Rescue the Dead
Finally, to forgo love is to kiss a leaf,
is to let rain fall nakedly upon your head,
is to respect fire,
is to study man's eyes and his gestures
as he talks,
is to set bread upon the table
and a knife discreetly by,
is to pass through crowds
like a crowd of oneself.
Not to love is to live.
To love is to be led away
into a forest where the secret grave
is dug, singing, praising darkness
under the trees.
To live is to sign your name,
is to ignore the dead,
is to carry a wallet
and shake hands.
To love is to be a fish.
My boat wallows in the sea.
You who are free,
rescue the dead.
When two take gas
by mutual consent
and the cops come in
when the walls are broken down
and the doctor pays respects
by closing the books
and the neighbors stand about
sniffing and afraid
and the papers run a brief
under a whiskey ad
and the news is read
eating ice cream or a fruit
and the paper is used
to wrap peelings
and the garbage man
dumps the barrel
into the truck
and the paper flares
in the furnace and sinks back
charred and is scooped up
for mud flats and pressed down
by steam rollers for hard ground
and a house on it
for two to enter
Melpomene in Manhattan
As she walked she would look back
over her shoulder and trip
upon sidewalk cracks or bump
into people to whom she would apologize
profusely, her head still turned.
One could hear her murmur to herself
tearfully, as though filled with a yearning
to recover what she was leaving behind
as if she would preserve it
or do for it what she had neglected
out of ignorance or oversight
or from sheer meanness and spite
or simple helplessness to do better,
her voice beginning to keen
as she tripped or steered blindly
into the gutter
Walt Whitman in the Civil War Hospitals
Prescient, my hands soothing
their foreheads, by my love
I earn them. in their presence
I am wretched as death. They smile
to me of love. They cheer me
and I smile. These are stones
in the catapulting world;
they fly, bury themselves in flesh,
in a wall, in earth; in midair
break against each other
and are without sound.
I sent them catapulting.
They outflew my voice
towards vacant spaces,
but I have called them farther,
to the stillness beyond,
to death which I have praised.
At This Moment
I'm very pleased to be a body. Can there be someone without a body?
As you hold mine I feel firmly assured that bodies are the right thing
and I think all life is a body. I'm happy about trees, grass and water,
especially with the sun shining on it. I slip into it, a summer pleasure.
I have hurt the body. That's when I know I need it most in its whole
condition. If I could prove it to you by giving pain you would agree
but I prefer you with your body pressed to mine as if to say it is how
we know. Think, when two must separate how sad it is for each then
having to find another way to affirm their bodies. Knock one against
another or tree or rock and there's your pain. Now we have our arms
filled with each other. Could we not grow old in this posture and be
buried as one body which others would do for us tenderly?
Prose Poem in Six Parts
I'm so happy, he shouts, as he puts a bullet through his head. it leaves
a clean hole on either side of the skull, no blood pouring out. I'm so
happy, he shouts at his triumph. He knew it would happen this way,
pulling the trigger. He knew it, he had imagined it and he collapses
of a spasm of joy.
His friends look closely at the clean hole on either side and decide to
take their own thoughts seriously too and act. it will not be with a
pistol but with each other whom they have had on their minds for so
long without daring to speak openly about it. They speak and become
transfixed in each other's image. They are not exactly dead, they are
unmoving but fulfilled. They are not even aware of being happy or
depressed and the way domestic animals roam among them nibbling
at their fingers, ears, toes and nose is how these animals eat at flowers
and grass. To the transfixed it is a happy identification. They can believe
the world is whole, all this without saying a word, their eyes starry.
Their eyes starry, their bodies glistening with sweat that acts like a
lacquer to seal their pores, they grow rigid, gleam like polished stone.
They can recall the one who put a bullet through his head. He has
risen and walks among-. them tapping on each body for a response to
his happiness, each tap like his heartbeat to inform each rigid body
exhibiting its own happiness. These are mutually dependent acts but
tapping his way from body to body, his imagination proven to him, he
is not aware of their happiness while the one person who is aware of
this dilemma has not yet shot himself in the head or talked to another
human about each other. He could be lonely were it not for the sight
of these who are so happy in themselves. They promise much and he
has a relative hope for the future.
He has a relative hope for the future. He lights a cigar and observes the
community of polished stones and the one pierced skull and wishes to make
himself totally familiar with their lives. He examines the clean hole in the
head. He treats himself to a glass of wine. He has doubts, he finds it hard
to discover their sources. By examining himself in the mirror he can see
his mood. By turning his face from the mirror he can see the bath. By
turning from the bath he can see the towel rack. By turning from the towel
rack he can see the toilet bowl. By turning from the toilet bowl he has made
a complete circle and is back staring into the mirror. It's somebody about
whom he has doubts, he has discovered in one complete revolution. By
marching out of the bathroom he will leave the image behind him in the mirror
and by leaving it behind he is free. Who is he now? He has doubts.
He has doubts. He chews upon the stump of his cigar. He can express
himself but to what end? Language is not the solution. He can join the
rigid aggregate community but in what posture? He could make love
to himself but with what thoughts? He could warm himself by the
fire in winter, cool himself in the sea in summer. He could eat when
hungry. He could cry when in pain, he could laugh when amused, he
could think when in trouble. He is an ordinary man.
He is an ordinary man, he wants his breakfast, he needs his unhappiness,
he wishes to be himself, he desires apotheosis as he is and so he shoots
himself to relieve himself of his doubts. Brought to consciousness by this
act, he dies. The man with the clean hole through his skull does not know
the ordinary man is dead and the aggregate community never cares to change
from its transfixed postures while he, lying dead, is studying that compelling
emptiness in him beneath his breastbone and does not know how either to
fill it or extract it to give him peace. He yearns to leap up from the floor to
become a whirling dancer, an ecstatic, for the hell of it.
For the hell of it he tries but lies still. He then knows he is dead and
would inform the world. His body will, he decides. It is the evidence
and his silence the message, and now what does life have to offer? It is
time to think. He thinks, the earth has the answer that it presses upon
him where he lies. Not to think is the answer. He can be a stone or a
cycle of existence, inside the cycle the air of emptiness, a small hole
for a small life such as he had seen in the skull of the risen one. He
can be a stone with a hole in it and he will always be the same. He has
his comfort, he is ready to die successfully, he dies and is complete, an
In a Dream
at fifty I approach myself,
eighteen years of age,
seated despondently on the concrete steps
of my father's house,
wishing to be gone from there
into my own life,
and I tell my young self,
Nothing will turn out right,
you'll want to avenge yourself,
on those close to you especially,
and they will want to die
of shock and grief. You will fall
to pleading and tears of self-pity,
filled with yourself, a passionate stranger.
My eighteen-year-old self stands up
from the concrete steps and says,
Go to hell,
and I walk off.
I dream I am lying in the mud on my back and staring up into the sky.
Which do I prefer, since I have the power to fly into the blue slate of
air? It is summer. I decide quickly that by lying face up I have a view
of the sky I could not get by flying in it, while I'd be missing the mud.