Becoming Light: Poems New and Selected

Becoming Light: Poems New and Selected

by Erica Jong

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781480438897
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 530
File size: 5 MB

About the Author

Erica Jong (b. 1942) was raised in New York City, where she first attracted attention as a poet, winning various awards for two volumes of verse published in the early 1970s. But she is best known forher first novel, Fear of Flying, which struck a chord with a country still reeling from the sexual revolution. Though it initially drew controversy for its frank depiction of female sexuality, it has sold more than eighteen million copies worldwide.

Jong followed Isadora Wing through three more novels: How to Save Your Own Life, Parachutes and Kisses, and Any Woman's Blues. In addition to continuing to produce poetry, Jong has written historical fiction, most recently Sappho's Leap, and two memoirs, Fear of Fifty and Seducing the Demon: Writing for My Life

Read an Excerpt

Becoming Light

Poems New and Selected

By Erica Jong


Copyright © 1991 Erica Mann Jong
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4804-3889-7


Lullaby for a Dybbuk

      The old self
      like a dybbuk
      clutching at my heel.
      She wants to come back.
      She is digging
      her long red nails
      into the tender meat of my thighs?
      She tweaks my clit,
      hoping that my sexaholic self
      will surface
      and take me back, back, back

      to the land of fuck,
      where, crazed with lust
      I come over and over again,
      going nowhere.

      The old self
      does not like
      her displacement.
      She resents the new tenant
      sprucing up
      her disorderly house.

      She resents
      the calm woman
      nourishing her roses,
      her daughter, her dogs,
      her poems, her passionate
      She wants chaos
      and angst and Liebestod.
      She claims
      she can't write
      without them.

      But the new tenant
      is wise to her tricks.
      Disorder is not poetry,
      she says. Pain
      is not love.
      Love flowers; love gives
      without taking;
      love is serene
      and calm.

      I talk to the dybbuk:

      My darling dybbuk,
      I will love you
      into submission.
      Tweak me, I will only
      caress you.
      Claw me, I will only
      kiss you back.

      For what I have learned
      lets me love
      even my demon.

      Demon—I love you
      for you are
      I say.

      And demons die
      of love.

      Ode to My Shoes

      (After Neruda, who left us his socks)

      The poet alone
      is writing an ode
      to her shoes—
      her shoes which
      only she can fill,
      her shoes of purple suede and green leather
      the color of palm fronds,
      her diamond-studded boots,
      her feathered cowboy boots,
      her flame cowboy boots,
      her seven-league epic poetry boots,
      her little silver haiku boots
      with the tiny heels that twinkle,
      her first-person platform boots
      and her backless glass slippers
      modelled after Cinderella's
      (one lost, at midnight,
      because of a running man),
      her huntress boots of India-rubber,
      her lover's boots joined at the ankle
      like leg irons,
      her pink baby booties bronzed
      for posterity,
      her daughter's burning Reeboks,
      her lover's laceless sneakers
      left in the guest room closet
      for her to kiss
      year after year
      after year.

      Darling shoes,
      beloved feet,
      ten toes to walk me
      toward my true love,
      fuck-me pumps to fuel his passion,
      stiletto heels to stab him
      if he strays.

      Shoes tell you everything.
      Shoes speak my language.
      Their tap taptap on the airport runway
      tells me the story
      of a lovely, lonely woman flying after love—
      that old, old story
      in a new pair
      of shoes.

      Alphabet Poem: To the Letter I

      I, io, ich, yo, ?,
      uppercase, lowercase,
      sometimes confused with love
      which starts with L,
      but could easily be I,
      with a foot,
      a pseudopod facing the future,
      or at least the righthand
      margin of the page—
      all we know of life
      and all we need
      to know.

      The poet must abolish I,
      said Keats;
      have no identity,
      be as water flowing
      around a rock—
      a voice for all
      the unsaid waves within,
      antenna of the deep.

