Learn How to Read

For I know well enough a time will come

when we will have to crawl back along the roads

we hastened over, I take this knife of words

(the sharpest blade of all) and make a mark

in every tree that sheds its tears around me,

and hide my shoes and rags in holes in the mud:

and all these marks I make for just one purpose:

to find my way back through the labyrinth

of memory’s inherited punishments.

Should I read the books of distant lands

I cannot reach alive?

The question is useless.

Run, run, stubborn fool,

learn how instead of what to read:

the signs are elusive

and all frontier guards are kept

strictly and unbribably


A cup of black coffee

To the memory

of October 23, 1956

The headlines glare ‚“they will be hanged!” Between us streches

the Atlantic, and I’ve never meet the man.

I have no idea where he lived,

but keep seeing things.

I seem to know for sure

that he had a pair of worn sandals

that he left under the chest of drawers

carefully polished for Sunday.

He also had some frazzled ties. There they hang

just as he left them on their old string,

thumb-tacked to the back side of the creaky

closet door. And his mother stares – ‚“why?”


                          “…on his neck?!”

    The neighbors pretend

they’ve stopped paying attention, but it’s hard

when they see the mother. There lies a letter on his desk,

barely begun, addressed to someone called, “Dearest”.

How could the Secret Police have missed it?

   The mother keeps a silver spoon

(their only thing of value) for old times’ sake.

She would set it next to his plate when he’d come home

from the factory, late and starved.

   He also had a pair of suits,

half a dozen paper-bounds about faraway places –

he read them and re-read them, desk-bound,

as he travelled.

    The other one: A young woman.

She looks as pale and weary as expecting mothers

in the third month often do. Her lover

(there was no time for marriage) jostled and bumped,

cranes his neck in the fear-stricken crowd

in front of the prison yard hoping for a last minute miracle:

maybe the baby… OUR baby will save her…

    I knew the rhythm of her blood… I KNEW her…!

Would biting his lips until they bleed

help against the fainting? Last night she spent with me

in my apartment she forgot her broken black comb

on my bed… Her hair… her brown hair in tiny coils

caught in the comb on my bed…

    My insomnia is reaching its third week: a trivial nuisance of no public


   The unstoppable tape-recorder inside my skull

    churns out fragmented utterances:

     …Tomorrow morning

      tomorrow at the crack of dawn

       no later than five thirty in the middle

        of the prison yard and in a matter of less

         than thirty seconds

          the rope will effortlessly

           tear my body to pieces

         to pieces


     my body

   the rope

 will tear

             will tear

                         will tear

                                     will tear

                                                 start to well up?

    In less then thirty seconds my body that twenty six years and a legion

of secrets irreproducibly extrabiological were hard put and busy

    building together

         it will be torn to pieces from within

              by far less than thirty seconds

                   ought it perhaps not

                       should it perhaps not

take just a bit…longer…?

   The sun’s up. And though the headlines will not change their leaden

minds about that execution Monday morning,

I somehow cannot face

driving nails under my finger tips

or banging my head against the wall

until my temples burst.
   And even though I got a cable from London
asking me to start collecting the signatures of famous Harvard
and Yale Professors for clemency (directing the mail to Prime Minister

Nehru) I just can’t seem to work up the adrenaline

to send that two hundred dollar telegram

to Satan for mercy.

  Petrified effigy of a dead crusader,

   a-moral bundle of knotted, tangled nerves,

    I will probably crawl into my modern

     all-electric kitchen and, so scornful of death as a

      Roman gladiator, indulge myself in a sobering drink of

       Alka Seltzer on the rocks. And should some one say that that’s

        becoming much too Americanized, hell, there is always the more

conservative option

        of making it

               and old-fashioned


                               of black coffee.

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