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

Monday, March 30, 2009

José Kozer: William Blake on his deathbed

Translation from Spanish by Mark Weiss

Mr. William Blake, no fuss, front and center. Alone. Erect at the carved
gate. Two lions. Seven constellations. The high wind announcing a gale. Open it. Take three steps, gazing downward for a moment. In a moment: centuries have passed. With no conflagration. Now raise your head: two lions. One mane. Note that they’re flesh and bone. Do you recognize the profile of The Reaper? Test it. These certitudes are comforting. Incline your head seven times in each direction. Note the absence now of argument about all certitude. Seven constellations. Do you recognize them? They appear to be the usual ones. Identify them, first to last. Excellent: your memory’s intact, Mr. Blake. One step forward. Spread your legs, plant them firmly, ruah, ruah, the sudden wind could uproot and shatter a mizzenmast. Brace against it. Steady as a rock. William Blake, a percheron’s legs, a stallion, thighs like a team of horses, like oak trees filled with nodules (impenetrable varicose veins). It’s the brute force of the Spirit, is it not? Magnificent. You’ve passed another test with honors. Hurrah for William Blake: you are among the Elect, no joke. By whose command? Have patience, you’ll see. There aren’t many–this Paradise half-empty. An army of copyeditors directing the traffic of the angelic path of the The Word can barely fill three heavenly valleys. And you will get to see the silent ones in the eleventh heaven, those whom the saints call saints, who imagined from the first letter the incandescencies of abstraction. Make yourself at home. Here are three down cushions on which to rest your collossal head. Annointed–really–by a woman’s hands. Attention, soon you will be called to communion. The bundle of poems extracted from you in your lifetime has fed The Lamb already. See him, at rest. He digests. An asterisk of ash marks his forehead. Now contemplate his palms. Bring them close, bring them close transparent to the glance. The inward glance. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever imagined? He now sees that it’s not just the outward glance that doesn’t see. Deeper still, a radiance. The letter chewed by The Lamb a dull splendor. The ash excreted. Gaze at the single speck within the hollow of your hands. A canticle: Uriel. Rahab. Tirzah. The moment has arrived (listen to the trumpets crackle). Tubas. Clarinets. The hour in which (this one last time) to penetrate completely, glans to gonads (a powerful ejaculation), into the woman’s deepest sac. It’s Mrs. Blake, of course. In orchards. Don’t think otherwise. Your earthly wife. Under arbors. The hour to resume your union at the feet of The Mother seems not to have arrived. Have patience. Forward now, across this footbridge. What’s to come is never known. Did you hear that noise? The motu proprio. Primal motion, ejaculation. Tides. Full moons. Deserts. Floods of sand. Sneaking away. God Himself, sneaking away. The furtiveness of The Unattainable. The anterior grain blinding the third eye of the glance. The God of prebends imposes obstacles. Flaws (look, the infinitesimal corpuscle of sand: how it hinders, no one could imagine it). All in all, Mr. Blake, what’s the blinking of a few pages but the inert stammering of ages? A speck anterior to the cleansing water. The last speck of ash preceding hyssop steeped in virgin olive oil misplaced upon your forehead. That forehead now turned away. The hour of summons. Invoke it. Bid him emerge for a moment from his Lurking Place. Will Death be the penultimate play? Are you about to eat a piece of his Face? His Face that shows the way to where? Does it precede the conjoining of bodies? The call to arms. Courage, Blake: beg for it. You ascend by footbridge to be penetrated by true Nothingness, feeling at your side your naked wife, the sacred robe. What more do you want? Here’s the entryway. The antechamber’s to your left. There are two side doors, your final test. Enter. Have you already imagined the Throne? The fleshless nakedness of Abstraction? At last rites become fond of the old bed, it’s cold, shivering embrace the woman (menses of sand, your wife?). And between eyebrows receive the occlusion, flow, revert to the right eye, see it, branch out, the gales, the scattering gales blow between tearduct and iris.

* The blogger format here is slightly off, but the essential presentation of the poem as a solid block of prose affirms the spirit of the original.

[Writes Mark Weiss in a brief biographical note: “The child of Eastern European Jewish immigrants, Kozer first left Cuba in 1958 to study at NYU. He returned after the revolution but left definitively in 1960, working at menial jobs while completing his education. From 1967 to 1997 he taught at Queens College in New York. After retirement he lived in Spain for two years, after which he and his wife settled in Hallandale, north of Miami, Florida. He has written over 35 books of poetry, published in virtually every Latin American country and in Spain. With Roberto Echavarren and Jacobo Sefamí he edited Medusario: Muestra de la poesía latinoamericana (México: Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1996), a defining anthology of the neobarroco poetry of the 80s and 90s. No buscan reflejarse was the first poetry collection by a living Cuban exile to be published in Cuba since the early 70s. He is considered the foremost Cuban poet of his generation.” William Blake on His Deathbed is drawn from Stet: Selected Poems (2005), edited and translated by Mark Weiss for Junction Press. Weiss has also included Kozer's work in The Whole Island: Six Decades of Cuban Poetry, scheduled for publication in November 2009 by the University of California Press.]