To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Friday, December 23, 2016

Jerome Rothenberg: From “Four Books” (in progress): A Book of Gods

[What follows as a kind of Christmas gift is a work I prepared for a conference on “God and Grace” in London sponsored  by Cambridge and Notre Dame Universities & that I later presented at this year’s meeting of the Association for Jewish Studies in San Diego.  As such what I’m bringing together (collaging in effect) is a short essay “On God” and one of four “books” from a work in progress that assembles fragments from older poems of mine (plus a newly written coda) in which the key word “god” appears: a sign of my own dis/belief while at the same time an acknowledgement that I find the idea-of-God inescapable & too often deplorable in the only world we know.  It is also, more than I ever thought, the starting point for much of what I write. 
     The other three key words in the series of four “books” are shadows, death, & dreams.]

 On God

“Eternity is in love with the productions of time” wrote William Blake, who was our first great poet of the here and now. It is in time that I engage myself, and it is to discover or create the sense of a life that can energize the common world we share. In that energizing – that first, deceptively simple, act of poesis – something strange happens, whether to the world at large or to our sense of it.  Remaining here-and-now, the world begins to lure us with a feeling, an intuition, of what the poet Robert Kelly speaks of as the not-here/not-now.  Poetry, like religion, has been filled with such extraordinary manifestations (“coincidence, chance, odd happenings, large rocks, hailstorms, talking animals, two-headed cows,” and so on), but for those of us for whom poetry in some sense takes religion’s place (albeit a religion without assurances or comforts), they aren’t bound or fixed but open-ended, different (we would like to think) each time we go at them.
      If this implies a yearning for what the Surrealists, say, called the “marvelous” and “wonderful,” I would be careful not to play down the risks involved – the dark side of the picture. “The world is charg’d with the grandeur of God” begins the great sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, not as an image of transcendence but of immanence.  I respond still to what he writes, but I can’t speak of God without a sense too of negation and rejection. For after Auschwitz and Hiroshima, the line comes back to me distorted: “The world is charged with the terror of God,” it says.
      Here I report my intuition, but it is an intuition curiously reinforced by a form of hermeneutic numerology from the tradition of Jewish kabbala. There, since every letter of the Hebrew alphabet was also a number, words whose letters added up to the same sum were treated as being in significant relation to each other. This was used, not surprisingly, to substantiate accepted “truths,” though there were times when the system (called gematria from the Greek) was used by the heretical and the heterodox to call the others into question.  In following that system, then, I found that the letters in the Hebrew god-name aleph-lamed-vav-hey (eloha) add up numerically (= 42) to the Hebrew word bet-hey-lamed-hey (behalah), “terror, panic, alarm.” That they also add up to kvodi (“my glory”) only intensifies the problematic. In short, a way of making poetry. So, take it any way you choose. Where God breaks into what I write or think, it is the terror that admits him.

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.
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. 

God of the universe
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

When we do the one plus two
the light sparks up
inside its box
& what we take from it
is an adjustment.
Here I force the water through
to flush their voices.
I make a hole down which
a foot slides
severed from its shoe.
I blow the air away
until the mirror
shows me your other face.
I call the gods to witness
& when they do
I let them die.

I believe in the magic of god                          (J. de Lima)
& in fire.  Somebody
dangles a key on the steps.
From a hole in my chest
eyes stare out.
I run into a circle
of friends
little men with pale lips
& soft fingers.
I signal new forms of expression.
The way sand shapes hills
& water shapes fountains.
I am in their hands completely
helpless as a babe
unless the babe command the world
sending a stream of
back to earth.

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
I was not
born live
.                                                 (J. Holzer)

I set loose stones
in motion
one atop
the next.
I wonder
why one thief
The mist of morning
makes the scene
look blue.
From sleep I beckon.
While you stand in place
I race ahead.
I call on history
the way some call
on God.
What was begun
in anger
now brings peace.

i is a womb
a belly
something stolen
heart & hand.
i eats
& will be eaten.
i is a habitation.
i is go & good.
i is a power.
i is to God
a question.
i is willing.
i is i-am
but stands confused.
i is a name for ice.
i is an end.

I kiss every
phallus                                                (Takahashi M.)
hoping to find
I draw a needle
through my flesh
& holler.
When the clocks run down
I meet my true love.
Someone sits here
in the dark
& cuts her toenails.
The bride of Hitler
is she not
a happy dear?
I let her ride me
like a dog.

I parade for God.
I pull a tree out by the roots
uncovering a mountain.
I roll a truck
over a trail of tears
then land it in
a chuckhole.
You are near to me
& hear
the blood course through
my veins.
I raise a post & force it
deep into the soil.
There is a smell like tar
that swells my throat
a cavalcade of men at work
& grunting.

I kicked a stone &
heard the voice
of God. 
The pain ran
from my leg
to where
the body splits.
I called my fingers
The soggy smell of dirt,
the open sores,
gave little comfort.
I had kept my steps
abreast of theirs,
then turned &
cantered, closer
to their lights
in frozen motion.

I dwell among you &
I dish out dreams.
I am a little god
who brays
on impulse.
Do not hesitate to call.
Your smallest wish
is sacred to me.
Sacred too is how
I ride you, spurs
into your sides.
We have no mothers
only cows
no fathers but the wind.

Better for the mind
to empty out
in dreams,
the way a body
falls, thrown
from a passing train,
They hold a plate
between them, on its rim
a graven message:
God Is Pain.

What I sniff
is eglantine
the vapors of
which god?
I dine & rest
no closer to the truth
than yesterday.
The table sags
under the burden of
a living heart.
Birds drown in flight.
I make a replica
& stitch it
to my chest.
I stare into the god’s
eyes & see only
flecks of light.

I am that I am
the god trills. 
(He is no more a god
than I or you.)
We see his little boats
ride to the shore
& watch our fathers
like our children
muscle through the waves.
There is a cry
like anybody’s
in my throat.
There is a crowd
that fails to see
how our flesh flakes off.  
All eyes discern me
where I fall.


coda for two voices to A BOOK OF gods

The grace of god
half blinds me,
half still alive,
& cries
seeing the days foretold,
the book before us,
open shut & done.

I will live on what
the god lives,
opening my mouth
to take it in
& shitting words.
The victims lie
beside me. 

A deeper image
leaves the world behind,
still deeper
where time ends
& yet another universe
absent all seeing. 

Is the grace
a story told
or only whispered,
hard to know
here where the bodies
wait   the night
draws nigh?

The cruelty of god
is better known,
the brutal monarchy
against whose rule
we raise a new
sufferance left behind. 

Leaving the mind
a thankful blank
privileged to escape
the blasts of privilege,
we flaunt our awkwardness
the little we have to show
tackling the void 


No comments: