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

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Jerome Rothenberg: Five Eastern Ikons (poems & note)


points at
parts of bodies

legs without
a torso
standing upright

headless naked
figure on
a pedestal

& bending over
a crown

a naked
woman’s body
with no head

& on the stairs
2 heads
an arm

a torso
a hand


Mary in the sky
like God
above the dying

with babe in arms
stands by her bed

A Silver Glove

Mary’s hand
in silver
like her halo

saints in battle
flash the eyes
of babes

The Last Supper

Mary seated
in the center with
her saints


his right arm
holds a babe
who wears
a golden crown,
a fleur-de-lis
a flower
in his other hand

two babes
fly by in air
on either side of him,
a gold sky
on the right,
blue earth below


pink horse pale rider
black horse white mask
two saints with faces
like a babe’s

three rings
from which a hand
pokes out –
as from a cloud


angels catch
his blood in cups
from every hole

devils emerge
from mouths
of saints

NOTE. Since some time in the 1980s – but possibly earlier – my attention has been drawn to images of gods and saints that throw our more familiar iconographies into question. Culled mostly from western or Christian sources and largely glimpsed in travels through churches and monasteries or in no small part in great museum collections, these have struck me as both intensifying and subverting the kinds of images that we too often take for granted. The notes I began to write down on those occasions morphed quickly into short poems and into series of poems with titles like “Ikons” and “Altar Pieces,” collaged into books of my own poems that I was then assembling. An ample number of such poems appear in Retrievals: Uncollected and New Poems 1955-2010, to which the poems above could easily be added. Their immediate source, if I remember correctly, was an exhibition, Icônes arabes: art chrétien du Levant (May-August 2003), at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. I have more recently taken the same approach to images from Buddhist and other iconic traditions, some of which have appeared earlier in Poems and Poetics. Many of the poems in The Burning Babe have a similar derivation. (J.R.)

1 comment:

WAS said...

Nice how these fragments are strung together, like bones broken and then re-set.

I'll never forget walking into St. Anthony's shrine in a church in Padua, Italy - seeing all his body parts (and I mean all his body parts) preserved in sanctified jars. Something about the flesh made sacred.

I love the way you keep raging against complacency in perception, for as the great deviant Baudelaire says "II en est un plus laid, plus méchant, plus immonde! / Quoiqu'il ne pousse ni grands gestes ni grands cris, / Il ferait volontiers de la terre un débris / Et dans un bâillement avalerait le monde; // C'est l'Ennui! (There is one more mean, more vulgar, more ugly, more cold; / Although it lets no great gesture, no great cry, free / It would easily turn the earth to debris / And in a yawn would swallow the globe. // It's Boredom!)