The Skaters

(1966 text)


1 1These decibels
2Are a kind of flagellation, an entity of sound
3Into which being enters, and is apart.
4Their colors on a warm February day
5Make for masses of inertia, and hips
6Prod out of the violet-seeming into a new kind
7Of demand that stumps the absolute because not new
8In the sense of the next one in an infinite series
9But, as it were, pre-existing or pre-seeming in
10Such a way as to contrast funnily with the unexpectedness
11And somehow push us all into perdition.

2 12Here a scarf flies, there an excited call is heard.

3 13The answer is that it is novelty
14That guides these swift blades o’er the ice,
15Projects into a finer expression (but at the expense
16Of energy) the profile I cannot remember.
17Colors slip away from and chide us. The human mind
18Cannot retain anything except perhaps the dismal two-note theme
19Of some sodden “dump” or lament.

4 20But the water surface ripples, the whole light changes.

5 21We children are ashamed of our bodies
22But we laugh and, demanded, talk of sex again
23And all is well. The waves of morning harshness
24Float away like coal-gas into the sky.
25But how much survives? How much of any one of us survives?
26The articles we’d collect—stamps of the colonies
27With greasy cancellation marks, mauve, magenta and chocolate,
28Or funny-looking dogs we’d see in the street, or bright remarks.
29One collects bullets. An Indianapolis, Indiana man collects slingshots of all epochs, and so on.

6 30Subtracted from our collections, though, these go on a little while, collecting aimlessly. We still support them.
31But so little energy they have! And up the swollen sands
32Staggers the darkness fiend, with the storm fiend close behind him!
33True, melodious tolling does go on in that awful pandemonium,
34Certain resonances are not utterly displeasing to the terrified eardrum.
35Some paroxysms are dinning of tambourine, others suggest piano room or organ loft
36For the most dissonant night charms us, even after death. This, after all, may be happiness: tuba notes awash on the great flood, ruptures of xylophone, violins, limpets, grace-notes, the musical instrument called serpent, viola da gambas, aeolian harps, clavicles, pinball machines, electric drills, que sais-je encore!
37The performance has rapidly reached your ear; silent and tear-stained, in the post-mortem shock, you stand listening, awash
38With memories of hair in particular, part of the welling that is you,
39 The gurgling of harp, cymbal, glockenspiel, triangle, temple block, English horn and metronome! And still no presentiment, no feeling of pain before or after.
40The passage sustains, does not give. And you have come far indeed.

7 41Yet to go from “not interesting” to “old and uninteresting,”
42To be surrounded by friends, though late in life,
43To hear the wings of the spirit, though far. . . .
44Why do I hurriedly undrown myself to cut you down?
45I am yesterday,” and my fault is eternal.
46I do not expect constant attendance, knowing myself insufficient for your present demands
47And I have a dim intuition that I am that other “I” with which we began.
48My cheeks as blank walls to your tears and eagerness
49Fondling that other, as though you had let him get away forever.

8 50The evidence of the visual henceforth replaced
51By the great shadow of trees falling over life.

9 52A child’s devotion
53To this normal, shapeless entity. . . .

10 54Forgotten as the words fly briskly across, each time
55Bringing down meaning as snowflakes from a low sky, or rabbits flushed from a wood.
56How strange that the narrow perspective lines
57Always seem to meet, although parallel, and that an insane ghost could do this,
58Could make the house seem so much farther in the distance, as
59It seemed to the horse, dragging the sledge of a perspective line.
60Dim banners in the distance, to die. . . . And nothing put to rights. The pigs in their cages

11 61And so much snow, but it is to be littered with waste and ashes
62So that cathedrals may grow. Out of this spring builds a tolerable
63Affair of brushwood, the sea is felt behind oak wands, noiselessly pouring.
64Spring with its promise of winter, and the black ivy once again
65On the porch, its yellow perspective bands in place
66And the horse nears them and weeps.

12 67So much has passed through my mind this morning
68That I can give you but a dim account of it:
69It is already after lunch, the men are returning to their positions around the cement mixer
70And I try to sort out what has happened to me. The bundle of Gerard’s letters,
71And that awful bit of news buried on the back page of yesterday’s paper.
72Then the news of you this morning, in the snowflakes. Sometimes the interval
73Of bad news is so brisk that . . . And the human brain, with its tray of images
74Seems a sorcerer’s magic lantern, projecting black and orange cellophane shadows
75On the distance of my hand . . . The very reaction’s puny,
76And when we seek to move around, wondering what our position is now, what the arm of that chair.

13 77A great wind lifted these cardboard panels
78Horizontal in the air. At once the perspective with the horse
79Disappeared in a bigarrure of squiggly lines. The image with the crocodile in it became no longer apparent.
80Thus a great wind cleanses, as a new ruler
81Edits new laws, sweeping the very breath of the streets
82Into posterior trash. The films have changed—
83The great titles on the scalloped awning have turned dry and blight-colored.
84No wind that does not penetrate a man’s house, into the very bowels of the furnace,
85Scratching in dust a name on the mirror—say, and what about letters,
86The dried grasses, fruits of the winter—gosh! Everything is trash!
87The wind points to the advantages of decay
88At the same time as removing them far from the sight of men.
89The regent of the winds, Aeolus, is a symbol for all earthly potentates
90Since holding this sickening, festering process by which we are cleansed
91Of afterthought.
92                             A girl slowly descended the line of steps.

