Best Poems From
(04/23/52 - xxxx)
A Shabbos Poem Beginning With A Line From Zukofsky - Upon Finding A Book Of His Poems On A Street Corner Manhattan Lower East
for Gerald & Shirah Kober Zeller
Lord, lord...why are our finest always dead,
prayer is oil the dead come home to
two Hassids young bring candles
for Shabbas only a few hours till
perhaps even in this cafe they
watch books gather on the familiar
corner where shopkeepers' decades
pass hurry home before dark with
candles, cares, the wares of religion,
the Book & dream, a distant land
made close by old songs kindled,
finest ones still kindred made the
stronger by fire and voices-one
mingled with Mendelssohn
and the later oranges
from traffic to street corner
1st Ave. and St. Marks now
here 'Z' is lifted up pages
gummed literally spit out
years of countless Chicklets
spat 2-per-box-a-nickle a
lover's quarrel with the
shoe-and-should what good
come of the chewing masses
hurrying home or to ferry
over river/bay to old brick
even the convent on the hill
just up from the undocking
crowd is dark for want of mercy
ramparts lift by Chambers above
African graves, the slaves of
South Ferry sentinel terminal
near ferries' toil as lower Manhattan
lights a menorah towering despite
what is now worshiped there knowing
that home, the one sought(even now)
more resides in words aflame reciting
the Name, One alone, then of
patriarchs the bearded whole lot
of them who murmur still for all
our want and next year next year
will be different for we shall no
longer be here but in Holy City
cabs blur yellow/gypsy
in angular winter light
now dazzle before Spring
when raises dead bulbs to
jonquils potted pretty in
windows, on stoops and,
wild, strayed in parks
do not, O, pass us by or over
for all our patient harping
come morrows under willows yet
we shall hang up our loves again
get back to work
honest scrub and clean
beside the avenue
stand recalling willows
and grieve still an old
yet present eviction in
the cities of men
It Is Like That, So Do Dreams Say - A Little Course On Dreams
for Gerald and Shirah Kober Zeller, a little gift written on Rosh Hashanah after a dream this New Year morning of a bird nest made of hair and fishing string. How can I not think of you and miss you now caught spinning, I pray, in the Smile and Fire beyond all eyes and voices. I dance here without you but soon we will be Fire together, together in the widening Smile.
The Bael Shem Tov** says, 'The heart is always an open secret. Best to tread lightly if one treads there at all.'
Hafez, or one of his best students, says the same but with poetry:
in a shrub beneath
the golden window of
the Beloved you must
love in secret you
smile and recite
We invoke the company of all known heavy ones and those many unknown and more to be present with us, to guide us.
The Goat-Footed one leads them in playing a tune on his bone pipe.
Thus we begin.
One dreams she cannot find the beloved knife sharpener in the Medieval market, 'he's gone for days uncounted', all mirrors there covered in black cloth, the kindly butcher, blood and marrow smears upon his apron, coats his scarred hands, 'before rubber gloves, obviously', says he will sharpen them for me instead, returns them to me 3 days later, 'I so need my knives, darling heart', but they are now exquisite blades of bone made, honed to the finest edge, sharp, sharp, but they are not of ivory but of beef bones turned to other but related uses,
'art resembles life, purpose is cousin to need, so bleeds all things together' says the butcher.
I remove a fine pin formed from the bone of a large bird from my top knot of hair, down it falls. radiant, black, full, my pride and my joy, covering everything around me, flowing out the door, even covering a small already covered looking glass on the butcher's wall. The butcher may know where the sharpener has gone. I will mourn a little while longer, longing for the him, his amazing patience, his brilliant smile flashing teeth of metal made, like mirrors, little mirrors, smooth, polished, clear. I will see myself in that smile no longer. No longer. Will he return?
'Do not spurn any chance to mourn. Mourning is a kind of Return, ' says the butcher reaching for his silver cleaver, its handle made of bone.
Another dreams, 'I am an old man found in every village large and small, rich and poor, known and unknown, loved and despised, I am the knife sharpener with my faithful turning wheel to grind, sparks, never ashes, large and small, of many colors, fly out from my massive beard (gray like ashes) , I recite scripture in an unknown tongue, I throw metal shards to the children who watch me turn the wheel shouting to them,
'eat these that your days may be long, eat these that your words may live forever.
