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GEORGE OPPEN SELECTED POEMS
By GEORGE OPPEN
A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOKCopyright © 2003 Linda Oppen
All right reserved.
"THE KNOWLEDGE NOT OF SORROW, YOU WERE" The knowledge not of sorrow, you were saying, but of boredom Is-aside from reading speaking smoking- Of what, Maude Blessingbourne it was, wished to know when, having risen, "approached the window as if to see what really was going on"; And saw rain falling, in the distance more slowly, The road clear from her past the window-glass- Of the world, weather-swept, with which one shares the century. "THE EDGE OF THE OCEAN," The edge of the ocean, The shore: here Somebody's lawn, By the water. FROM THE MATERIALS (1962) We awake in the same moment to ourselves and to things. They fed their hearts on fantasies And their hearts have become savage. ECLOGUE The men talking Near the room's center. They have said More than they had intended. Pinpointing in the uproar Of the living room An assault On the quiet continent. Beyond the window Flesh and rock and hunger Loose in the night sky Hardened into soil Tilting of itself to the sun once more, small Vegetative leaves And stems taking place Outside-O small ones, To be born! IMAGE OF THE ENGINE 1 Likely as not a ruined head gasket Spitting at every power stroke, if not a crank shaft Bearing knocking at the roots of the thing like a pile-driver: A machine involved with itself, a concentrated Hot lump of a machine Geared in the loose mechanics of the world with the valves jumping And the heavy frenzy of the pistons. When the thing stops, Is stopped, with the last slow cough In the manifold, the flywheel blundering Against compression, stopping, finally Stopped, compression leaking From the idle cylinders will one imagine Then because he can imagine That squeezed from the cooling steel There hovers in that moment, wraith-like and like a plume of steam, an aftermath, A still and quiet angel of knowledge and of comprehension. 2 Endlessly, endlessly, The definition of mortality The image of the engine That stops. We cannot live on that. I know that no one would live out Thirty years, fifty years if the world were ending With his life. The machine stares out, Stares out With all its eyes Thru the glass With the ripple in it, past the sill Which is dusty-If there is someone In the garden! Outside, and so beautiful. 3 What ends Is that. Even companionship Ending. 'I want to ask if you remember When we were happy! As tho all travels Ended untold, all embarkations Foundered. 4 On that water Grey with morning The gull will fold its wings And sit. And with its two eyes There as much as anything Can watch a ship and all its hallways And all companions sink. 5 Also he has set the world In their hearts. From lumps, chunks, We are locked out: like children, seeking love At last among each other. With their first full strength The young go search for it, But even the beautiful bony children Who arise in the morning have left behind Them worn and squalid toys in the trash Which is a grimy death of love. The lost Glitter of the stores! The streets of stores! Crossed by the streets of stores And every crevice of the city leaking Rubble: concrete, conduit, pipe, a crumbling Rubble of our roots In flood, storm, ultimate mishap: Earth, water, the tremendous Surface, the heart thundering Absolute desire. RETURN This Earth the king said Looking at the ground; This England. But we drive A Sunday paradise Of parkway, trees flow into trees and the grass Like water by the very asphalt crown And summit of things In the flow of traffic The family cars, in the dim Sound of the living The noise of increase to which we owe What we possess. We cannot reconcile ourselves. No one is reconciled, tho we spring From the ground together- And we saw the seed, The minuscule Sequoia seed In the museum by the tremendous slab Of the tree. And imagined the seed In soil and the growth quickened So that we saw the seed reach out, forcing Earth thru itself into bark, wood, the green Needles of a redwood until the tree Stood in the room without soil- How much of the earth's Crust has lived The seed's violence! The shock is metaphysical. For the wood weathers. Drift wood And the foot print in the forest grow older. This is not our time, not what we mean, it is a time Passing, the curl at the cutwater, The enormous prow Outside in the weather. In that breeze, The sense of that passage, Is desertion, Betrayal, that we are not innocent Of loneliness as Pierrot, Pierrette chattering Unaware tho we imagine nothing Beyond the streets of the living- A sap in the limbs. Mary, Mary, we turn to the children As they will turn to the children Wanting so much to have created happiness As if a stem to the leaves- -we had camped in scrub, A scrub of the past, the fringes of towns Neither towns nor forest, nothing ours. And Linda five, Maybe six when the mare grazing In the meadow came to her. 'Horse,' she said, whispering By the roadside With the cars passing. Little girl welcomed, Learning welcome. The rest is- Whatever-whatever-remote Mechanics, endurance, The piers of the city In the sea. Here are whole buildings Razed, whole blocks Of a city gone Among old streets And the old boroughs, ourselves Among these streets where Petra beat A washpan out her window gathering A crowd like a rescue. Relief, As they said it, The Relief. Petra Decisive suddenly among her children In those crumbling bedrooms, Petra, Petra-. And how imagine it? or imagine Coughlin in the streets, Pelley and the Silver Shirts? The medieval sense seems innocent, the very Ceremony of innocence that was drowned. It was not. But how imagine it Of streets boarded and vacant where no time will hatch Now chairs and walls, Floors, roofs, the joists and beams, The woodwork, window sills In sun in a great weight of brick. FROM DISASTER Ultimately the air Is bare sunlight where must be found The lyric valuables. From disaster Shipwreck, whole families crawled To the tenements, and there Survived by what morality Of hope Which for the sons Ends its metaphysic In small lawns of home. BLOOD FROM THE STONE I In the door, Long legged, tall, A weight of bone and flesh to her- Her eyes catch- Carrying bundles. O! Everything I am is Us. Come home. II The Thirties. And A spectre In every street, In all inexplicable crowds, what they did then Is still their lives. As thirty in a group- To Home Relief-the unemployed- Within the city's intricacies Are these lives. Belief? What do we believe To live with? Answer. Not invent-just answer-all That verse attempts. That we can somehow add each to each other? -Still our lives. III And war. More than we felt or saw. There is a simple ego in a lyric, A strange one in war. To a body anything can happen, Like a brick. Too obvious to say. But all horror came from it. The need To see past every rock, wall, forest Among so many, carrying in its frightful danger The brick body as in one's hands. And rounding the corner of some wall Into a farm yard-France- The smell of wood-smoke from the kitchen; An overwhelming sense of joy! Stops everything. More still than the water trickling among the cobbles. In boots. Steel helmet. Monstrous. Standing Shut by the silent walls. IV Fifty years Sidereal time Together, and among the others, The bequeathed pavements, the inherited lit streets: Among them we were lucky-strangest word. The planets Time. Blood from a stone, life From a stone dead dam. Mother Nature! because we find the others Deserted like ourselves and therefore brothers. Yet So we lived And chose to live These were our time.
Excerpted from GEORGE OPPEN SELECTED POEMS by GEORGE OPPEN Copyright © 2003 by Linda Oppen. Excerpted by permission.
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