      "Here lies one whose name
      was writ in water,"
      he would have graven
      on his gravestone
      had he but world enough
      and time—
      but the harpstring broke,
      and his dearest friends
      would not deny his I—
      (they could not
      for they still believed

      Ich, I, io, yo, ?
      turned from lettres majuscules
      to minuscule
      by Cummings
      (ee, I mean)

      to droplets of vapor
      condensed along a blade
      of grass
      (by Whitman),
      to Blake's tiger,
      to Dickinson's
      buzzing fly?
      (we so insist
      on having names,
      then die).

      For the poet
      whoever he (or she)
      may be
      is always
      beneath the violets
      singing like wind
      or water.

      To become a natural thing,
      eye of the cosmos,
      sans i's, sans teeth,
      sans everything,
      to see the rock,
      the hand, the water,
      rippling around
      the thrown pebble
      as part of the same art,
      the art of the possible,
      life passing into death
      and death to life—
      poetry not politics.

      The abolition of the I,
      eye, eye,
      the end of i,
      so that even the dot
      becomes a flyspeck,
      Morse code
      of infinity?

      The alphabet is
      poetry's DNA;
      what sperm and egg

      are to our progeny,
      the alphabet
      is to the poet,

      single, yet dividing
      like a zygote,
      the world.

      We are all one poet
      and always
      we have one
      communal name,
      god's name, nameless,
      a flame in the heart,
      a breath,
      a gust of air,
      prana whistling in the dark.
      i dies—
      but the breath
      lingers on
      through the medium
      of the magic
      and in its wake
      death is no more
      than metaphor.

      Demeter at Dusk

      At dusk Demeter
      becomes afraid
      for baby Persephone
      lost in that hell
      which she herself created
      with her love.

      Excess of love—
      the woman's curse,
      the curse of loving
      that which causes pain,
      the curse of bringing forth
      in pain,
      the curse of bearing,
      bearing always pain.

      Demeter pauses, listening for her child—
      this fertile goddess
      with her golden hair, bringing forth
      wheat and fruit and wildflowers

      This apple-breasted goddess
      whose sad eyes
      will bless the frozen world,
      bring spring again—
      all because she once
      walked through the night
      and loved a man, half-demon,
      who gave her
      everything she needed to be wise:
      a daughter,
      hell's black night,
      then endless

      The Impressionists

      They conspired to paint the air
      knowing that art
      is not only a way
      of seeing
      but a way
      of being,
      a passion for the light,
      a tenderness at heart
      just short
      of being wounded by the air,
      a toughness too.

      They conspired to paint the air,
      to anatomize each light mote,
      to imprism each speck of dust
      until the air danced with color
      and every inhaled breath
      became a rainbow in the lungs.

      Jasmine, tea leaf, camellia,
      tuberose and thyme—the air
      turning to color, the color
      bleeding into earth, the
      earth giving forth its forms,
      its fossils, its sexual smells,
      then closing over all.

      They conspired to paint the air,
      leaving their mark,
      an obsessed life,
      infinitely rich,
      infinitely ripe,
      tasting of peaches
      and anemones,
      red tile,
      voile peignoirs
      and air,
      inhabited air.

      To My Brother Poet, Seeking Peace

      People wish to be settled. Only as long as they are unsettled is there any hope for them.


      My life has been
      the instrument
      for a mouth

      I have never seen,
      breathing wind
      which comes
      from I know not
      arranging and changing
      my moods,
      so as to make
      an opening
      for his voice.

      Or hers.
      Muse, White Goddess
      mother with invisible
      androgynous god
      in whose grip
      I struggle,
      turning this way and that,
      believing that I chart
      my life,
      my loves,
      when in fact
      it is she, he,
      who charts them—
      all for the sake
      of some
      as yet unwritten poem.

      Twisting in the wind,
      twisting like a pirate
      dangling in a cage
      from a high seawall,
      the wind whips
      through my bones
      making an instrument,
      my back a xylophone,
      my sex a triangle
      my lips stretched tight
      as drumskins,

      I no longer care
      who is playing me,
      but fear
      makes the hairs
      stand up
      on the backs
      of my hands
      when I think
      that she may stop.

