

day by day.

The more I know myself

the less I am.

I hold on to a name

because it suits me

but the voice behind it

never was my own.

 

 

* The foregoing are from a 100-poem series, A Book of Witness, to be published by New Directions

in 2003. Under the title The Case for Memory they appeared in a limited edition with screen printed

illustrations by Ian Tyson, published by Granary Books in 2001.