14 93The wind and treason are partners, turning secrets over to the military police.

15 94Lengthening arches. The intensity of minor acts. As skaters elaborate their distances,
95Taking a separate line to its end. Returning to the mass, they join each other
96Blotted in an incredible mess of dark colors, and again reappearing to take the theme
97Some little distance, like fishing boats developing from the land different parabolas,
98 Taking the exquisite theme far, into farness, to Land’s End, to the ends of the earth!

16 99But the livery of the year, the changing air
100Bring each to fulfillment. Leaving phrases unfinished,
101Gestures half-sketched against woodsmoke. The abundant sap
102Oozes in girls’ throats, the sticky words, half-uttered, unwished for,
103A blanket disbelief, quickly supplanted by idle questions that fade in turn.
104Slowly the mood turns to look at itself as some urchin
105Forgotten by the roadside. New schemes are got up, new taxes,
106Earthworks. And the hours becomes light again.
107Girls wake up in it.

17 108It is best to remain indoors. Because there is error
109In so much precision. As flames are fanned, wishful thinking arises
110Bearing its own prophets, its pointed ignoring. And just as a desire
111Settles down at the end of a long spring day, over heather and watered shoot and dried rush field,
112So error is plaited into desires not yet born.

18 113Therefore the post must be resumed (is being falsified
114To be forever involved, tragically, with one’s own image?).
115The studio light suddenly invaded the long casement—values were what
116She knows now. But the floor is being slowly pulled apart
117Like straw under those limpid feet.
118And Helga, in the minuscule apartment in Jersey City
119Is reacting violet to the same land of dress, is drawing death
120Again in blossoms against the reactionary fire . . . pulsing
121And knowing nothing to superb lambent distances that intercalate
122This city. Is the death of the cube repeated. Or in the musical album.

19 123It is time now for a general understanding of
124The meaning of all this. The meaning of Helga, importance of the setting, etc.
125A description of the blues. Labels on bottles
126And all kinds of discarded objects that ought to be described.
127But can one ever be sure of which ones?
128Isn’t this a death-trap, wanting to put too much in
129So the floor sags, as under the weight of a piano, or a piano-legged girl
130And the whole house of cards comes dinning down around one’s ears!

20 131But this is an important aspect of the question
132Which I am not ready to discuss, am not at all ready to,
133This leaving-out business. On it hinges the very importance of what’s novel
134Or autocratic, or dense or silly. It is as well to call attention
135To it by exaggeration, perhaps. But calling attention
136Isn’t the same thing as explaining, and as I said I am not ready
137To line phrases with the costly stuff of explanation, and shall not,
138Will not do so for the moment. Except to say that the carnivorous
139Way of these lines is to devour their own nature, leaving
140Nothing but a bitter impression of absence, which as we know involves presence, but still.
141Nevertheless these are fundamental absences, struggling to get up and be off themselves.

21 142This, thus is a portion of the subject of this poem
143Which is in the form of falling snowflakes:
144That is, the individual flakes are not essential to the importance of the whole’s becoming so much of a truism
145That their importance is again called in question, to be denied further out, and again and again like this.
146Hence, neither the importance of the individual flake,
147Nor the importance of the whole impression of the storm, if it has any, is what it is,
148But the rhythm of the series of repeated jumps, from abstract into positive and back to a slightly less diluted abstract.

22 149Mild effects are the result.

23 150I cannot think any more of going out into all that, will stay here
151With my quiet schmerzen. Besides the storm is almost over
152Having frozen the face of the bust into a strange style with the lips
153And the teeth the most distinct part of the whole business.

24 154It is this madness to explain. . . .

25 155What is the matter with plain old-fashioned cause-and-effect?
156Leaving one alone with romantic impressions of the trees, the sky?
157Who, actually, is going to be fooled one instant by these phony explanations,
158Think them important? So back we go to the old, imprecise feelings, the
159Common knowledge, the importance of duly suffering and the occasional glimpses
160Of some balmy felicity. The world of Schubert’s lieder. I am fascinated
161Though by the urge to get out of it all, by going
162Further in and correcting the whole mismanaged mess. But am afraid I’ll
163Be of no help to you. Good-bye.

26 164As balloons are to the poet, so to the ground
165Its varied assortment of trees. The more assorted they are, the
166Vaster his experience. Sometimes
167You catch sight of them on a level with the top story of a house,
168Strung up there for publicity purposes. Or like those bubbles
169Children make with a kind of ring, not a pipe, and probably using some detergent
170Rather than plain everyday soap and water. Where was I? The balloons
171Drift thoughtfully over the land, not exactly commenting on it;
172These are the range of the poet’s experience. He can hide in trees
173Like a hamadryad, but wisely prefers not to, letting the balloons
174Idle him out of existence, as a car idles. Traveling faster
175And more furiously across unknown horizons, belted into the night
176Wishing more and more to be unlike someone, getting the whole thing
177(So he believes) out of his system. Inventing systems.
178We are a part of some system, thinks he, just as the sun is part of
179The solar system. Trees brake his approach. And he seems to be wearing but
180Half a coat, viewed from one side. A “half-man” look inspiring the disgust of honest folk
181Returning from chores, the milk frozen, the pump heaped high with a chapeau of snowflakes,
182The “No Skating” sign as well. But it is here that he is best,
183Face to face with the unsmiling alternatives of his nerve-wracking existence.
184Placed squarely in front of his dilemma, on all fours before the lamentable spectacle of the unknown.
185Yet knowing where men are coming from. It is this, to hold the candle up to the album.

