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, October 29, 2016

Jerome Rothenberg: “The Dreamers, for David Antin,” reprinted from A Seneca Journal with a note in reminiscence

[note.  In the more than six decades of my friendship with David Antin the pleasure of talking & thinking together was foremost, as much where we disagreed as where we agreed, & David & I knew that for any surface differences we had, the underlying impulse was nearly identical & made for a bond that even now fills me with wonder.  I was also keenly aware of his trickster side – as he was, I know, of mine – & never sought to turn him away from it but nearly always relished his thrust toward the unexpected & outrageous. A case in point was a claim of his that began sometime in the seventies & went on for a decade or more thereafter – the assertion, often repeated, that he never dreamed & that he never had dreamed or had first-hand knowledge of what dreams were.  I understood of course what was behind it – much like his rejection of the “imagination” & the “sacred” (otherwise near & dear to me, or imagined as such) – on which I often called him out & which he just as often shook off & persisted.  It was with regard to that, while living on the Allegany Seneca reservation in the early 1970s & writing A Seneca Journal and Shaking the Pumpkin (but also A Big Jewish Book) – that I addressed David in the poem that follows.  Otherwise an exploration of dreams & a dreamer religion & practice among the Senecas, the address that starts it is to David in his condition of fictive dreamlessness, a device of my own that David was the first to embrace.  Some years after that, David, when the time was right, began a magnificent reading or re-reading of Freud & Freud’s dream works, & confessed & described the many dreams to which he himself, for all his past denials, was also susceptible.  And the sentence from the poetic past that we most often repeated to each other, then & always, was from Shakespeare in the voice of Hamlet: “O God, I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space—were it not that I have bad dreams.” Which we carried with us – to the very end.]
Seneca Journal 7: “The Dreamers” 

                                                for David Antin
that couple sitting
in splendor of old houses
Albert Jones & his wife Geneva
were old before my time
he was the last of the Seneca diviners
died 1968
the year we first stayed in Salamanca
with the power to know dreams
“their single divinity” wrote Fremin (S.J.) 1650
as we say “divine”
the deva in us
like a devil
or a divus (deus)
when these old woods were rich with gods
people called powers
they would appear in words
our language hides them
even now
the action of the poem brings them to light
dear David                                                                                                                                                                                        
not in the business man’s
but asking
“who is Beaver?”
forces them out of the one mind
in mything
mouthing the grains of language
as David that sounds like deva
means beloved
thus every Indian once had a name


 “devils” the Jesuits said
or “dreams”
but were barred from the dying man’s room
who sat       dreaming       singing
surrounded by bells      knives      needles      scissors      blankets
caps      coats       wampum belts      beads       awls
“the thousand objects of his dreams”
was careful not to kill a desire
in sleep
he knew he wanted to eat
dog’s flesh or man’s
that his father’s hatchet had vanished
something forever secret
waited in him
the 13th virgin in the love feast
always out of reach
therefore they fed him like babe or woman
the dark diviner at his side
wept still over riddles—
beads & pumpkins—
& the man screamed rolling in the fire
cut his own fingers off with seashells
once aimed a blow at some poor girl’s head
but stopped (said) “I am satisfied
“my dream
“requires nothing further
like the vision as a boy he saw
an old man “of rare beauty”
who held out bear meat in right hand
human in left
ate of the bear & was a hunter
came back     ordered gifts
“10 dogs
“10 porcelain beads from each cabin
“a collar (belt of wampum) 10 rows wide
“4 measures of sunflower seeds
& sat 10 hours by scorching flame
singing his death song
so the Jesuit wrote
“all their cabins they have filled with dreams 

was it the moon she saw
like the moon in Poland that old mother
once lighted up our minds
that the Iroquois woman dreamed of
had walked out from her cabin
baby daughter in her arms
“old moon’s dropped down to earth
(she says)
“’s become a woman
“like myself but holds
“another babe
“as if I’ve walked into a mirror
& the moon stands
blood red
“I am thy dominant
“fat with my moon glow
“grant thee the power to name gifts
“maybe tobacco       flashy beads
“robe of red squirrel fur
“to thee be given
“see they proclaim dream feasts in my name
“so much I love thee
“I would thee be like me
“like fire
“to live in color of
“mine fire
now is herself
Red Lady                                                                      
dresses all up in red
her feathers cap belt shoes all red
she’s even smearing her body red
encircles each protuberance
red of her labia
so fine
’s her brain turned upside down
now she will walk bare foot through
200 fires
squawk her old woman song
grown red with love
stretches her pink tongue to touch
“her last desire”


“turned upside down”
this is the ceremony at last
there is nothing
before it greater than
the woman at the rim of her own dream
sees a new world below
the air expands
blows against
her legs
its fingers open the dull labia
suddenly aglow
& burning
red with a new promise
the world-child takes root in her
will be a daughter
she be the grandmother to what
is good & bad
walks now in the new
world below her head
like crossing the back of an old turtle
on your hands
in a country where everyone wears feathers
where skin’s like glass
opens a window in her breast      say
from which an Indian
tired from his “show”
stares out
shines at you
a gold tooth
& a terrible top hat
with flags

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