This place where you are right now, God circled on a map for you.
We never know how high we are
Till we are called to rise;
And then, if we are true to plan,
Our statures touch the skies—
The Heroism we recite
Would be a daily thing,
Did not ourselves the Cubits warp
For fear to be a King—
Publication – is the Auction
Of the Mind of Man –
Poverty – be justifying
For so foul a thing
Possibly – but We – would rather
From Our Garret go
White – unto the White Creator –
Than invest – Our Snow –
Thought belong to Him who gave it –
Then – to Him Who bear
It’s Corporeal illustration – sell
The Royal Air –
In the Parcel – Be the Merchant
Of the Heavenly Grace –
But reduce no Human Spirit
To Disgrace of Price –
You are running away from everyone
who loves you,
from your family,
from old lovers, from friends.
They run after you with accumulations
of a former life, copper earrings,
plates of noodles, banners
of many lost revolutions.
You love to say the trees are naked now
because it never happens
in your country. This is a mystery
from which you will never
recover. And yes, the trees are naked now,
everything that still breathes in them
lies silent and stark
and waiting. You love October most
of all, how there is no word
for so much splendor.
This, too, is a source
of consolation. Between you and memory
everything is water. Names of the dead,
or saints, or history.
There is a realm in which
—no, forget it,
it’s still too early to make anyone understand.
A man drives a stake
through his own heart
and afterwards the opposite of nostalgia
begins to make sense: he stops raking the leaves
and the leaves take over
and again he has learned
to let go.
[English version by Robert Hass]
Forget the suffering
You caused others.
Forget the suffering
Others caused you.
The waters run and run,
Springs sparkle and are done,
You walk the earth you are forgetting.
Sometimes you hear a distant refrain.
What does it mean, you ask, who is singing?
A childlike sun grows warm.
A grandson and a great-grandson are born.
You are led by the hand once again.
The names of the rivers remain with you.
How endless those rivers seem!
Your fields lie fallow,
The city towers are not as they were.
You stand at the threshold mute.
float in the bay shallows
like schools of clouds,
a dozen identical–is it right
to call them creatures,
these elaborate sacks
of nothing? All they seem
is shape, and shifting,
and though a whole troop
of undulant cousins
go about their business
within a single wave’s span,
every one does something unlike:
this one a balloon
open on both ends
but swollen to its full expanse,
this one a breathing heart,
this a pulsing flower.
This one a rolled condom,
or a plastic purse swallowing itself,
that one a Tiffany shade,
this a troubled parasol.
This submarine opera’s
all subterfuge and disguise,
its plot a fabulous tangle
of hiding and recognition:
nothing but trope,
nothing but something
forming itself into figures
recognizable only as the stuff
of metaphor. What can words do
but link what we know
to what we don’t,
and so form a shape?
Which shrinks or swells,
configures or collapses, blooms
even as it is described
into something unlikely
a gown for Isadora?
Nothing but style.
one shape to another
also sets them apart
–but what’s lovelier
than the shapeshifting
transparence of like and as:
clear, undulant words?
We look at alien grace,
by any determined form,
and we say: balloon, flower,
heart, condom, opera
lampshade, parasol, ballet.
Hear how the mouth,
of longing for the world,
changes its shape?
On a warm night in upstate
New York during the summer
of 1948, Charlie Parker got out
of a brand new Pontiac, the bass
player from his quintet was behind
the wheel. Clubs along 57th Street
were an hour behind them. Parker
had grabbed the case with his sax
in it from the back seat and walked
out onto a field. He was off drugs,
clean for at least six months
but knew he’d never be clean
as the air he breathed.
A herd of cows watched him walk
in front of them, place the case
on the grass, open it and take out
a bent piece of sky the color of dawn.
Then he blew on it as his fingers
like a flock of small dark birds flew
up and down. The cows listened, stopped
chewing but couldn’t prevent their tails
from swinging like the Basie rhythm
section. Sounds they never heard
came out of a hole in the sky.
Then it stopped. He placed it back
in the box and walked away. Within
hours the green grass they began
chewing again turned the milk in