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27 186Under the window marked “General Delivery” . . .

28 187This should be a letter
188Throwing you a minute to one side,
189Of how this tossing looks harmonious from a distance,
190Like sea or the tops of trees, and how
191Only when one gets closer is its sadness small and appreciable.
192It can be held in the hand.

29 193All this must go into a letter.
194Also the feeling of being lived, looking for people,
195And gradual peace and relaxation.

30 196But there’s no personal involvement:
197These sudden bursts of hot and cold
198Are wreathed in shadowless intensity
199Whose moment saps them of all characteristics.
200Thus beginning to rest you at once know.

31 201Once there was a point in these islands,
202Coming to see where the rock had rotted away,
203And turning into a tiny speck in the distance.

32 204But war’s savagery. . . . Even the most patient scholar, now
205Could hardly reconstruct the old fort exactly as it was.
206That trees continue to wave over it. That there is also a small museum somewhere inside.
207That the history of costume is no less fascinating than the history of great migrations.
208I’d like to bugger you all up,
209Deliberately falsify all your old suck-ass notions
210Of how chivalry is being lived. What goes on in beehives.
211But the whole filthy mess, misunderstandings included,
212Problems about the tunic button etc. How much of any one person is there.

33 213Still, after bananas and spoonbread in the shadow of the old walls
214It is cooling to return under the eaves in the shower
215That probably fell while we were inside, examining bowknots,
216Old light-bulb sockets, places where the whitewash had begun to flake
217With here and there an old map or illustration. Here’s one for instance—
218Looks like a weather map . . . or a coiled bit of wallpaper with a design
219Of faded hollyhocks, or abstract fruit and gumdrops in chains.

34 220But how is it that you are always indoors, peering at too heavily canceled stamps through a greasy magnifying glass?
221And slowly the incoherencies of day melt in
222A general wishful thinking of night
223To peruse certain stars over the bay.
224Cataracts of peace pour from the poised heavens
225And only fear of snakes prevents us from passing the night in the open air.
226The day is definitely at an end.

35 227Old heavens, you used to tweak above us,
228Standing like rain whenever a salvo . . . Old heavens,
229You lying there above the old, but not ruined, fort,
230Can you hear, there, what I am saying?

36 231For it is you I am parodying,
232Your invisible denials. And the almost correct impressions
233Corroborated by newsprint, which is so fine.
234I call to you there, but I do not think that you will answer me.

37 235For I am condemned to drum my fingers
236On the closed lid of this piano, this tedious planet, earth
237As it winks to you through the aspiring, growing distances,
238A last spark before the night.

38 239There was much to be said in favor of storms
240But you seem to have abandoned them in favor of endless light.
241I cannot say that I think the change much of an improvement.
242There is something fearful in these summer nights that go on forever. . . .

39 243We are nearing the Moorish coast, I think, in a bateau.
244I wonder if I will have any friends there
245Whether the future will be kinder to me than the past, for example,
246And am all set to be put out, finding it to be not.

40 247Still, I am prepared for this voyage, and for anything else you may care to mention.
248Not that I am not afraid, but there is very little time left.
249You have probably made travel arrangements, and know the feeling.
250Suddenly, one morning, the little train arrives in the station, but oh, so big

41 251It is! Much bigger and faster than anyone told you.
252A bewhiskered student in an old baggy overcoat is waiting to take it.
253“Why do you want to go there,” they all say. “It is better in the other direction.”
254And so it is. There people are free, at any rate. But where you are going no one is.

42 255Still there are parks and libraries to be visited, “la Bibliothèque Municipale,”
256Hotel reservations and all that rot. Old American films dubbed into the foreign language,
257Coffee and whiskey and cigar stubs. Nobody minds. And rain on the bristly wool of your topcoat.
258I realize that I never knew why I wanted to come.

43 259Yet I shall never return to the past, that attic,
260Its sailboats are perhaps more beautiful than these, these I am leaning against,
261Spangled with diamonds and orange and purple stains,
262Bearing me once again in quest of the unknown. These sails are life itself to me.

44 263I heard a girl say this once, and cried, and brought her fresh fruit and fishes,
264Olives and golden baked loaves. She dried her tears and thanked me.
265Now we are both setting sail into the purplish evening.
266I love it! This cruise can never last long enough for me.

45 267But once more, office desks, radiators—No! That is behind me.
268No more dullness, only movies and love and laughter, sex and fun.
269The ticket seller is blowing his little horn—hurry before the window slams down.
270The train we are getting onto is a boat train, and the boats are really boats this time.

