Mortification of the Soul
Yom Kippur on the Sabbath:
instead of shofar blows,
a gray tomcat shoves his horn
into a black tabby;
her complaint goes up to heaven–
the tremulous wails of chastised infants;
his teeth fasten until she bleeds,
the army of his sperm
roars in her womb.
And the parched neighbor
who no longer remembers
when old age overtook her
stands in the window, shrieking:
Enough! Enough! Enough!
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voice behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life that you could save.
Are we the result of some bizarre narration
of the pleasure principle?
Are we versions of desire, but not desire itself?
Do you often find yourself awash in these vague ideas?
Then nip it in a budding grove.
You should be able by now to discern the good from the stupid.
If not, what you really need is vodka. Vodka. Polish vodka,
& the 99 sacred and profane versions of “louie, louie.”
As for me, what I don’t understand I will loathe,
and what I loathe I will fuck.
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
Now that it’s officially Black Friday – the day when people go mad consuming stuff they don’t need, this seemed like an entirely appropriate poem to shame us all.
Poem for the Working Man and the Upper Mobile Yuppie
Some people guard their lives
Like a eunuch guards
The Harem door
Like a stock broker with
A hot tip
Like a banker who knows
That today’s dollar will only
Be worth one-fourth what
It is today
In less time than it takes
Better to linger over
A cup of coffee
Like a skilled lover with
No need for bragging rights
Remember that every newsman
On every street corner in America
That every meat packer and fisherman
Knows more about life than
Your average poet
The blind man rattling
An empty tin cup
Makes more noise than
A yuppie gunning
On his way
to the graveyard
Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.
(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)
In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor
Sewing a shroud for a journey
By the light of the meat-eating sun.
Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,
With my red veins full of money,
In the final direction of the elementary town
I advance as long as forever is.
Drift and Vapor (Surf Faintly)
How much damage do you think we do,
making love this way when we can hardly stand
each other?–I can stand you. You’re the rare person
I can always stand.–Well, yes, but you know what I mean.
–I’m not sure I do. I think I’m more light-hearted
about sex than you are. I think it’s a little tiresome
to treat it like a fucking sacrament.
–Not much of a pun. –Not much. (She licks tiny wavelets of
from the soft flesh of his inner arm. He reaches up
to whisk sand from her breast.)–And I do like you. Mostly.
I don’t think you can expect anyone’s imagination
to light up over the same person all the time. (Sand,
peppery flecks of it, cling to the rosy, puckered skin
of her aureola in the cooling air. He studies it,
squinting, then sucks her nipple lightly.)–Umnh.
–I’m angry. You’re not really here. We come
as if we were opening a wound.–Speak for yourself.
(A young woman, wearing the ochre apron of the hotel staff,
emerges from dune grass in the distance. She carries
snow-white towels they watch her stack on a table
under an umbrella made of palm fronds.)–Look,
I know you’re hurt. I think you want me
to feel guilty and I don’t.–I don’t want you
to feel guilty.–What do you want then?
–I don’t know. Dinner. (The woman is humming something
they hear snatches of, rising and fading on the breeze.)
–That’s the girl who lost her child last winter.
–How do you know these things? (She slips
Into her suit-top.)–I talk to people. I talked
To the girl who cleans our room. (He squints
Down the beach again, shakes his head.)
–Poor kid. (She kisses his cheekbone.
He squirms into his trunks.)