Black booted men daily arrive on time to arrest me and I throw shards to them too, saying,
'Gentlemen, eat these that your days may be long, that your words also may live forever'.
I know something about knives through the years, that knives are equal opportunity flayers of both the just and the unjust, of both the wise and the innocent. I also know that all are born to be cut, birth being the first of countless cuts. As I am led away from my wheel to the jail I retrieve a pan-pipe, of metal made, from my beard, I play a merry tune about return, the same tune everyday on my way to the judge, about burning villages the world over, their roofs forever ablaze, the wide Smile of G-d over all as far as the eye can see, even beyond seeing. I sing again, for it bears repeating to both the sharp and the dull, how all human tears distort that Smile, turn It to Fire. a kind of ecstasy, a kind of passionate pain, so again the black boots begin their daily dance in spite of themselves and their unending mission to dull all our days and nights. It is forbidden to dance. It is forbidden to complete anything with finality for finality ends all purpose else the entire world stops turning, then no more burning. They are compelled by the tune and to the words.
'Just a small incision then, Master' calls a booted one spinning hysterically, he cannot stop nor does he want to.
'Cut, take this covering away, reveal what is in that Smile, in that Fire that I may see G-d for real.'
He covers his eyes with hands stained from the taking of many lives. Pounds those knotted hands together. He cannot stop, shame being a kind of ecstasy when it dances. And it dances everyday.
The quiet young woman of the group shares in a whisper, we lean forward to hear, 'I am combing my red hair when the comb jams with long strands of blond hair tangled with light blue fishing string, this is not my hair, fiery red, at all but in this dream it somehow is my hair. It's a mystery. I comb and comb, remove the knots of hair, I wrap them in my right hand until the spool of matted hair and string is at least 3 hands larger and higher than my hand. It is so heavy. Very heavy. Now it is a bird's nest. A bird lands on it, the little gray bird is so heavy, she sits on a tiny light blue egg, also very heavy, heavier that the bird. So very heavy that egg. I am amazed at its weight. Suddenly I beg to be forgiven for I realize that I have abandoned both the nest and the egg. I am filled with remorse. I am shame itself. I have forgotten that I am to brood upon the egg until it hatches. My comb is now a blade. I use it to cut my hair, fistfuls of it, I angrily saw it all off very close to my scalp with a blunted blade,
'It repenteth me, it repenteth me, ' I repeat over and over until I am roughly, unevenly shorn, small cuts there do bleed.
I hold the nest. My arm is tired. I can feel my hand no longer. I must not drop the nest, the bird, the egg. The bird patiently gathers my cut hair all around me adding it to her now untangled delicately patterned nest, strand by strand, the heavier still, it takes hours, finally the bird says,
'Just be still. Hold. Hold. Hold until the fledgling hatches from the egg which will take months to peck its way out, then you will be free from the weight we bring, then you must carry your own. Such is life. Mine is the burden of flying and landing, flying and landing, which is why I sing of weighted joy and sorrow though I would be sky. I would be sky, yet I keep to the assigned work of my days and nights, my comings and goings. But not you. To each their own burden and duty. Find yours though perhaps you have found it now, Carrier? Bearer? ' I cry,
'O see that my once coal black eyes are now blue as your egg is blue, blue as the fishing string is blue, blue as the sky you want to be is blue. O give me wings, black ones will do, and the voice of a crow that I might fly and sing. Of muteness I will sing. Of deafness, of blindness too, of anything, anything, but please, this my fair skin is too too much to bear. And these tears.'
Sobs wake me, wondering, Where are my shears? Wondering is a kind of return.
We dreamers then notice that the woman has unevenly cut her hair, once long and fiery red. On her scalp are fresh scabs, on her face is dried blood. One hand is darkly bruised. A male dreamer, middle age, the one who is always falling in love with all things, which is a curse, says in rhyme, he always rhymes, which is a kind of curse too, says,
'Why, dearest, I could make a bed of thy red hair burning and forever in ardor stay there yearning. Nay, I am that way now, yea, I burn. I burn always, which is a kind of return. That I might die in that hair and in that Desire forever be burned away.'