46 271But I heard the heavens say—Is it right? This continual changing back and forth?
272Laughter and tears and so on? Mightn’t just plain sadness be sufficient for him?
273No! I’ll not accept that any more, you bewhiskered old caverns of blue!
274This is just right for me. I am cozily ensconced in the balcony of my face

47 275Looking out over the whole darn countryside, a beacon of satisfaction
276I am. I’ll not trade places with a king. Here I am then, continuing but ever beginning
277My perennial voyage, into new memories, new hope and flowers
278The way the coasts glide past you. I shall never forget this moment

48 279Because it consists of purest ecstasy. I am happier now than I ever dared believe
280Anyone could be. And we finger down the dog-eared coasts. . . .
281It is all passing! It is past! No, I am here,
282Bellow the coasts, and even the heavens roar their assent

49 283As we pick up a lemon-colored light horizontally
284Projected into the night, the night that heaven
285Was kind enough to send, and I launch into the happiest dreams,
286Happier once again, because tomorrow is already here.

50 287Yet certain kernels remain. Clouds that drift past sheds—
288Read it in the official bulletin. We shan’t be putting out today.
289The old stove smoked worse than ever because rain was coming down its chimney.
290Only the bleary eye of fog accosted one through the mended pane.

51 291Outside, the swamp water lapped the broken wood step.
292A rowboat was moored in the alligator-infested swamp.
293Somewhere, from deep in the interior of the jungle, a groan was heard.
294Could it be . . .? Anyway, a rainy day—wet weather.

52 295The whole voyage will have to be canceled.
296It would be impossible to make different connections.
297Anyway the hotels are all full at this season. The junks packed with refugees
298Returning from the islands. Sea-bream and flounder abound in the muddied waters. . . .

53 299They in fact represent the backbone of the island economy.
300That, and cigar rolling. Please leave your papers at the desk as you pass out,
301You know. “The Wedding March.” Ah yes, that’s the way. The couple descend
302The steps of the little old church. Ribbons are flung, ribbons of cloud

54 303And the sun seems to be coming out. But there have been so many false alarms. . . .
304No, it’s happened! The storm is over. Again the weather is fine and clear.
305And the voyage? It’s on! Listen everybody, the ship is starting,
306I can hear its whistle’s roar! We have just time enough to make it to the dock!

55 307And away they pour, in the sulfurous sunlight,
308To the aqua and silver waters where stands the glistening white ship
309And into the great vessel they flood, a motley and happy crowd
310 Chanting and pouring down hymns on the surface of the ocean. . . .

56 311Pulling, tugging us along with them, by means of streamers,
312Golden and silver confetti. Smiling, we laugh and sing with the revelers
313But are not quite certain that we want to go—the dock is so sunny and warm.
314That majestic ship will pull up anchor who knows where?

57 315And full of laughter and tears, we sidle once again with the other passengers.
316The ground is heaving under foot. Is it the ship? It could be the dock. . . .
317And with a great whoosh all the sails go up. . . . Hideous black smoke belches forth from the funnels
318Smudging the gold carnival costumes with the gaiety of its jet-black soot

58 319And, as into a tunnel the voyage starts
320Only, as I said, to be continued. The eyes of those left standing on the dock are wet
321But ours are dry. Into the secretive, vaporous night with all of us!
322Into the unknown, the unknown that loves us, the great unknown!

59 323So man nightly
324Sparingly descends
325The birches and the hay         all of him
326Pruned, erect for vital contact. As the separate mists of day slip
327Uncomplainingly into the atmosphere. Loving you? The question sinks into

60 328That mazy business
329About writing or to have read it in some book
330To silently move away. At Gannosfonadiga the pumps
331Working, argent in the thickening sunset, like boys’ shoulders

61 332And you return to the question as to a calendar of November
333Again and again consulting the surface of that enormous affair
334I think not to have loved you            but the music
335Petting the enameled           slow-imagined stars

62 336A concert of dissatisfaction whereby           gutter and dust seep
337To engross the mirrored image and its landscape:

63 338As when
339                  through darkness and mist
340                                                                   the pole-bringer
341                                                                                                 demandingly watches
342I am convinced these things are of some importance.

64 343Firstly, it is a preparing to go outward
344Of no planet limiting the enjoyment
345Of motion—hips free of embarrassment etc.

65 346The figure 8 is a perfect symbol
347Of the freedom to be gained in this kind of activity.
348The perspective lines of the barn are another and different kind of example
349(Viz. “Rigg’s Farm, near Aysgarth, Wensleydale,” or the “Sketch at Norton”)
350In which we escape ourselves—putrefying mass of prevarications etc.—
351In remaining close to the limitations imposed.

66 352Another example is this separate dying
353Still keeping in mind the coachmen, servant girls, duchesses, etc. (cf. Jeremy Taylor)
354Falling away, rhythm of too-wet snowflakes, but parallel
355With the kind of rhythm substituting for “meaning.”

67 356Looked at from this angle the problem of death and survival
357Ages slightly. For the solutions are millionfold, like waves of wild geese returning in spring.
358Scarcely we know where to turn to avoid suffering, I mean
359There are so many places.

68 360So, coachman-servile, or scullion-slatternly, but each place is taken.

69 361The lines that draw nearer together are said to “vanish.”
362The point where they meet is their vanishing point.

70 363Spaces, as they recede, become smaller.

71 364But another, more urgent question imposes itself—that of poverty.
365How to excuse it to oneself? The wetness and coldness? Dirt and grime?
366Uncomfortable, unsuitable lodgings, with a depressing view?
367The peeled geranium flowering in a rusted tomato can,
368Framed in a sickly ray of sunlight, a tragic chromo?

