Nine Angles of Broken Light

I will be on the road for the next few days, so posting might be light. In lieu of more current events, I thought I might offer these pieces for what they're worth. These are poems that in some way, either directly or most often metaphorically, speak to some of the issues addressed on this blog. Or so it seems to me. Some were written recently, some long ago. They were written according to the principle once inscribed by Thomas Hardy at the front of one his poetry collections: "The pieces are in a large degree dramatic or personative in conception; and this even when they are not obviously so."

I make no great claim for these pieces, which appear after the jump. I certainly don't compare them with Hardy's, although I steal his stance. But as I do have them, I thought they might serve for an untimely post while I'm away.


Transatlantic


I know the light falls differently in Europe
Because of what it falls upon
And each place in Europe differently
Because of what it falls upon

The materials
The way they're worked
What they've been steeped in over time
The slightest angle of the roof

The common light falls differently
From what you've known
From what is gone
Because of what it falls upon

***

You Must Learn to Work Your Ground

You must learn to work your ground  under military rule.
To give over every deep and purposeless thing of mind,
to forego the cloud of qualia,
is no resistance, but a bowing to steel.
No quiet counsel this: you will at times
be forced to quit the plow,
perhaps for years, to give labor
to the building of the ramparts,
to preach defiance, to rectify
the language of the state.
But what comes after is for others:
you have sought no more
than this cleared ground, one patch
for delving, tending, wasting, lighting
with fire the synaptic weeds
until your own – your own – dark comes.

***

A Version of Pasternak's "Hamlet"  

The hour is at hand: it calls the actor.
The crowd grows still as I step through the arch.
There's the cue: an echo from the future.
I must come forth and give the fated speech.  

A thousand eyes, in darkness, throng about me;
Like Roman swords, they'll pierce me till I bleed.
O if it be Thy will, Abba, Father,
Then take this proffered cup away from me.  

For I adore your rigorous conception,
And am content to play my given role.
But these new lines will scorch the throat that speaks them;
This once, I pray, remove me from the bill.  

No: I see the acts have all been plotted;
The journey's end already has been willed.
I'm alone, while the world drowns in falsehood.
Cross this stage, and you cross a killing field.  

By Boris Pasternak. Translated from the Russian.

***

See Rome 

While you were dreaming
While you wrapped your mind in silks

Bronze   Steel   Stone
Did their work  

While you breathed the fumes
Of the oracle's fissure
Deranged the senses
Settled in soft beds  

Rome
Sent agents into the streets
Hard men   pinched men
Bronze   Steel   Stone
To eliminate   execute
Discredit and destroy  

See Rome  

While you stood in the forum
Declaimed high words
Filled temples with fragrant smoke
Scrawled millions of learned disquisitions  

Rome marched
Somewhere, in your name
Fired the village
In your name
Put steel to the belly  

While you wrapped yourself
While you dallied
Drank dark, smoky wine
While you dreamed  

Rome was
Rome hammered the real  

Your silks
Your songs

Are dreams  

See Rome

***

A church built on border land
of a strange red stone
like old dried blood.  

Tablets proclaim its warrior stance,
a guard on the Welsh
two valleys away.  

Effigies of armored knights
hold honored place with Christ:
swords raised, side pierced.  

By the great door, scrawled notes
pinned to a corkboard,
i
nk and pencil, fresh, eternal:  

Pray for this one, she is sick,
This one, he hurts, this one, he grieves;
Pray, pray for me.

***

Mengele's Hairball

 I am glad to learn
from Tuesday's Guardian
that Mengele suffered
"intense abdominal pain"
in the last years
of his long life;  

glad, that his gut was clotted
with a hairball formed
from the anxious chewing
of his white moustache,
as he fretted down his days
in lonely, penurious,
unrepentant exile.  

May all those who traffic
in agony and violence
end so.

***

The missiles fire all night long.
Made ready through the day
by rough crews oiled with sun –
the high, bright father –
when dark comes, instrumentation
takes over, green panels glowing.  

Cascading data, in streams of command,
 set thunder in motion, dazzle the silence
of the sky-black waters,
and hearse their payloads over lands asleep,
to unseen targets, unseen limbs,
making food for the fatherless pit.

***

Macbeth
(A shadow of Pasternak's "Hamlet")  

The hall is empty; my footsteps echo in the darkness.
From nowhere comes a wind
across my face. Everything is over,
despite the marquee's promise of reprise.  

Provoked and unprovoked, I make dumb-show
of the half-willed, irrevocable act,
imagining eyes, like daggers flashing:
A judgment I alone give to the dark.  

I have scattered my silver in the field,
but the sacrifice is nothing: No one
will be redeemed. These fatherless children a
re doomed to refresh my atrocities.  

There is no Hebron to grant me refuge;
no curtain to entomb me in dark peace.
Let it be as though it had been written,
as though it had been shaped toward this end.

***

The Mysteries  

It’s good to come out of the sea covered with brine,
all day impasted with sweat and sun,
sore from the pounding and playing of the waves.  

This is like the vigor of sin and heartache:
zen-slap, exile, labor of penance.

And to come from this into a cool room,
served and showered, robed and perfumed,
the air and light all of artifice.  

This is like the new-made thing
sealed and shriven and sent to feast.