… to have made a start …
(and in London,
which disgraced itself,
and he left later,
O London town’s a town of stink,
A town of Wells and Bennett
Where once old Shaw has said “’tis so”
No man dares speak again’ it.
A man may labour 20 years
I’ th’ vineyard of the min’
But the grapes o’ filthy London town
They make a bitter wine.
A man may labour 30 years
I’ th’ brickyard of the soul
Or make as grand a difference
By pissin’ in a hole.
O London town, O London town,
I’ll see thee never more
Till all thy murdered artists march
Triumphant home from war,
Till all thy streets be paved wi’ gold
Beneath an azure sky,
And Bloomsbury be buried
And the Lakes have all gang dry.
And the sea,
the sea tranquil this winter’s day;
and Ezra, old man gone silent at last, —
ear, ear for the sea-surge
— gone silent, hearing no voices,
only the sea, the measureless sea
fills his ears
bidding him be silent,
bidding him hear no voices
Where are we going, Walt Whitman? The doors close in an hour. Which way does your beard point tonight?
Allen Ginsberg, A Supermarket in California
I too saw Walt Whitman buying groceries:
Cabbage and a soup-bone and a little whiskey.
Seventy years later he’d have stayed with us in Paris
Not thinking our lifestyle particularly outré.
A hundred years later he’d have joined
In detesting that son of a bitch McCarthy
After it was fashionable but before it was safe,
And in a few more years he too would have been expelled for crazy
And come along when we hitched to San Francisco
And ended up joining a band that needed a bongo player.
A hundred and fifty years on, there he was on the tv,
Wondering why America still won’t talk about Vietnam.
And shortly thereafter, having stripped naked
And waded in up to his milkwhite thighs
Stood in the warm shallows and boldly declaimed
What, until he spoke, we never knew we had known all along.
I tell you I saw that good, gray poet
Put one cabbage in his basket
And hide another underneath his coat,
Dreaming for all of us of the day
When the commonplace would be the fantastic.
We didn’t talk funny once upon a time
The way the kids do now
We spoke in even meter, perfect rhyme,
Made sense to sentence bow.
We knew a careless word might be the bell
That rang a god awake –
To what end, none could ever quite foretell;
A chance, then, not to take.
But careless we grew
and after a time, unsure what to do
or say, how, or to who
And latterly the language is grown askew.
And now, look. The gods awoke, all right,
and drank and danced and sang.
The gods went out, stayed out all night
wouldn’t go back to where they came.
They’re out carousing now no doubt.
Oh hell, oh where’ve they gone?
And what have we to say for ourselves
anymore? Nothing, and more
nothing, the Devil’s taken the words,
Oh what were we talking about again?
Oh when did we lose track?
It’s too late to take care,
We’ve gained something
and we can’t get it back.
She lingered by the marble stair
till it was full night
and the dew had soaked her stockings
Waiting for what?
As it turned out,
only to sit at her window later
watching the moon go down.
I was going to write a poem that would be
lighthearted as fuck, oldfashioned
as a villanelle or a sonnet after Petrarch,
and the title was going to be something
tongue in cheek, especially if you knew me,
but even the hypothetical reader most innocent of me
still would have a solid idea
of what it really meant, because after all
there’s nothing wrong with being obvious
which is an oldfashioned virtue.
Anyway the poem I was going to write
was probably going to be titled
I Shall Certainly Need New Clothes
or something along those lines, something
insouciant and fatalistic at once,
blind to neither the rising seas
nor the beauty of the plum trees
that are blossoming earlier every year.
(a translation from the Spanish of Jorge Luis Borges)
Fifty-two cards push real life aside:
flimsy, parti-colored charms
that make us forget where we’re bound to end up in the end.
And who cares where? —we’ve stolen this time, anyway,
let’s build a house of cards,
decorate it, move in, and then play
as we were always meant to play.
Nothing beyond the table’s edges
carries any weight.
Inside, it’s a foreign land
where bluff and bid are high affairs of state:
The Ace of Spades swaggers authoritatively
like Lord Byron, capable of anything;
the nine of diamonds glitters like a pirate’s dream.
A headlong rush of lethargy
slacks conversation to a drawl:
our slow words come and go
the while chance exalts some, lays others low;
the while the players echo and re-echo all the tricks they know:
until it seems that they’re returned—or nearly so:
the crones and cronies and their bony friends
who showed us what it meant to be true Americans
with the same old songs, the same old works for idle hands.
It was a witch’s toy,
that’s what they said.
She made it, they said,
and so everything that happened must have been her doing.
Some people said it was made of darkness and old clothes.
Some said the wind whistled through it.
Some said it had old dry bones in it,
some said they were human bones.
She not being a witch, so she said,
it was no witch’s toy, whatever it was.
She had seen her son playing with just such a toy,
that’s the reason she made it, she said.
He was playing with it as he ran and laughed
between the green grass
and the blue, blue, blue sky
—oh, it was so blue!
That was how it was, she said,
after he died
and she danced and danced.
That was what she saw, she said, just before the vision
ended like a snapped-off twig