I would like an unbroken stretch of drizzly
weekday afternoons, in a moulting season:
nowhere else to go but across the street for
bread, and the paper.
Later, faces, voices across a table,
or an autumn fricassee, cèpes and shallots,
sipping Gigandas as I dice and hum to
No one's waiting for me across an ocean.
What I can't understand or change is distant.
War is a debate, or at worst, a headlined
nightmare. But waking
it will be there still, and one morning closer
to my implication in what I never
chose, elected, as my natal sky rains down
For Hana Amichai
Inside a domed room photos of children's faces
turn in a candlelit dark as recorded voices
recite their names, ages and nationality.
"Ah, such beautiful faces," a woman sighs.
Yes, but faces without the prestige
of the future or the tolerance of the past.
Not one asks: Why is this happening to me?
They stare at the camera as if it were a commandment:
thou shall not bear false witness...
Why would anyone want to take their photo,
remember what they no longer looked like?
There's no delusion in their eyes,
no recognition or longing, only
the flatness of hours without minutes,
hunger without appetite.
They understand they are no longer children,
that death is redundant, and mundane.
Expected, like a long-awaited guest
who arrives bearing the gift
of greater anticipation. Their eyes
are heavy--fear perhaps,
or the unforgiving weight
Did they understand why they were so hated?
Wonder why they were Jews?
Did God hear their prayers and write
something in one of his glistening books?
Were they of too little consequence?
What did they think of God, finally?
Dante cannot help us.
Imagination is the first child in line.
They cannot help us.
It is wrong to ask them.
Philosophy cannot help us,
nor wisdom, or time.
We look at their faces and their faces look at us.
They know we are pious.
They know we grieve.
But they also know we will soon leave.
We are not their mothers and fathers,
who also could not save them.
Great Oracle,why are you staring at me,
do I baffle you, do I make you despair?
I, Americus, the American,
wrought from the dark in my mother long ago,
from the dark of ancient Europa--
Why are you staring at me now
in the dusk of our civilization--
Why are you staring at me
as if I were America itself
the new Empire
far greater than any in ancient days
with its electronic highways
carrying its corporate monoculture
around the world
And English the Latin of our day--
Great Oracle, sleeping through the centuries,
Awaken now at last
And tell us how to save us from ourselves
and how to survive our own rulers
who would make a plutocracy of our democracy
in the Great Divide
between the rich and the poor
in whom Walt Whitman heard America singing
O long-silent Sybil,
You of the winged dreams,
Speak out from your temple of light
as the serious constellations
with Greek names
still stare down on us
as a lighthouse moves its megaphone
over the sea
Speak out and shine upon us
the sea-light of Greece
the diamond light of Greece
Far-seeing Sybil, forever hidden,
Come out of your cave at last
And speak to us in the poet's voice
the voice of the fourth person singular
the voice of the inscrutable future
the voice of the people mixed
with a wild soft laughter--
And give us new dreams to dream,
Give us new myths to live by!
Spoken to the Oracle by the author at UNESCO's World Poetry Day, March 21, at Delphi
I came upon her weeping,
gray face gone pewter.
She held still for me
and the wet sponge
pressed gently down,
and closed her eyes.
Beneath her skin the muscle rippled
as a pond does
under water's pressure.
past the screen that windows the view,
field's edge, an island of trees.
I put it on, to know
what the horse sees
caged in the blue mesh,
in a realm of monocular vision.
I fasten it
beneath the throat
while she chews the grain,
lips roving in the bucket.
beyond the cage. Cold's oncoming
as the wind cries,
whatever antennae I had
lost in the generations.
Something brushed my cheek with damp--
a leaf, its little valley slick with run-off
after rain. One last drop shook loose
and struck a spider web, which shuddered
but held on to this grieving world
so a butterfly--a mourning cloak?--
could uncoil its watch-spring of a tongue
in the time it took a limousine to stretch
down the thin twig of street, almost to my door.
A long albino snake gone straight,
tied with a big white bow--O pet,
you're not mine. You belong a few doors down--
see, here comes a man in gold morning coat,
carrying pale pink roses like a lute.
He leaned inside the low dark cave
of a car to kiss someone I never saw,
who straightened his pale pink cravat.
Orpheus, would love turn back while it can?
Around the corner a nurse in white
stood at an open door, lifting her long white arm
gently to bar the way of an old woman
bundled in hat and coat, though it was August.