FIVE POEMS FROM UNDER WORLD ARREST (1994)

NOTES

I awake at 5 AM seeing a Serbian bayonet…”:


An attempt to “stew” in my consternation over reading of this hideous desecration of intercourse. The porcupine imagery acknowledges the poem’s attempt to enact some sort of retribution, to pierce the reader with its unfolding distress. The last line – “no word is fully said” – further acknowledges that metaphoric language remains incapable of animating the world with its transformational largesse.

Under World Arrest”:


Barbara G. Walker in her extraordinary The Woman’s Encyclopaedia of Myths and Secrets writes, concerning Eve, “A church council announced in 418 AD that it was heresy to say death was a natural necessity rather than the result of Eve’s disobedience. This was the real origin of the church fathers’ fear and hatred of women, which expanded into a sexist attitude that permeated all of western society. Woman was identified with Death. Her countervailing responsibility for birth was taken away, and the creation of life was laid to the credit of the Father- god, whose priests claimed he could remove the curse of death… The biblical idea was a reversal of older myths in which the Goddess brought forth a primal male ancestor, then made him her mate – the ubiquitous, archetypal divine-incest relationship traceable in every mythology.” My poem is a brief meditation on the poison embedded in the concept of Original Sin.

Like Violets, He Said”:

From 1974 through 1997 I researched the Upper Palaeolithic painted caves of south-western France and in 2003 Wesleyan University Press published the results of my investigations as Juniper Fuse: Upper Palaeolithic Imagination & the Construction of the Underworld. “Like Violets, He Said” is one of the shorter pieces from that book, a kind of elegy and ode in memory of Jacques Marsal who as one of the boys who discovered Lascaux in 1940 remained at the cave as the primary guide until his death in 1988. Caryl and I visited Lascaux for the fourth time in 1990 with a new guide whose callowness made us realise how fortunate we were to have visited this magnificent cave with an expert guide like Marsal. Olson is the poet Charles Olson and I quote a line from his play The Fiery Hunt. Blackburn is the poet Paul Blackburn and I quote from his poem “The Touch”.

Out of the Kat Godeu”:


On one level, a celebration of our 1986 month in Hungary on a Soros Foundation travel grant. We spent most of our time in Budapest with our generous hosts, Gyula Kodolányi and Mária Illyés. Working together many afternoons, Gyula and I translated the 56 page section of Hungarian poetry that appeared in Sulfur #21. The italicised lines in my poem are my translation from the French translation of the Welsh “Kat Godeu”. Also called “the Books of Taliesin” – since it is attributed to a 6th century bard by that name – and “Battle of the Trees”, it is mainly known to English readers in D. W. Nash’s Victorian version published in Robert Graves’ The White Goddess. The crossed-out line is the last line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s “Archaic Torso of Apollo”. The evocations of Sándor Ferenczi will be familiar to some Hungarian readers. I have in mind here his theory of “thalassal regression”; “the longing for sea-life from which man emerged in primeval times”.

Ground”:


This poem was written on the French island of Ré (Ile de Ré), near La Rochelle. I spent an afternoon wandering beaten paths that seemed to lead nowhere among wind-bent pines. The scuffed, the anonymous, the new, and the barren reverberated language, my own as in its own veers, narrowings and dismissals it seemed to represent a counterpath to the paths upon which I felt these sumptuous and barren sensations.

I AWAKE AT 5 AM SEEING A SERBIAN BAYONET
in a Muslim woman’s vagina. Who today is afraid of Hell?
Who lives for beyond his life?
Saddest to think of living only for
one’s revenge – on being born? on being?
Saddest is our need for a Pope,
for a religious girdle to contain our
raging fat.
“She told him she’d just had a hysterectomy”
– no, I won’t repeat more here,
isn’t Death cruel enough?
Doesn’t nature work its cruel lacework
fine enough?
Symphony of sad songs,
musical trough into which our compacted
revulsion, our anxious bitterness,
drip. I am weaving in, around, the bayonet fact
– a porcupine
in my lines tries to shoot spines
into reader heart, anti-cupid,
enraged artist no reader can receive,
as a poet to be a porcupine,
swine and spine, out of sow lineage
to complex my reign as man,
barbed, concealed by whiteblack hair,
connotations ray, prehensile tale,
the spines never fully flee, or hit home
the swine sheath is never empty,
the rootedness remains here,
no word is fully said.

UNDER WORLD ARREST

With a bite, the apple eater is surrounded.
Is this one sprayed? Near Eve’s teeth marks,

the poison is most intense.
So Original Sin flares in any act,

in the act of the mind
world arrest asserts itself,

the Garden is re-performed, and angels,
blotched yellowish-white, arms linked,

move a lariat loop through consciousness,
charged to do God’s thickening.

Inside the sinew arithmetic,
arathattacks. Healable, in rind.

At core, the irrefutable,
sleep-infested, early marble:

God is moving over.

LIKE VIOLETS, HE SAID

Jacques Marsal [1925–1988] in dapper suede slippers would lead us into the darkness of Lascaux. It takes his absence today, our fourth visit, to say how much his presence determined what Lascaux is. As one of the discoverers, Marsal remained coated with the awesome freshness of that tumbling in, lightning-ripped oak, under which four boys squirmed to arrive. That Marsal stayed on, nearly 50 years, was a bloom added to the stem of the cave, and I’m overwhelmed by the difference one person can make in the personality of a place, not via declaration or sheer information, but by being folded in, obliquely, wearing Lascaux, allowing its grace to loom, allowing us, hardly aware of his movements, our own reading through his light.

