A Book of Witness: Spells and Gris-Gris

A Book of Witness: Spells and Gris-Gris

by Jerome Rothenberg

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Overview

A landmark collection by one of America's leading avant-gardists. A Book of Witness: Spells & Gris-Gris is Jerome Rothenberg's passage from one centuryone millenniumto another. Of the one hundred poems that comprise the book, the first half were written in 1999, the second in the two years that followed. But far more than a marker of era-shifting, it is a collection that reestablishes the primacy of the poetic "I," not in the sense of a confessional, personal voice, but of the grammatical first person as both a singular witness and conduit for othersa kind of prophecy. Often incantatory, the poems in A Book of Witness are a reaffirmation of self in the face of history's darknesses, a shout for life against an indifferent universe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780811215374
Publisher: New Directions Publishing Corporation
Publication date: 03/19/2003
Pages: 128
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

A BOOK OF WITNESS

Spells & Gris-Gris
By JEROME ROTHENBERG

A NEW DIRECTIONS BOOK

Copyright © 2003 Jerome Rothenberg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0811215377


Chapter One

1 THE CASE FOR MEMORY


I was amok & fearless
twice deceived
for which I sought out
satisfactions
in a tree. Too carelessly
I reached for love
& beaten down
I found you
in a froth or frenzy
spent my days around
the pan yards.
I would ask no help from those
whose trust is weak
but I would buy the latest
& the least.
I live for something practical
-the case for memory-
I set one foot into the space
the others leave abandoned.
Not your lord or slave
I meet you
in an equal clash of wills
& face you down.
I only touch the ground
on Sundays



2
THE BURNING HOUSE


It was always dark.
The red hole's
wetness threatened
the lost sheep.
Sharp exchanges
were not clearly heard.
Rivers did
not flow.
You did not defend
your brother.
We ascend
toward progress.
I scratch fire &
remove it from your throat.
I run out of
distant shadows
now that no one
tries to stop
the passage from a city
that is drowning.
You must dodge
the summer fire
to free your soul.
You cannot stand
back of the burning
house from which
strangers emerge
like wolves
to run you down.



3
WHERE GOD IS LIGHT


The lost in hell
among the rat-faced
killers.

I am with them.
Standing at the tunnel's mouth
the water underneath
I see the figures floating
raised in air
then pitched into the vortex.
Here where god is light
a brown globe
hangs above
a burning hell.
Eyes turn right.
Hieronymus (my namesake)
let me lift this picture
from your hands.
I cherish walking in your circles.
Do you think the light is wet?
Forget it little father
& go home.
Return the keys to management.
When someone asks
if you believe in god
turn cautious.
There are now angels everywhere.
Never look back.



4
I HAVE PAID THE PRICE & LOST


God of the universe
manqué
you issue from my mouth.
I watch you dying.
Muscles like flowers gather
at your throat.
You shake a wrist at me.
Your watchband comes apart
& freezes.
I can see you with a babe
propped on your lap
or else a lamb.
Old man with blisters
working against time
you plunge a knife
into my book.
The babe limp as a doll
tilts forward
gagging.
A man in chains
sucks
on a woman's breast.
Feet
without a body.
I have paid the price & lost,
And you?
Have you watched them play
the game of tribute?
And have you failed to pay
& won?


5
THERE IS A MAP INSIDE MY POCKET


I look for lights
under my fingers.
I will take them & will make
foolish minds wise.
Then when I flick my half closed eyes
your mouth will open wide
& I will sail by with my flags.
You will applaud me
when I scratch for cash
under your shadows.
I who am geared to tear down
what you build
your houses like your ashes
swept away.
I search the sky for you.
It rains.
The wind too warm for Sunday
sears my eyes.
There is a map inside my pocket
I can't read.
All day I tried to call you.
Where the bus stopped
people walked by
like the dead.
I knew your house was there
down by the corner.
A house without a bell
without a way to find your way
around it.


6
AN EMPTY BELL


I walk with you into
the little houses.
Rings slip through my hands.
You pierce your tongue
for love.
How bright the fields grow
yellow blue & red
this morning
where the owl's prey drops down.
Look at me.
Be first.
The others will come through
in shallow order.
Someone not a king
is fancier
a thief among a thousand
shattered crosses.
Elsewhere
broken columns
flutist on a hill
old man who lugs a basket
two old men who push
a stone door into place.
A line of walkers
riders
coming up the road.
I blow a whistle.
Then I bang your teapot
like an empty bell.


7
WHAT THE WORLD GIVES BACK


No one looks for garbage
underneath
your windows.
No one waits alone
& hears
the slow wave rising.
There are some who shadow us
for what we love.
Nightly the passengers
still blind me
while I bind their wounds.
I feel their final jabs
between the covers & the sea
no time for preening.
I watch my feet move
among the stars.
Everything we offer
to the world
is what the world gives back
without a thought
or breath.
Mythology as science
fact as trope.
I walk into a cavern
where a bear lies dead.
You can divine my words
because my words
ring true.
It doesn't matter
if the rhyme
is slant or straight.
I feel it on my tongue
my eyes
see through it.


