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

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: “The Pound Project,” 16 Poems after Lines by Ezra Pound

[The abomination of the neo-fascist “Casa Pound” party in contemporary Italian politics brings me back to a 16-poem series I wrote several years ago, with Ezra Pound a strong poetry influence for many of us (myself included) & in politics a fool or worse as the central focus. Each poem starts with two lines from Pound, to which I add ten or eleven new lines in conclusion, as explained below.  The original commission for the work was from Francesco Conz along with  Pound’s daughter Mary de Rachewiltz, whose recent denunciation of the Casa Pound people should also be noted.]

Swollen-eyed, rested,
      lids sinking, darkness unconscious

And before hell mouth; dry plain
                                     and two mountains

head down,
screwed into the swill

I am led into a home
where no one
– not a dog or cat –
drops by.

The body of a
strangled child
stares out
& spooks me.

Warriors & children
fill my eyes.


A lady asks me.
I speak in season.

With my old
suburban voice
my prejudice
grows ripe.

I am not empty
but without a taste
for differences
I atrophy.

The dance gets harder
as the mud gets high.


I mate with my free kind
upon the crags.

I neither wait for you
nor need you,
feel the pressure of your tongue
that calls me down.

I know extremis
better than the cackling
of my fellows,
gaunt & green with pain.

In my hand a flower
blossoms, does it not?


I let down the crystal curtain
& watch the moon.

Men & animals surround me,
I am led by these
into a hole, brown-colored
like my arm.

I wait for words the night
once brought me,
luminous, the sky a changing
field of light.

While here below,
       their sightless eyes
confound me.


Nor can I shift my pains
to other,

much less my words
high on your wall.
that face me down
an afterthought
to careless speech.

We teach forgiveness
to the idle only.
For the rest the suffering
leaves its own mark.

You back away from mine,
old face like yours.


I am the help of the aged;
I pay men to talk peace.

With my hands I raise
a sagging body.   I am keen
& run before them,
meaning to escape.

I pay a price for
bounty.  Deaf
I hear a call
to war.

Somewhere within me
armies clash.


I have weathered the storm,
I have beaten out my exile.

I have made a pact with someone
& have botched it.  Freed from time
my fingers have grown frail,
my pen lies helpless on the floor.

I have desires that my flesh
still harbors.  Little help or gratitude
will come from those
my turnings have betrayed.

I watch the dead file by
& feel a stirring.


singing: O sweet and lovely
o Lady be good

the song is traveling
from my time into yours,
like Ella’s song, is

Hear me sing it    see me
dance on water.
I coast down the street          
the while my eyes                              

like everyman’s eyes
fill with apparitions
a dead bullock.


Blown around the feet of
the God,

the landscape hides from us,
the little castle
shows its face at night
& shamans walk the streets

communing with the dead
the terror of the folk
in agony    the cries
of those who fled to open water

gathered into caves
who took their lives.

Okinawa 1945/2000


Where the dead walked
    And the living were made of cardboard
their shadows disappeared.

I lost track of eternity
that makes things new.

Nothing here improves
while time is lost.

Clean as any whistle
I come forth.

But still I can't shake off
the memory of mud.

In meiner heimat.


"I am noman,
my name is noman"

I wait where road
crosses road,
where hunters fly from
their quarry.

Not me but those
that I point to!
Not those but the dead
fed with blood!

Their hands rise in fury.
They hammer us down.


The yidd is a stimulant
and the goyim are cattle

& the words once written
stay writ    all his words
coming back to the speaker
laying him flat.

What a downfall I had
& what havens I reached for 
too late.  None remained
to embrace me, but

jews, real jews, not shades
in my head but avengers.


First must thou go
the road to hell

must see the millions
thou hast smitten
with thy thoughts    must cry
the cry of killers.

If thy hands are clean
as mine are
why then the swelling in thy throat
the smells of vomit?

Blinded as the dead are blind
the kings of hell.


Time is the evil.

Is what is always lost,
what takes me by the throat
& leaves me, shrunken
begging with the other thieves

then drops me in the pit
called bolgia, where a
rhyme I can’t erase
repeats forever.

For others other pits
shadow their lives.


dead maggots begetting live maggots         

fascists at banquets,
pandars to authority,
skinheads with iron teeth

sucking hard at our flesh,
shoving old men
like books in their fires,
outcroppings of shit

too raw for feeling,
the flux in the corpse
turns to stone.


I cannot make it cohere.

Nor bring it, at a dare,
into my focus,
where the sunlight even now
turns ashen,

heavy with burnt matter,
stinking, where the century
has turned a corner,
like a swollen foetus

it has pulled me down,
            old vanity
has pulled me down.

note. Commissioned by Francesco Conz in cooperation with Mary de Rachewiltz & the Pound estate at Castle Brunnenburg in the Italian Tyrol, the original 16-poem sequence was part of a larger project in commemoration of Ezra Pound's life & work.  My original was printed on colored stock & pasted onto 16 paper boards beneath a xeroxed & degraded photograph of Pound. In an attempt to fuse (or to con-fuse) our two voices, alive & dead, each numbered section begins with two lines of his, & what follows lies ambiguously in the void between us.  For this my words are in roman type & his in italics.  The photo montage of Pound, above, is taken, sadly, from a scurrilous anti-semitic web site on the internet.

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