72 369A broken mirror nailed up over a chipped enamel basin, whose turgid waters
370Reflect the fly-specked calendar—with ecstatic Dutch girl clasping tulips—
371On the far wall. Hanging from one nail, an old velvet hat with a tattered bit of veiling—last remnant of former finery.
372The bed well made. The whole place scrupulously clean, but cold and damp.

73 373All this, wedged into a pyramidal ray of light, is my own invention.

74 374But to return to our tomato can—those spared by the goats
375Can be made into a practical telephone, the two halves being connected by a length of wire.
376You can talk to your friend in the next room, or around corners.
377An American inventor made a fortune with just such a contraption.
378The branches tear at the sky—

75 379Things too tiny to be remembered in recorded history— the backfiring of a bus
380In a Paris street in 1932, and all the clumsy seductions and amateur paintings done,
381Clamber to join in the awakening
382To take a further role in my determination. These clown-shapes
383Filling up the available space for miles, like acres of red and mustard pom-poms
384Dusted with a pollen we call “an air of truth.” Massed mounds
385Of Hades it is true. I propose a general housecleaning
386Of these true and valueless shapes which pester us with their raisons d’être
387Whom no one (that is their weakness) can ever get to like.

76 388There are moving parts to be got out of order,
389However, in the flame fountain. Add gradually one ounce, by measure, of sulphuric acid
390To five or six ounces of water in an earthenware basin. Add to it, also gradually, about three-quarters of an ounce of granulated zinc.
391A rapid production of hydrogen gas will instantly take place. Then add,
392From time to time, a few pieces of phosphorus the size of a pea.
393A multitude of gas bubbles will be produced, which will fire on the surface of the effervescing liquid.
394The whole surface of the liquid will become luminous, and fire balls, with jets of fire,
395Will dart from the bottom, through the fluid with great rapidity and a hissing noise.

77 396Sure, but a simple shelter from this or other phenomena is easily contrived.

78 397But how luminous the fountain! Its sparks seem to aspire to reach the sky!
398And so much energy in those bubbles. A wise man could contemplate his face in them
399With impunity, but fools would surely do better not to approach too close
400Because any intense physical activity like that implies danger for the unwary and the uneducated. Great balls of fire!
401In my day we used to make “fire designs,” using a saturated solution of nitrate of potash.
402Then we used to take a smooth stick, and using the solution as ink, draw with it on sheets of white tissue paper.
403Once it was thoroughly dry, the writing would be invisible.
404By means of a spark from a smoldering match ignite the potassium nitrate at any part of the drawing,
405First laying the paper on a plate or tray in a darkened room.
406The fire will smolder along the line of the invisible drawing until the design is complete.

79 407Meanwhile the fire fountain is still smoldering and welling,
408Casting off a hellish stink and wild fumes of pitch
409Acrid as jealousy. And it might be
410That flame writing might be visible right there, in the gaps in the smoke
411Without going through the bother of the solution-writing.
412A word here and there—“promise” or “beware”— you have to go the long way round
413Before you find the entrance to that side is closed.
414The phosphorescent liquid is still heaving and boiling, however.
415And what if this insane activity were itself a kind of drawing
416Of April sidewalks, and young trees bursting into timid leaf
417And dogs sniffing hydrants, the fury of spring beginning to back up along their veins?
418Yonder stand a young boy and girl leaning against a bicycle.
419The iron lamppost next to them disappears into the feathery, unborn leaves that suffocate its top.

80 420A postman is coming up the walk, a letter held in his outstretched hand.
421This is his first day on the new job, and he looks warily around
422Alas not seeing the hideous bulldog bearing down on him like sixty, its hellish eyes fixed on the seat of his pants, jowls a-slaver.
423Nearby a young woman is fixing her stocking. Watching her, a chap with a hat
424Is about to walk into the path of a speeding hackney cabriolet. The line of lampposts
425Marches up the street in strict array, but the lamp-parts
426Are lost in feathery bloom, in which hidden faces can be spotted, for this is a puzzle scene.
427The sky is white, yet full of outlined stars—it must be night,
428Or an early springtime evening, with just a hint of dampness and chill in the air—
429Memory of winter, hint of the autumn to come—
430Yet the lovers congregate anyway, the lights twinkle slowly on.
431Cars move steadily along the street.
432It is a scene worthy of the poet’s pen, yet it is the fire demon
433Who has created it, throwing it up on the dubious surface of a phosphorescent fountain
434For all the world like a poet. But love can appreciate it,
435Use or misuse it for its own ends. Love is stronger than fire.

81 436The proof of this is that already the heaving, sucking fountain is paling away
437Yet the fire-lines of the lovers remain fixed, as if permanently, on the air of the lab.
438Not for long though. And now they too collapse,
439Giving, as they pass away, the impression of a bluff,
440Its craggy headlands outlined in sparks, its top crowned with a zigzag
441Of grass and shrubs, pebbled beach at the bottom, with flat sea
442Holding a few horizontal lines. Then this vision, too, fades slowly away.