One of the great teachers whom we have called to be among us, Hafez, smiles, points to his book, whispers to the man mad for red hair, mad for pain, his straining heart stitched together with light blue fishing string, says,
'See me after.'
Now we speak of some common themes, too many to point out here, between our shared dreams, of voices wise, of blades and cuts, of blood and bones, black boots and combs, shards, flayers, leavers, of their uses for transformation. We see tangles of hair - beards, scalp, and related fishing string, coverings, nests, a bed of hair to burn in, we speculate upon their uses for purpose and meaning so that each and every dreamer may live on with their roofs on fire, with each their black boots ready to dance, each to their chores not ignoring the wide Smile of the sky all around.
There is turning and spinning too, the sharpener's wheel, the daily and the nightly round, the going and returning to market, more black booted dancers dancing to the sharpener's repetitive tune, the spooling of hair and string, nest making, the twining of each strand in circular patterns, the round of the egg, the flying and landing,
'it repenteth me, it repenteth me, '
over and over again, the burn of desire for G-d, for the red haired girl, lust for all things. Repetition. Much repetition that we may bring the days and nights together into an common theme born of uncommon ones by daylight made visible - of return, perpetually yearning to know and unite with That which Smiles over all occurrences, that compulsion which compels all acts bad and good, black and white (while not forgetting the gray between, thus the gray bird, gray being the heavier of the three) , in all these acts and intentions made manifest the motivation is still the same for even blame and shame seek what is in the Smile, that Fire, that a G-d, Meaning, may be consciously known and nested in which is Return indeed.
We conclude together with only slight disagreements that Mystery, if That can be known even in part, is best revealed/imaged, at least for the moment of the course, as the Blade that cuts, that It is both the Cutter and the Cut and even that lowly thing unworthy of Cuts also being cut,
that we mourn the loss of the Sharpener, another variation of the Blade (aka G_d or Meaning) , that the Sharpener's Art (That One we so miss) and Smile shapes what can be perceived as Maker whose purpose appears to be parsing, cutting, endlessly separating things from themselves and others, from even the Sharpener for whom we consciously and compulsively (unconsciously) long. Such longing is Return, a kind of return.
It is then noted among us as the meeting ends:
Nothing that is cut, that is divided, in the end cannot be One at first, at the Beginning.
We then try the word 'Anything' for 'Nothing' to see if something different could be parsed into meaning. Which is a kind of learning, makes us sharper to nuance which is always the slightest of cuts and always the most meaningful. Such cuts stitch/bind ignorance into knowledge for each is not unless the other is and thus the entwining.
In benediction (meaning 'to speak well of, bless, ') we sing the Exile's Song compelled to sing, as the black booted ones, also compelled, beg - we are all beggars who may gain the banquet yet, which is a kind of feasting and arrival -
'Just a small incision then, Master'
and we are for some moments present, and pain, by Divine Infliction, is forgotten, a kind of return for it, forgetting, must, so far as can be gleaned (for gleaning needs a blade and we began this missive with blades) , make everything new.
So goes the cutting, same as always, freshness of all things, in all things,
that is, if one can embrace the Mystery though it is disguised as the Butcher whose every cut is Kindness Itself.
It is like that, so do the dreams say.
Even from my front porch
the rusted sewing machine
yearns for golden thread.
Nicht-Gesicht/Not Face by Rainer Maria Rilke
From the German, translated by Priscilla Washburn Shaw:
Face, my face: whose are you; for what things are you face? How can you be face for such insides, whose something is beginning continually rolled together with dissolving? Has the forest a face? Does not the mountain basalt stand facelessly there? Does the sea not raise itself without face, up from the ocean-floor; is not the sky reflected within, without forehead, without mouth, without chin?
Do not animals come to us sometimes as if they were pleading: take my face. Their face is too heavy for them and because of it they hold their tiny little soul too far into life. And we, animals of the soul, confused by everything in us, not yet ready for nothing; we grazing souls: do we not implore the Allotter by night to grant us the not-face which belongs with our darkness-