Middle Earth Poems
By HENRI COLE
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX Copyright © 2003 Henri Cole
All right reserved. ISBN: 0374208816
Born, I was born. shivering and steaming like a horse in rain. my name a Parisian bandleader's, Father is holding me and blowing in my ear, Stars on his blue serge uniform flaunt a feeling Growing, I am growing now, Please don't leave, Grandmother Pearl. watching the President's caisson. Shining, the sun is shining on my time line. spatter the house The essence of self emerges
Noel, the wet nimbus of Noel's tongue I drop acid with Rita. I eat sugar like a canary from a grown man's tongue. the war lost. Mother: "I have memories, too. Father: "I'm glad the journey is set. Crows, the voices of crows as I sit in a gold kimono, the sultry air, the hand holding a pen, Thank you, Mother and Father, for creating me.
Indestructible seabirds, black and white, leading and following; semivisible mist, undulating, worming about the head; rain starring the sea, tearing all over me; our little boat, as in a Hokusai print, nudging closer to Icarus (a humpback whale, not a foolish dead boy) heaving against rough water; a voluminous inward grinding- like a self breathing, but not a self-revivifying, oxygenating the blood, making the blowhole move, like a mouth silent against the decrees of fate: joy, grief, desperation, triumph. Only God can obstruct them. A big wave makes my feet slither. I feel like a baby, bodiless and strange: a man is nothing if he is not changing. Father, is that you breathing? Forgiveness is anathema to me. I apologize. Knock me to the floor. Take me with you.
The hare does not belong to the rodents; he is a species apart. Holding him firmly against my chest, kissing his long white ears, tasting earth on his fur and breath, I am plunged into that white sustenance again, where a long, fathomless calm emerges- like a love that is futureless but binding for a body on a gurney submerged in bright light, as an orchard is submerged in lava- while the hand of my brother, my companion in nothingness, strokes our father, but no power in the air touches us, as one touches those one loves, as I stroke a hare trembling in a box of straw.
Come to the garden, you said, and I went, hearing my voice inside your throat. It was a way of self-forgetting. Or it was a way of facing self, I did not know. and mixed me powdered milk, as if I were still your boy. Dogs tussled on the lawn around Michelangelo's David, kept like a shrine; big ordinary goldfish chewed through the pond; and the speech of bees encircled us, filling a void.
A hundred blooming reminded me to be and not to seem. When a squalid sky pulled down the sun, we grew accustomed to it. Darkness was no nemesis. Come play checkers on the terrace, you sighed. Like me, you felt neglected, you were in a mood of mental acuteness. Like you, I was a with a taciturn spirit, I was a man who would never belong to anything. Solitude had made us her illegitimate sons.
Beyond the soggy garden, two kayaks float across mild clear water. A red sun stains the lake like colored glass. Day is stopping. Everything I am feels distant or blank as the opulent rays pass through me, distant as action is from thought, or language is from all things desirable in the world, when it does not deliver what it promises and pathos comes instead- the same pathos I feel when I tell myself, within or without valid structures of love: I have been deceived, he is not what he seemed- though the failure is not in the other, but in me because I am tired, hurt or bitter.
This is the world God didn't create, but an artist copyingthe original, or some nostalgic idea of the original, with Mary and Joseph, or statues of Mary and Joseph, bowing their lamp-lit faces to the baby Jesus. Language is not the human medium here, where every eight minutes the seasons repeat themselves, a rainbow appears, bleeding like an iris, and the illusion of unity is achieved, before blowing snow buries everything again. Looked at from above, the farmer's sheep are as big as conifers. Something is wrong with his sons, whose pale bony necks make them look feral. And the rooster cries more like a miserable donkey. A light goes off. Another comes on. In a little window, with a lamp to be read by, nobody is reading. If God is around, he seems ineffectual. In the alps, a little trolley grinds its gears, floating into the valley, where heavy droplets fall, as the farmer's wife hurries-like a moving target or a mind thinking-to unpin her laundry from the wet white clothesline, and the farmer, in the granary, stifles the little cries of the neighbor girl parting her lips. If the meaning of life is love, no one seems to be aware, not even Mary and Joseph, exhausted with puffy eyes, fleeing their dim golden crib.
It has the odor of Mother leaving when I was a boy. I watch the back of her neck, wanting to cry, Come back. Come back! So it is the smell of not saying what I feel, of irrationality intruding upon the orderly, of experience seeking me out, though I do not want it to.
Unnaturally white with auburn anthers, climbing the invisible ladder from birth to death, it reveals the whole poignant superstructure of itself without piety, like Mother pushing a basket down the grocery aisle, her pungent vital body caught in the stranglehold of her mind.
The soup boils over. The gas man demands payment for the last bill. Mother interrupts meekly. I drink wine to forget things. I go to the zoo. desire and disgust get mixed up. stability is the fruit of both war and human insight. more humans die as a result of prophets I scramble onto the ferry with Mother. Let me in, let me in! peering through the dirty portal window. I say like Frankenstein to his bride, I repeat things in order to feel them, The past dims like a great, tiered chandelier. and rough: some days the visual field is abstract or empty- in a windy sky, birds appear young and unwise; expressive figures move around and uncertainty, into the aura where grit blows in my face like love and hate as red mist burns off the surface of the river.
We were in your kitchen eating sherbet to calm the fever of a summer day. A bee scribbled its essence between us, like a minimalist. A boy hoed manure in the distance. The surgical cold of ice made my head ache, then a veil was lifted. Midday sprayed the little room with gold, and I thought, Now I am awake. Now freedom is lifting me out of the abyss of coming and going in life without thinking, which is the absence of freedom. Now I see the still, black eyes saying, Someone wants you, not me. Now nothing is hidden. Now, water and soil are striving to be flesh.
From above we must have looked like ordinary tourists feeding winter swans, though it was the grit of our father we flung hard into the green water slapping against the pier, where we stood soberly watching the ash float or acquiesce and the swans, mooring themselves against the little scrolls churned up out of the grave by a motorboat throbbing in the distance. What we had in common had been severed from us. Like an umbrella in sand, I stood rigidly apart-the wind flashing its needles in air, the surf heavy, nebulous-remembering a sunburned boy napping between hairy legs, yellow jackets hovering over an empty basket.
After the death of my father, I locked myself in my room, bored and animal-like. The travel clock, the Johnnie Walker bottle, the parrot tulips-everything possessed his face, chaste and obscure. Snow and rain battered the air white, insane, slathery. Nothing poured out of me except sensibility, dilated. It was as if I were sub-born-preverbal, truculent, pure-with hard ivory arms reaching out into a dark and crowded space, illuminated like a perforated silver box or a little room in which glowing cigarettes came and went, like souls losing magnitude, but none with the battered hand I knew.
Excerpted from Middle Earth by HENRI COLE Copyright © 2003 by Henri Cole
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.