      And yet I long
      for peace
      as fervently as you do—
      the sweet connubial bliss
      that admits no
      the settled life
      that defeats poetry,
      the hearth before which
      children play—
      not poets' children,
      ragtag, neurotic, demon-ridden,
      but the apple-cheeked children
      of the bourgeoisie.

      My daughter dreams
      of peace
      as I do:
      marriage, proper house,
      proper husband,
      nourishing dreamless
      love like a hot toddy,
      or an apple pie.

      But the muse
      has other plans
      for me
      and you.

      Puppet mistress,
      dangling us
      on this dark proscenium,
      pulling our strings,
      blowing us
      toward Cornwall,
      toward Venice, toward Delphi,
      toward some lurching
      a tent upheld
      by one throbbing
      blood-drenched pole—
      her pen, her pencil,
      the monolith
      we worship,
      the gleaming moon.

      My Daughter Says

      My daughter says
      she feels like a martian,
      that no one understands her,
      that one friend is too perfect,
      and another too mean,
      and that she has
      the earliest bedtime
      in her whole class.

      I strain to remember
      how a third grader feels
      about love, about pain
      and I feel a hollow in my heart
      where there should be blood
      and an ache where there should
      be certainty.

      My darling Molly,
      no earthling ever lived
      who did not feel
      like a Martian,
      who did not curse her bedtime,
      who did not wonder
      how she got to this planet,
      who dropped her here
      and why
      and how she can possibly

      I go to bed
      whenever I like
      and with whomever I choose,
      but still I wonder
      why I do not
      belong in my class,
      and where my class is anyway,
      and why so many of them
      seem to be asleep
      while I toss and turn
      in perplexity.

      They, meanwhile, imagine I am perfect
      and have solved everything:
      an earthling among the Martians,
      at home on her home planet,
      feet planted in green grass.

      If only we could all admit
      that none of us belongs here,
      that all of us are Martians,
      and that our bedtimes
      are always
      too early

      too late.

      Driving Me Away

      Driving me away
      is easier
      than saying

      kissing the air,
      the last syllable
      of truth
      being always
      two lips compressed

      the emptiness
      you dread
      yet return to
      as just punishment,
      just reward.

      loved you
      so relentlessly?
      Who lost you
      in that howling void
      between infancy
      and death?
      It is punctuated
      by the warm bodies
      of women,
      who hold you for a while
      then run
      down that echoing corridor,
      as they are told.

The Land of Fuck

Here I was begging the Muse not to get me in trouble with the powers that be, not to make me write out all those "filthy" words?pointing out in that deaf and dumb language which I employed when dealing with the Voice that soon?I would have to write my books in Jail or at the foot of the gallows?and these holy cows deep in clover render a verdict of guilty, guilty of dreaming it up "to make money"!

—Henry Miller

      The land of fuck
      is not for sale.

      Caught between
      the muslin curtains
      of the nursery
      and the red damask
      of the whorehouse,
      the gambling den,
      the mafia chieftains'
      (in whose backroom the big men
      with big bellies,
      big guns,
      and little dicks
      gamble lives
      on a flipped card
      or a throw
      of bones)—

      the land of fuck
      is not for sale.

      You can steal it
      if you dare.

      In a dream
      you can ascend
      to that special room
      above the shadowy El
      where, amid the rattling trains
      carrying bug-eyed
      and drooling
      adolescent boys
      with perpetual
      the students of Fuck
      go to spill their lives away
      and the semen pools
      under their luminous chairs.

      The land of fuck
      is not for sale
      any more than
      the sea is,
      and it smells the same.

      Ocean wreckage
      at low tide: salt and rot
      and sea meat left in the sun
      too long,
      sweet slime
      between epochs of bone
      and dust.
      The land of fuck
      is not for sale—
      which does not mean
      it has no price.

      The tax
      is tranquility, calm,
      and the stillness of life.

      The land of fuck
      has a price.

      Middle Aged Lovers, I

      Unable to bear
      the uncertainty
      of the future,
      we consulted seers,
      mediums, stock market gurus,
      psychics who promised
      happiness on this
      or another planet,
      astrologists of love,
      seekers of the Holy Grail.

