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, July 29, 2011

Jerome Rothenberg: Two New Poems from “Divagations”

The Sound of Water

With every new invention* what was long hidden launches into
     Spectacular, the groundlings cry, the baby plutocrats who
live this side of Russia.
     There are so many here, so little time to push your way
between them, trembling,* where the owners of your lives,
intrepid, brutal, face off for a final round.
     The sound of water* was the title but the words were not
the same.*
     In tune with which a long procession follows, baring their
teeth like rows of diamonds, glittery like glass or little
     Colorless green ideas sleep furiously, the banner reads,
back to the dawn of childhood dreams.
     Up stands the captain, head in hands, the thought renewed
in dullness, triggering a voiceless rage.*
     Command, condemn, control.
     The age* of oligarchs begins anew.
     From every corner of the heimat those who buy their
circumstances sally forth.
     All is forgiven, all is not forgiven.
     The word is divagations, is it not?*


* extension * mumbling * slaughter * the name * age * [or is it?]

Where Memory and Dream Are One

In the dream I stretched out almost motionless, the words I
tried to speak caught in my throat and nearly choking me. The
place was filled with faces, like a giant hall,* a kind of night
club with the sound of distant music ringing in my ears.
Someone to the right of me, another sleeping figure, said its
name was Stille or die Stille, which was clear enough in
German but I couldn’t find the proper English* word for it.
Even more puzzling, I was aware, if vaguely, that it was
taking place in Russia, and that the strangers with us were
from the newly minted* class of Russian billionaires. I tried
to point it out to those around me, that this Russia was far
different from the one we once imagined. I was overcome
with grief and longing – emotions in my dreams, rarely in
waking -- and alarmed at the water that had started rising in
the hall. I had long loved the word cockeyed and mouthed
it as a sure* expression of my thoughts. It came back in a
flow of rhyme* I spewed forth for the other sleepers. Was this
hall a mausoleum and the sleepers all of those I knew in life,
now safely stacked away, forever? I stepped down from my
perch and tried to swim among the beds and tables, following
the voices of the rich that led me to an outer courtyard. Even
here the word tsunami rattled in my ears, my fingers groping
for a ladder that was out of reach. Was it the inland sea,* I
wondered, a lake with putrid birds, a bog, a fen, a mash of
crimson bodies, more than I could count? My shoes had
little lights attached,* enough to lead me down a narrow
causeway, the end of which was darkness more dense than
death. Time is abolished was the line that came at me – the
world is o’er. I thought if I could start to sing, the words
would carry me across, but what? A song about a king, a
bird, a fallen tree, all too romantic. The pressure of the
ooze under my feet that pulls me down, that sends an ache
up through my legs,* makes me wonder that my heart can
still keep beating. I would rather sleep or crawl back to
the hall, the place from which I came. But where? in
which direction? with what name to name it? Stille or
die Stille, if they ever found me here, would anybody
understand me?* These were what I feared: the hangman,
the exploding bombs, the curtains blocking sight, the
holy fools, the drifters, the march of time, the rosary of
skulls, the wings of love, the broken blossoms, the
children’s games, the hostile wind, the duendicitos. For
me the oldest memories are those of being lost: a hall
of celebrating giants, a cellar with a furnace burning
bright, a point where memory and dream are one. I
crawl my way toward waking, still bereft.


* a mall   * Yiddish   * favored   * a pure   * of time   * the sea of reeds
* [was it my dream or his?]   * my groin   * [in what language? what account?]

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