Men spring up like violets
when needed, Olson said,

and Blackburn, near his end,
lamented the disappearance of a Barcelona
waiter, an old man
who moved so accurately and gently
among the clientele. Paul wrote: “We do not need to know
anybody’s name to love them.”

Because of Marsal, I know Lascaux in my heart
like a nearly weightless child
framed by thunder and a bruised, milling sky,
a child standing on the sensation of eternity,
sayable eternity, right under the dust.

[Hotel Cro-Magnon]

OUT OF THE KAT GODEU

[for Jerome Rothenberg’s 60th birthday]

 Before I was free I was multiform
 I was a sharp damascened sword
 Drops of water in the upper
 air        The most ardent star
 The beginning of the ancient word
 Before I was Jerome I was Rothenberg
 Before Rothenberg I was Red Mountain
 I was Navaho I was Seneca
 Bubbles in beer        Honey milk and soap
 A harp string transformed 9 years into foam
 A witness among killing center stones
 It is not I who will not sing
 I sing powerfully if obscurely
 I enter the scaled beast bearing 6 million heads
 A hard fight it is for the man on the mat
 Annihilation is every field, the sound of any train
 “Shoah.” A backyard in Encinitas CA
 coextensive with Buenos Aires, Treblinka
 “There is no place that does not see you. 

You must change your life.”

Peeled of eternity – the riddled self,
crouched.
On Leon Golub’s limpwristed leg-armed
canine, a military head, flummoxed,
lit by interior gangrene.
Have you just grasped, Blue Sphinx,
what man has done with the animal powers
by which he entered time?

*
 

 The delicate crystal before its candle
 holds arsenic gold,
 the stone of the apricot comingling
 with the eau-de-vie.
 As for the Budapest Hilton spiders,
 they work in huge, filth-furred webs, outside
 the 17th floor restaurant.
 We were seated by the picture window – there they were,
 the dinner entertainment!
 “To eat living creatures on a plate-glass plate,
 to do it vertically high in the sky
 while you humans purr over disguised steer.
 Here we work in night and fog, boring into whatever
 earth coughs up,
 steaming up moth news, handcuffed to
 our unpruned jaws.”

*

The young Soviet soldier at the side of the road standing by the
raised barrier as we drove past had a skinned, unborn,
lumber-hewn face. Something stuck in a uniform and left in
the rain. “They’re sent abroad at 18 for 3 or 4 years,” Gyula
Kodolanyi says, “hated by the foreign population, lackeys of
officers, no women.” I try to summon the face of the one we passed
at the edge of the woods, and draw forth Soutine ghosts,
butchered meat, the sweetness of youth cankered, remote. What
did we look like to him?

*

North of Gyor
7 cracked concrete doors
commemorate, with cobalt-blue interstices,

Miklos Radnoti’s etched words:
“I lived in an age so ugly, men killed
not only on command, but for pleasure.”

Radnoti, Rothenberg and I live in a country
where men, who cut the vaginas out of My Lai women,
walk free.

Across the road from the monument, a marsh.
Mossy blue willows twist from the mass grave
which, in 1944,
included Radnoti and, in his overcoat pocket,
his last hexameters.

*

It is the
injured toughness of what is used
moves me.
Under Tibor’s scraggly cherry trees,
the blue, rubble-soft bench used to be a door.
I instantly loved its blister hives.
Is this love facing the bomb? Not to be
prehistoric,
but to have something in
one’s character grandfather
an older world in crumble suspension
here.

*


Over Lake Balaton this evening, lightning,
sudden floods of violet squid …

 All of Hungary faces Balaton, root lake,
 entrance to the Magyar underworld.
 Here, Sandor Ferenczi is still slithering in and out
 of mother sound,
 he waves farewell to his sperm as it alone
 disappears into her bio-folds to reach,
 he believes, at last, Thalassa!
 The Hungarian longing for suicide, the no-sea ache.
 Balaton, reticule, in which eyes
 of the ancient marsh
 still glint with lavender nights.
 I say it with North American optimism,
 which carries such nuclear embarrassment
 in its hold.
 Ferenczi continues to yearn for a journey
 on an animal of water.
 It bears him on and on, he cannot tell its size,
 or where its head begins –
 but he is moving on its rolling
 aquaflesh,
 there are thousands of cherry-red
 gashes in its sides,
 he tastes the sweet syrup of one,
 and then another, and the feel
 of Last Supper is living
 infant on his tongue …

[1986–1992]

GROUND

 Is it possible that language wears through, wears through it-
self, becomes, as this path, a thing rubbed out?
 All paths are scuffed, as are words, all paths look done in.
 The nature of the path: to be worn into. No indication ever
 of how many passed.
 Dirt, chaos bone, metaphor-barren stones that imply an ar-
bitrary gist.
 Once, as if in birth, something pushed through high grass, a family?
 a string of goats?
 Anonymity is the most known force.
 At the heart of every specific direction, a characterless path.
 Sentences reused become pebbled voids, comforting to the
 mouth, yet of a deadness so obdurate poetry to be fresh must
 crack them open.
 We pass so thoroughly over, our going sounds self-dismissal
 as our eyes clamp, or clomp against, destination’s nearest rung.
 No scene is ever reseen. Each time is new.
 My voice, wording its way while traveling unlimited narrow-
ing, lacks and is.
 Lacks an is.
 All, under leveling sea winds, gesticulates
 asway.

[Ile de Ré]

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