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82 443Now you must shield with your body if necessary ( you
444Remind me of some lummox I used to know) the secret your body is.
445Yes, you are a secret and you must NEVER tell it—the vapor
446Of the stars would quickly freeze you to death, like a tear-stiffened handkerchief
447Held in liquid air. No, but this secret is in some way the fuel of
448Your living apart. A hearth fire picked up in the glow of polished
449Wooden furniture and picture frames, something to turn away from and move back to—
450Understand? This is all a part of you and the only part of you.

83 451Here comes the answer: is it because apples grow
452On the tree, or because it is green? One average day you may never know
453How much is pushed back into the night, nor what may return
454To sulk contentedly, half asleep and half awake
455By the arm of a chair pointed into
456The painting of the hearth fire, or reach, in a coma,
457Out of the garden for foreign students.
458Be sure the giant would know falling asleep, but the frozen droplets reveal
459A mixed situation in which the penis
460Scored the offer by fixed marches into what is.
461One black spot remained.

84 462If I should . . . If I said you were there
463The . . . towering peace around us might
464Hold up the way it breaks—the monsoon
465Move a pebble, to the plumbing contract, cataract.
466There has got to be only—there is going to be
467An accent on the portable bunch of grapes
468The time the mildewed sea cast the
469Hygrometer too far away. You read into it
470The meaning of tears, survey of our civilization.

85 471Only one thing exists: the fear of death. As widows are a prey to loan sharks
472And Cape Hatteras to hurricanoes, so man to the fear of dying, to the
473Certainty of falling. And just so it permits him to escape from time to time
474Amid fields of boarded-up posters: “Objects, as they recede, appear to become smaller
475And all horizontal receding lines have their vanishing point upon the line of sight,”
476Which is some comfort after all, for our volition to see must needs condition these phenomena to a certain degree.
477But it would be rash to derive too much confidence from a situation which, in the last analysis, scarcely warrants it.
478What I said first goes: sleep, death and hollyhocks
479And a new twilight stained, perhaps, a slightly unearthlier periwinkle blue,
480But no dramatic arguments for survival, and please no magic justification of results.

86 481Uh . . . stupid song . . . that weather bonnet
482Is all gone now. But the apothecary biscuits dwindled.
483Where a little spectral
484Cliffs, teeming over into irony’s
485Gotten silently inflicted on the passages
486Morning undermines, the daughter is.

87 487Its oval armor
488Protects it then, and the poisonous filaments hanging down
489Are armor as well, or are they the creature itself, screaming
490To protect itself? An aggressive weapon, as well as a plan of defense?
491Nature is still liable to pull a few fast ones, which is why I can’t emphasize enough
492The importance of adhering to my original program. Remember,
493No hope is to be authorized except in exceptional cases
494To be decided on by me. In the meantime, back to dreaming,
495Your most important activity.

88 496The most difficult of all is an arrangement of hawthorn leaves.
497But the sawing motion of desire, throwing you a moment to one side . . .
498And then the other, will, I think, permit you to forget your dreams for a little while.
499In reality you place too much importance on them. “Frei aber Einsam” (Free but Alone)
500Ought to be your motto. If you dream at all, place a cloth over your face:
501Its expression of satisfied desire might be too much for some spectators.

89 502The west wind grazes my cheek, the droplets come pattering down;
503What matter now whether I wake or sleep?
504The west wind grazes my cheek, the droplets come pattering down;
505A vast design shows in the meadow’s parched and trampled grasses.
506Actually a game of “fox and geese” has been played there, but the real reality,
507Beyond truer imaginings, is that it is a mystical design full of a certain significance,
508Burning, sealing its way into my consciousness.
509Smooth out the sad flowers, pick up where you left off
510But leave me immersed in dreams of sexual imagery:
511Now that the homecoming geese unfurl in waves on the west wind
512And cock covers hen, the farmhouse dog slavers over his bitch, and horse and mare go screwing through the meadow!
513A pure scream of things arises from these various sights and smells
514As steam from a wet shingle, and I am happy once again
515Walking among these phenomena that seem familiar to me from my earliest childhood.

90 516The gray wastes of water surround
517My puny little shoal. Sometimes storms roll
518Tremendous billows far up on the gray sand beach, and the morning
519After, odd tusked monsters lie stinking in the sun.
520They are inedible. For food there is only
521Breadfruit, and berries garnered in the jungle’s inner reaches,
522Wrested from scorpion and poisonous snake. Fresh water is a problem.
523After a rain you may find some nestling in the hollow trunk of a tree, or in hollow stones.

91 524One’s only form of distraction is really
525To climb to the top of the one tall cliff to scan the distances.
526Not for a ship, of course—this island is far from all the trade routes—
527But in hopes of an unusual sight, such as a school of dolphins at play,
528A whale spouting, or a cormorant bearing down on its prey.
529So high this cliff is that the pebble beach far below seems made of gravel.
530Halfway down, the crows and choughs look like bees.
531Near by are the nests of vultures. They cluck sympathetically in my direction,
532Which will not prevent them from rending me limb from limb once I have keeled over definitively.
533Further down, and way over to one side, are eagles;
534Always fussing, fouling their big nests, they always seem to manage to turn their backs to you.
535The glass is low; no doubt we are in for a storm.

92 536Sure enough: in the pale gray and orange distances to the left, a
537Waterspout is becoming distinctly visible.
538Beautiful, but terrifying;
539Delicate, transparent, like a watercolor by that nineteenth-century Englishman whose name I forget.
540(I am beginning to forget everything on this island. If only I had been allowed to bring my ten favorite books with me
541But a weathered child’s alphabet is my only reading material. Luckily,
542Some of the birds and animals on the island are pictured in it—the albatross, for instance—that’s a name I never would have remembered.)

93 543It looks as though the storm-fiend were planning to kick up quite a ruckus
544For this evening. I had better be getting back to the tent
545To make sure everything is shipshape, weight down the canvas with extra stones,
546Bank the fire, and prepare myself a little hardtack and tea
547For the evening’s repast. Still, it is rather beautiful up here,
548Watching the oncoming storm. Now the big cloud that was in front of the waterspout
549Seems to be lurching forward, so that the waterspout, behind it, looks more like a three-dimensional photograph.
550Above me, the sky is a luminous silver-gray. Yet rain, like silver porcupine quills, has begun to be thrown down.
551All the lightning is still contained in the big black cloud however. Now thunder claps belch forth from it,
552Causing the startled vultures to fly forth from their nests.
553I really had better be getting back down, I suppose.

94 554Still it is rather fun to linger on in the wet,
555Letting your clothes get soaked. What difference does it make? No one will scold me for it,
556Or look askance. Supposing I catch cold? It hardly matters, there are no nurses or infirmaries here
557To make an ass of one. A really serious case of pneumonia would suit me fine.
558Ker-choo! There, now I’m being punished for saying so. Aw, what’s the use.
559I really am starting down now. Good-bye, storm-fiend. Good-bye, vultures.

95 560In reality of course the middle-class apartment I live in is nothing like a desert island.
561Cozy and warm it is, with a good library and record collection.
562Yet I feel cut off from the life in the streets.
563Automobiles and trucks plow by, spattering me with filthy slush.
564The man in the street turns his face away. Another island-dweller, no doubt.
565In a store or crowded café, you get a momentary impression of warmth:
566Steam pours out of the espresso machine, fogging the panes with their modern lettering
567Of a kind that has only been available for about a year. The headlines offer you
568News that is so new you can’t realize it yet. A revolution in Argentina! Think of it! Bullets flying through the air, men on the move;
569Great passions inciting to massive expenditures of energy, changing the lives of many individuals.
570Yet it is all offered as “today’s news,” as if we somehow had a right to it, as though it were a part of our lives
571That we’d be silly to refuse. Here, have another—crime or revolution? Take your pick.

96 572None of this makes any difference to professional exiles like me, and that includes everybody in the place.
573We go on sipping our coffee, thinking dark or transparent thoughts . . .
574Excuse me, may I have the sugar. Why certainly—pardon me for not having passed it to you.
575A lot of bunk, none of them really care whether you get any sugar or not.
576Just try asking for something more complicated and see how far it gets you.
577Not that I care anyway, being an exile. Nope, the motley spectacle offers no charms whatsoever for me
578And yet—and yet I feel myself caught up in its coils—
579Its defectuous movement is that of my reasoning powers—
580The main point has already changed, but the masses continue to tread the water
581Of backward opinion, living out their mandate as though nothing had happened.
582We step out into the street, not realizing that the street is different,
583And so it shall be all our lives; only, from this moment on, nothing will ever be the same again. Fortunately our small pleasures and the monotony of daily existence
584Are safe. You will wear the same clothes, and your friends will still want to see you for the same reasons— you fill a definite place in their lives, and they would be sorry to see you go.

97 585There has, however, been this change, so complete as to be invisible:
586You might call it . . . “passion” might be a good word.
587I think we will call it that for easy reference. This room, now, for instance, is all black and white instead of blue.
588A few snowflakes are floating in the airshaft. Across the way
589The sun was sinking, casting gray
590Shadows on the front of the buildings.

98 591Lower your left shoulder.
592Stand still and do not seesaw with your body.

99 593Any more golfing hints, Charlie?

100 594Plant your feet squarely. Grasp your club lightly but firmly in the hollow of your fingers.
595Slowly swing well back and complete your stroke well through, pushing to the very end.

101 596“All up and down de whole creation,” like magic-lantern slides projected on the wall of a cavern: castles, enchanted gardens, etc.

102 597The usual anagrams of moonlight—a story
598That subsides quietly into plain historical fact.
599You have chosen the customary images of youth, old age and death
600To keep harping on this traditional imagery. The reader

103 601Will not have been taken in.
602He will have managed to find out all about it, the way people do.
603The moonlight congress backs out then. And with a cry
604He throws the whole business into the flames: books, notes, pencil diagrams, everything.

104 605No, the only thing that interests him is day
606And its problems. Freiheit! Freiheit! To be out of these dusty cells once and for all
607Has been the dream of mankind since the beginning of the universe.

105 608His day is breaking over the eastern mountains, at least that’s the way he tells it.
609Only the crater of becoming—a sealed consciousness—resists the profaning mass of the sun.
610You who automatically sneer at everything that comes along, except your own work, of course,
611Now feel the curious force of the invasion; its soldiers, all and some,
612A part of you the minute they appear. It is as though workmen in blue overalls
613Were constantly bringing on new props and taking others away: that is how you feel the drama going past you, powerless to act in it.
614To have it all be over! To wake suddenly on a hillside
615With a valley far below—the clouds

106 616That is the penance you have already done:
617January, March, February. You are living toward a definition
618Of the peaceful appetite, then you see
619Them standing around limp and hungry like adjacent clouds.