      Looking for certainty
      we asked for promises,
      lover's knots, pledges, rings,
      certificates, deeds of ownership,
      when it was always enough
      to let your hand
      pass over my body,
      your eyes find the depths of my own,
      and the wind pass over our faces
      as it will pass
      through our bones,
      sooner than we think.

      The current is love,
      is poetry,
      the blood beat
      in the thighs,
      the electrical charge
      in the brain.

      Our long leap
      into the unknown
      began nearly
      a half century ago
      and is almost

      I think of the
      amphorae of stored honey
      at Paestum
      far out-lasting
      their Grecian eaters,
      or of the furniture
      in a pharaoh's tomb
      on which
      no one sits.

      Trust the wind,
      my lover,
      and the water.

      They have the
      to all your questions

      and mine.

      The Rain Is My Home

      All my life
      I have resented
      middle child
      defying the rain,
      seeing rainbows
      in the parachutes of grey
      that collapse over our heads
      on rainy days,

      I skip in the shiny streets
      hearing the songs in the tires,
      and loving the sound
      of the rain.

      Long before I surrendered
      to my fate,
      I surrendered
      to the rain—
      a fugue by Bach
      raining softly on my head
      teaching me fearlessness.

      Reader: I give you
      this rain.

The Raspberries in My Driveway

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eyes level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

      The raspberries
      in my driveway
      have always
      been here
      (for the whole eleven years
      I have owned
      but have not owned
      this house),
      I have never
      tasted them

      Always on a plane.
      Always in the arms
      of man, not God,
      always too busy,
      too fretful,
      too worried
      to see
      that all along
      my driveway
      are red, red raspberries
      for me to taste.

      Shiny and red,
      without hairs—
      unlike the berries
      from the market.
      Little jewels—
      I share them
      with the birds!

      On one perches
      a tiny green insect.
      I blow her off.
      She flies!
      I burst the raspberry
      upon my tongue.

      In my solitude
      I commune
      with raspberries,
      with grasses,
      with the world.

      The world was always
      there before,
      but where
      was I?

      Ah raspberry—
      if you are so beautiful
      upon my ready tongue,
      what wonders
      lie in store
      for me!

      In the Glass-Bottomed Boat

      In the glass-bottomed boat
      of our lives, we putter along
      gazing at that other world
      under the sea—
      that world of flickering
      yellow-tailed fish,
      of deadly moray eels, of sea urchins
      like black stars
      that devastate great brains
      of coral,
      of fish the color
      of blue neon,
      & fish the color
      of liquid silver
      made by Indians
      centuries ago.

      We pass, we pass,
      always looking down.
      The fish do not
      look up at us,
      as if they knew
      their world
      for the eternal one,
      ours for
      the merely time-bound.

      The engine sputters.
      Our guide—a sweet
      black boy with skin
      the color of molten chocolate—
      asks us of the price of jeans
      & karate classes
      in the States.
      Surfboards too
      delight him—
      & skateboards.
      He wants to sail, sail, sail,
      not putter
      through the world.

      & so do we,
      so do we,
      wishing for the freedom
      of the fish
      beneath the reef,
      wishing for the crevices
      of sunken ship
      with its rusted eyeholes,
      its great ribbed hull,
      its rotted rudder,
      its bright propeller
      tarnishing beneath the sea.

      "They sunk this ship
      on purpose,"
      says our guide—
      which does not surprise

      knowing how life
      always imitates
      even the shabbiest
      Our brains forged
      in shark & seawreck epics,
      we fully expect to see
      a wreck like this one,
      made on purpose
      for our eyes.

      But the fish swim on,
      intimating death,
      intimating outer space,
      & even the oceans
      within the body
      from which we come.

      The fish are uninterested
      in us.
      What hubris to think
      a shark concentrates
      as much on us
      as we on him!

      The creatures of the reef
      spell death, spell life,
      spell eternity,
      & still we putter on
      in our leaky little boat,
      halfway there,
      halfway there.

