For Andrea Zanzotto
Evening star, evening star, bringing everything;
the blinding morning scattered as it rose.
You bring back the fat sheep, the goat full of milk,
The child tired from playing in the park, to its mother.
Winter is here and the snow drifts that bury
Red Square are smudged from exhausted Ladas
Inching along the boulevards nearby.
Time to return to Lisbon, to a refuge
That knows no winter as severe as Moscow: a city
where the fourth season’s sign is a jacket worn
In windy streets. Peaceful Lisbon,
Proud of its somnolence, its Fado, Futebol,
And Fatima. Chico’s, my favorite Tasca,
where heaped plates ask beggar’s
prices, waits. Curious how little it takes
for the alien to become a home.
Shine, perishing republic, tucked into their deep pockets
by the thieves who wrenched the neck of your bald eagle,
shine now as the light that lasted more than two
hundred years has been blown out by the foul-smelling
breath of liars whose fingernails, dipped in gold, stole
the vowels out of gdnss, lbrty, dmcrcy, and cnstttn
until all significance and spirit is no more than memories
of a time when those who slept in the great white bed
served those who showered them with trust. Shine,
perishing republic, once again, although the house of laws
is spotted with the yellow paint of cowardice
and the green paint of greed. Lice are as common
as snowflakes in your northern mountains and the waves
meant to bear revelations are polluted by words
that lull the crowd into a fatal sleep. O my America,
I’ve swum in your East river with the rats on days
when my cabal of twelve-year olds would skip
school to cool off and clandestinely smoke cheroots
behind abandoned cars near Ebbets Field.
What freedoms we had then, to succeed, to fail, to strive,
to slacken, to praise and disparage. You were a nation,
my perishing republic, the world envied and desired.
One of the hairy army sergeants, a green beret
covering his greased skull, says:
What I know, I know, and that’s enough.
I wouldn’t give a horse’s piss for nutty Nietzsches
and sad sack Spinozas, dragging their tails
across the gray parade grounds, staring into space,
chewing on mumbles and malarial silences,
balancing every syllable on the tip of imagined wisdom,
slipping dry tongues over chapped lips interminably
and musing on nightmares of some sick, dead past, long gone.
Glee doesn’t grow on trees. Nothing can come from nothing
and nothingness can’t be reduced. A word exists
even if no one ever uses it. Should I go pale at learning this,
or sit and forego dinner? The ring of listeners roars,
and the big army boys whose biceps nearly tear their desert sleeves
roar as well. Does that mean the basic issues are clear for them?
Will they ask: "What sort of man did God wish me to be?
Playing what sort of role?" Don’t shrug.
Even nothingness has its uses and the bullet that offers love
and needs no aim, hasn’t been poured yet.
"Really, this can’t continue, it just can’t go on
like this." The morning light bows the shutter slats
as it hurtles through the window to set the walls
ablaze. You’ve noticed nothing, still firing
snores, bubbling the froth of last night’s soured Ouzo
that sloshes deep inside your bloated guts.
A given angle of the sun, this very moment,
marks the pigeon-coated dial outside. The garden
has been up since five, six hours now. Even the finch
expand their feathery chests as if ready to sing.
"Where are you?" The raging bull-sun of Herakleion
this late July is cooking up the land, turning the ponds
into clouds. The sheep find little shelter
under the parched trees. "Really," a friend blurts out,
"quick, come here, hurry and bring a basin."
"Where?" The loud, breathless answer.
"The bile is coming up, it’s running green,"
you’d think a wart-hog roared as a spear was buried
deep in his fleeing organs. The painted eye
of the tip searches for some natural explanation.
Thick fingers pass the pen and the book of white
parchment neatly ruled with red lines, horizontally.
Each page contains a terse complaint, thick ink caked
in the curling letters, thinned now from lying open
in the rain, its color turning gray in spots.
Complaint! It spits a phlegm of words on every page.
The joke, it says,
is on the jar that leaks its witlessness, the jar
not labeled with green script, struck
by my hand, proves by the sound it makes
that it’s no good, not for a world waiting
inside my brain, its clay, mud of a kind
that bleeds too easily. Quick, quick, back
to the potter’s wheel, turn, turn, make it new.
I’ve slept in fields of wheat and barley grain,
owned a sterling saltcellar once,
left by my father’s mother, small and plain it was
but shining like a mirror. Two silver plates
she left for snug snacks by the hearth and a cup,
set with Ruby Zoisite, in which to bless wine.
I had no other patrimony, no worry. I was free
to claim whatever forbears came to mind,
even Spartans, double square removed, a senator
in flowing robes, or a hairless poet of Alexandria.
The ghosts of roses dance in Nijinsky figures
with legs that twine around a thin, imaginary stalk.
Even Nureyev, whose technique came closest
to the madman’s art, never achieved the clarity
of one entrechat, or the height that spectral form
invested with a grandeur that defied pure doom.
Art will not come while life still pretends to steal significance
from practiced acts. After all else is lost and cast
on a heap of smoldering expectations, after that, art
remains, asking nothing but concentration
as the acid with which eternity is etched.
Father of Gods, you never wished to punish tyrants
pricked with poisonous lust with any punishment
than to see Virtue die and know she’s gone forever.
Tell me, was it worse so long ago
when the bronze bull belched fire while a Minoan
roasted inside? Or a sword hung over a royal neck
by just one thread? What do you mean when you say
"I’m cracking,pushed over the edge but still too light
to fall," and go all pale within, feeling a secret thing
rising like heartburn to sour your mouth.
Your wife, in bed beside you, never knew.
I still remember when I was a boy, I’d smear my lids
with onion juice to make me cry when I was told
to memorize the funeral oration of Marc Anthony.
It was great praise, I earned, from my tutor
while my father sat among his cronies, wet
with the hot sweat of pride, chewing an unlit cigar.
I have seen the cranes fly across
the television sky of Hokkaido,
and frogs twist in the dark
Sony ooze to propagate
on the island where the Ainu
live with the brown bear,
lord of the northern mountains,
who plucks the hospitable vegetation
and leaves the meat in peace.
I have filled scores of ignorant hours
with information racing through
the aether, to offer me a world
I can travel in without leaving
my crippled bed or risking storms
that rain only in the cathode rays
of my flickering table-top tube.
Freedom is the offspring of invention.
Once, in jail, I leapt across high walls
or squeezed through narrow bars
to roam shoreless oceans or sit
in shivering solitude on Annapurna’s peak
flying rags of cirrus flags, caught
by telephoto lens. At "lights out" I
walked back into my cell to sleep deeply,
to reach into pockets of my dreams
where the key that could unlock
the windowless steel door that rides
on casters, would roll open until dawn.
Copyright © Oswald Le Winter 2004
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