8
A PREMONITION


It is a battle between
this & this.
An armageddon.
One pursues & hobbles
finds the ground rise up
to hurt him.
From the left a boat
so small
I would not think
a space was left
for sailing.
Later
we were on a mountain top
with strangers.
Tell me if my mind
was set
too firmly.
She who was our leader
slipped.
We had a premonition.
With his knife
the old man
cut his way
out of the room.
It ill behooves us
someone said
as though her words rang true.
A thousand bodies
hanging
from a thousand trees
ended the dream.


9
LIKE A WALL


Day by day
I watch the sidewalk.
Light builds up.
A man without a face
is still a man.
He is the victim
of his own
worst thoughts.
The light runs from his eye.
Robbed of its speed
it blinds him.
Every moment
is the last
before death ends it.
Launched through space
he stumbles
but he makes it back.
I can replace him
sin my thoughts
like all the rest.
The secrets of arithmetic
are what he leaves me.
Open up the vents.
Your eye is dead.
Your mind is not your own.
Your fingers burn.
Your tongue speaks from your mouth
but no one listens.
It is too late to eat
or piss
however urgent.
Time spreads out between us
like a wall.
A radio in space
can't overcome it.


10
A REAL MAN


Mangled fingers
push the stones aside.
The scars run deep.
Hate suits
the human face
far better
than a mask.
The price of happiness
is wisdom.
Stones that interfere
with speech
will interfere with sleep
no longer.
Soon he wipes away
the stain.
The motor seems outrageous.
Back & forth
he walks.
I watch the fathers
growing
throwing caution in the winds.
My body hovers
in an air
the man can hold forever
in his sights.
I do not trust his way
of dealing.
He & I
are brothers
for this moment
only.
Watch his fingers closing.
He is a real man
when he murders
is he not?


11
EVERY NIGHT AT TEN


I slip through streets
hoping that a dog
won't bag me.
I turn my back to strangers
when my own skin
grows too hard.
I spend long nights
in mausoleums
like a prince.
When I bite the flesh
over my thumb
it bleeds.
I lost my fear of death
last summer
& I want to teach the trick
to all my friends.
Mine is a case of
double vision.
The taste arises
from my throat
& not
the other way around.
The way I cry
calls out for pity.
I struggle for a chance
to hide from sleep
but every night at ten
it runs me over.


12
THERE IS NEVER ENOUGH TIME


Above the clouds
is nothing
but a leprous
single star.
(B. Brecht)
The more I look at it
the less I feel.
I try to recollect. I shake
a distant hand
& pay for laughter.
The odds are heavily
against me.
There is never enough time.
When I place a foot
in the hot water
someone declares me lost.
I smile into a mirror
& my face
glares back.
A father holds his babe
up to the light.
Where will it lead us?
Heaven is no place for fools.
I run my fingers
through your hair
& feel the universe
shut down.


13
THE LAST FRIEND


The day the last friend
dies
we sit alone.
A visitor
from outer space
tries hard
to summon us.
Someone says
EAT DEATH.
I fish around for answers
but the questions
still won't come.
I take the small vial
from your pocket
sniff it & near die.
The police are negligent
at best.
Nor is there room for angels.
The storms drift in from Mexico
where once we roamed.
The way your chest
moves up & down
when breathing
is a clear response.
I want some reassurance:
that even when I die
the world goes on.


14
I AM MAD BY TURNS


When I close my eyes
I see them.
Never more & never clearer
than they were
before your heart broke.
I am mad by turns.
Those who lead me to the trough
can never
make me drink.
The time shines like a signal
from my wrist.
Every pattern you observe
will disappear
even those the stars make
in their long sleep.
Is that enough to please us?
I am moved to say it
moved too that Blackburn died so young
& Armand now.

I am waiting for everyone
to die.
For this the just man
spews but holds
his ground.
His strength too distant
to return his hands
two pools of sweat.
He must resemble someone
I saw walking backwards
once & up a flight of stairs
a tray of food
in gentle balance
letting go
& hurtling
to his death among
the thorns.


15
MORE THAN STARS


You did it
made me cry
in hemorrhage.
You were on my mind.
I ran to you
& bones broke.
I who was finger mad
now learned to live
ungloved.
Unglued I sucked the wind
into my glottis.
I could be split in two
not whole
the rage emptied my scrotum
& I sagged.
You signaled from the car
ahead of me.
The screen lit up
with buttons
that were more than stars.
An egg escaped.
It could have happened
all at once
but I
was ready.
I embraced a cat
& spattered.
How I do love to touch
that ancient keyboard
wet from sleep.
None of you asked my name
& I kept silent
balanced on a dime.
I would delude them all
by dialing backward.
The time is near
I told them.
Nobody living will escape. (Continues...)



Excerpted from A BOOK OF WITNESS by JEROME ROTHENBERG Copyright © 2003 by Jerome Rothenberg
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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