107 620Soon there is to be exchange of ideas and
621Far more beautiful handshake, under the coat of
622Weather is undecided right now.
623Postpone the explanation.
624The election is to be held tomorrow, under the trees.

108 625You felt the months keep coming up
626And it is December again,
627The snowflakes outside. Or is it June full of sun"
628And the prudent benefits of sun, but still the postman comes.
629The true meaning of some of his letters is slight—

109 630Another time I thought I could see myself.
631This too proved illusion, but I could deal with the way
632I keep returning on myself like a plank
633Like a small boat blown away from the wind.

110 634It all ends in a smile somewhere,
635Notes to be taken on all this,
636And you can see in the dark, of which the night
637Is the continuation of your ecstasy and apprehension.

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111 638The wind thrashes the maple seed-pods,
639The whole brilliant mass comes spattering down.

112 640This is my fourteenth year as governor of C province.
641I was little more than a lad when I first came here.
642Now I am old but scarcely any wiser.
643So little are white hair and a wrinkled forehead a sign of wisdom!

113 644To slowly raise oneself
645Hand over hand, lifting one’s entire weight;
646To forget there was a possibility
647Of some more politic movement. That freedom, courage
648And pleasant company could exist.
649That has always been behind you.

114 650An earlier litigation: wind hard in the tops
651Of the baggy eucalyptus branches.

115 652Today I wrote, “The spring is late this year.
653In the early mornings there is hoarfrost on the water meadows.
654And on the highway the frozen ruts are papered over with ice.”

116 655The day was gloves.

117 656How far from the usual statement
657About time, icethe weather itself had gone.

118 658I mean this. Through the years
659You have approached an inventory
660And it is now that tomorrow
661Is going to be the climax of your casual
662Statement about yourself, begun
663So long ago in humility and false quietude.

119 664The sands are frantic
665In the hourglass. But there is time
666To change, to utterly destroy
667That too-familiar image
668Lurking in the glass
669Each morning, at the edge of the mirror.

120 670The train is still sitting in the station.
671You only dreamed it was in motion.

121 672There are a few travelers on Z high road.
673Behind a shutter, two black eyes are watching them.
674They belong to the wife of P, the high-school principal.

122 675The screen door bangs in the wind, one of the hinges is loose.
676And together we look back at the house.
677It could use a coat of paint
678Except that I am too poor to hire a workman.
679I have all I can do to keep body and soul together
680And soon, even that relatively simple task may prove to be beyond my powers.

123 681That was a good joke you played on the other guests.
682A joke of silence.

124 683One seizes these moments as they come along, afraid
684To believe too much in the happiness that might result
685Or confide too much of one’s love and fear, even in

125 687The spring, though mild, is incredibly wet.
688I have spent the afternoon blowing soap bubbles
689And it is with a feeling of delight I realize I am
690All alone in the skittish darkness.
691The birch-pods come clattering down on the weed-grown marble pavement.
692And a curl of smoke stands above the triangular wooden roof.

126 693Seventeen years in the capital of Foo-Yung province!
694Surely woman was born for something
695Besides continual fornication, retarded only by menstrual cramps.

127 696I had thought of announcing my engagement to you
697On the day of the first full moon of X month.

128 698The wind has stopped, but the magnolia blossoms still
699Fall with a plop onto the dry, spongy earth.
700The evening air is pestiferous with midges.

129 701There is only one way of completing the puzzle:
702By finding a hog-shaped piece that is light green shading to buff at one side.

130 703It is the beginning of March, a few
704Russet and yellow wallflowers are blooming in the border
705Protected by moss-grown, fragmentary masonry.

131 706One morning you appear at breakfast
707Dressed, as for a journey, in your worst suit of clothes.
708And over a pot of coffee, or, more accurately, rusted water
709Announce your intention of leaving me alone in this cistern-like house.
710In your own best interests I shall decide not to believe you.

132 711I think there is a funny sand bar
712Beyond the old boardwalk
713Your intrigue makes you understand.

133 714“At thirty-two I came up to take my examination at the university.
715The U wax factory, it seemed, wanted a new general manager.
716I was the sole applicant for the job, but it was refused me.
717So I have preferred to finish my life
718In the quietude of this floral retreat.”

134 719The tiresome old man is telling us his life story.

135 720Trout are circling under water—

136 721Masters of eloquence
722Glisten on the pages of your book
723Like mountains veiled by water or the sky.

137 724The “second position”
725Comes in the seventeenth year
726Watching the meaningless gyrations of flies above a sill.

138 727Heads in hands, waterfall of simplicity.
728The delta of living into everything.

139 729The pump is busted. I shall have to get it fixed.

140 730Your knotted hair
731Around your shoulders
732A shawl the color of the spectrum

141 733Like that marvelous thing you haven’t learned yet.

142 734To refuse the square hive,
735                                                postpone the highest . . .

143 736The apples are all getting tinted
737In the cool light of autumn.

144 738The constellations are rising
739In perfect order: Taurus, Leo, Gemini.

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