Letters to a Young Poet
Your photograph won’t do you justice
those wetted anthill mounds won’t let you focus
that lens on the wetlands
five swans chanting overhead
distract your thirst for closure
and quick escape
Let me turn you around in your frozen nightgown and say
one word to you: Ineluctable
—meaning, you won’t get quit
of this: the worst of the new news
history running back and forth
panic in the labyrinth
—I will not touch you further:
your choice to freeze or not
to say, you and I are caught in
a laboratory without a science
Would it gladden you to think
poetry could purely
take its place beneath lightning sheets
or fogdrip live its own life
screamed at, howled down
by a torn bowel of dripping names
—composers visit Terezin, film-makers Sarajevo
Cabrini-Green or Edenwald Houses
if a woman as vivid as any artist
can fling any day herself from the 14th floor
would it relieve you to decide Poetry
doesn’t make this happen?
From the edges of your own distraction turn
the cloth-weave up, its undersea-fold venous
with sorrow’s wash and suck, pull and release,
to and fro, fabric of caves, the onset of your fear
kicking away their lush and slippery fauna nurseried
in liquid glass
trying to stand fast in rootsuck, in distraction,
trying to wade this
undertow of utter repetition
Look: with all my fear I’m here with you, trying what it
means, to stand fast; what it means to move
Beneaped. Rowboat, pirogue, caught between the lowest
and highest tides of spring. Beneaped. Befallen,
becalmed, benighted, yes, begotten.
—Be—infernal prefix of the actionless.
—Be—as in Sit, Stand, Lie, Obey.
The dog’s awful desire that takes his brain
and lays it at the boot-heel.
You can be like this forever—Be
as without movement.
But this is how
I come, anyway, pushing up from below
my head wrapped in a chequered scarf a lanterned helmet on this
pushing up out of the ore
this sheeted face this lanterned head facing the seep of death
my lips having swum through silt
Hello and farewell
Who, anyway, wants to know
this pale mouth, this stick
of crimson lipsalve Who my
dragqueen’s vocal chords my bitter beat
my overshoulder backglance flung
at the great strophes and antistrophes
my chant my ululation my sacred parings
nails, hair my dysentery my hilarious throat
my penal colony’s birdstarved ledge my face downtown
in films by Sappho and Artaud?
Everyone. For a moment.
It’s not the déjà vu that kills
it’s the foreseeing
the head that speaks from the crater
I wanted to go somewhere
the brain had not yet gone
I wanted not to be
there so alone.