Pane Caldo

      Rising in the morning
      like warm bread,
      from a bed
      in America,
      the aroma
      of my baking
      reaches you
      in Italy,
      rocking in your boat
      near the Ponte Longo,
      cutting through the glitter
      of yesterday's moonlight
      on your sunstruck

      My delicious baker—
      it is you
      who have made
      this hot bread
      It is you
      who have split the loaf
      and covered it with the butter.

      I prayed to the moon
      streaking the still lagoon
      with her skyblue manna;
      I prayed for you
      to sail into my life,
      parting the waters,
      making them whole.

      And here you come,
      half captain, half baker—
      & the warm aroma of bread
      the ocean
      we share.

      Nota in una Bottiglia

      Mandando una lettera
      da New York a Venezia
      da amante ad amante,
      da Inglese Americano
      ad Italiano Veneziano,
      e come mandare
      una nota in una bottiglia
      da un mare
      ad un altro,
      da una galassia
      ad un altra,
      da un epoca
      ad un altra,
      scirolando per creppacci
      nello spazio.

      Mio amante
      così lontano
      eppure. Qui
      dentro alia mia anima,
      quando respire
      al telefono,
      un canale
      si apre
      nel mio cuore,
      un canale chiaro
      in quell mondo scintillante,
      dove ci cullavamo
      in una barca
      sapendoci parte
      della danza
      del mare.

      E tutt' uno.
      La barca
      abbracciata dall' acqua
      e i corpi nostril
      abbracciati l'uno
      all' altro,
      e la luce del sole
      strisciando il mare
      finchè il plenilunio
      lo colma,
      e nel tondo della luna
      nasce il nostro amore.

      L'amore ci guarisce
      perchè ci ricorda
      che abbiamo perso
      nella nostra lotta
      contro noi stessi.

      E in questa bottiglia
      ti mando quella integrità
      e il mare la solleva
      e la lascia cader

      La luna e la nostra postina
      Porterà il messaggio.
      Io aspetto sulla spiaggia
      il suo sorgere.
      Rendo questo scintillio
      nelle sue mani

To a Transatlantic Mirror

When we become truly ourselves, we just become a swinging door?

      Sick of the self,
      the self-seducing self—
      with its games, its fears,
      its misty memories, and its prix fixe menu
      of seductions (so familiar
      even to the seducer)
      that he grows sick
      of looking at himself
      in the mirrored ceiling
      before he takes the plunge into this new
      distraction from the self
      which in fact leads back
      to self.

      Self—the prison.
      Love—the answer and the door.
      And yet the self should also be a door,
      swinging, letting loves both in and out,
      for change
      is the world's only fixity, and fixity
      her foremost lie.

      How to trust love
      which has so often
      betrayed the betrayer,
      seduced the seducer,
      and then turned out
      to be not even love?
      We are jaded,
      divorced from our selves
      without ever having found
      ourselves—and yet we
      long for wholeness
      if not fixity,
      for harmony
      if not music of the spheres.

      If life is a flood
      and there is no ark,
      then where do the animals float
      two by two?
      I refuse to believe
      that the flesh falls
      from their bones
      without understanding
      ever coming,
      and I refuse to believe
      that we must leave
      this life entirely alone.

      Much harrumphing
      across the ocean,
      my brother poet coughs,
      clears his throat
      (he smokes too much),
      and gazes into the murky
      depths of his word-processor,
      as if it were a crystal ball.
      I do not know
      all that hides
      in his heart of darkness
      but I know I love
      the thoughts
      that cloud the surface
      of his crystal ball.


Excerpted from Becoming Light by Erica Jong. Copyright © 1991 Erica Mann Jong. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


I New Poems,
II Early Poems,
III From Fruits & Vegetables (1971),
IV From Half-Lives (1973),
V From Loveroot (1975),
VI From How to Save Your Own Life (1977),
VII From Witches (1981),
VIII From At the Edge of the Body (1979),
IX From Ordinary Miracles (1983),
A Biography of Erica Jong,

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