The East Village

Harold Rhenisch


"Lady, I've borne delay and will again
 Bear long delay in trust of high attaining."

  Arnaut Daniel

As you rested
on the white sill,
the swallows
came to you --
sunflash on water --
what you could believe in --
"It is Ezra's heart in the dish!",
as you rested: light,
and earth,
and the mind clear,
and the body a river.
There is no cooler shadow.

The water burns your tongue
into words. The words are not
swallows, darting
out of dusk,
the thick water of the sea
that has lived past us --
they are small words
to ride the hot
wind among the mountains
outside my window:

and a man reaching to fill it;
and the swallows
calling you back,
on the rough wood of the table,
the wind freeing you.
In an ill season
a man can accept that --
cold water in the face,
a slammed door, and you
having knocked
with nothing but your words
to talk to; a table
nailed from packing crates:
your wealth the money books
that brought the light to them -- dark,
pebbled beaches,
lapping at the hand-smoothed,
oak planking of the moon. Ezra,
who would have changed the world.

Mountains, rising --
light, that a man can live with
for years -- one afternoon's light:
I feel you there: stone,
grained with wood, grass,
a pale wash of water, a brush
being drawn, effortlessly -- guided.

"A minor satirist..." You wrote that.
It's good that you've flown,
not to have to hear that
in the salt hay again
of your memory,
the grass rushing off its seeds,
draining light,
a swamp of stars; good
that you have held out,
that you outlived us --
stars burning your hair.

But the swallows return --
green chest feathers,
iridescent as flies
in a child's memory,
their backs black purple
out of Brueghel;
and through your head
Vivaldi's "Mastery of the human voice",
the swallows flashing their hunger
as the earth turns away from light,
as, the light failing,
blue silver,
gathering to the water,
you sing -- out of tune.

You have given everything
to fly, as a swallow would,
with your voice in its veins,
through light.

Those are words. Language
between men and men
tastes of roots damp with rain,
the black ribbing of leaves
in small blue currents,
streams. Words
rise from the white surface
of the air, that surface
where light burns through itself;
in such stillness
that you can drink.

'A man with an eye for colour...'.
She believed you, there,
singing at her window,
in bad English, Arnaut
standing at your shoulder
the next day, all day,
mixing colours -- cimmerian,
daffodil and cloud --
to get the palette right --
not to paint
but to sing the mind;
the mad all day at your shoulder
in time: Arnaut,
who sang of women
you couldn't know -- they're dead -- pity --
your youth parched --
such detail to woo with!;
cribbed -- not cut smooth
or well fitting --and in translation.

But to remake verse --
wheat that is moving paint
by an act of will, words
that are will made manifest --
I can smell their oil:
so is the man driven,
in poverty,
to create from old gods
a world
in which he can live.
It is this world. It is you
who cannot be reconciled. I hold
you in the mind,
to carve a pattern in the mind,
to interpret nothing.

Sliced and laid out on a stone
an apple is not luxury.
Life won't draw us out of silence,
but out of colour -- the silence
is a pattern for the mind
to draw from -- salt crystals, snow
in the hour before storm.
What is drawn: hours in a dream --
but not time. Don't be silent.

Words aren't for those with power.
Every word says that,
the ink fine on the pages,
such beauty is not for those
with power, the weight of the lead
set into the ink. Such beauty:
every word grows past the dead
like a wingbeat, the wind.
It's hard to think of you
living with them: the dead,
who live in light,
have no need to think. In the end
you would not need poetry,
its cadence the sea1s.

The calm vortex  of storm
can be painted --
and so walked through:
words as if painted
on paper, dreams
as if in rain,
the colours thin air.

"Propaganda" is not "easy"
to speak -- intelligently --
through; art is in disrepute --
"a botched civilization": you who belonged
and did not belong;
but to the wind-blown clatter
of the leaves
at your feet in Autumn. The valley
rises clear to the stars
within me, who you have freed
to live apart
as a summer wind.

Light can only be measured
by light. If measured by dark,
the light is unseen.
The darkness matters.
Stones in a river bottom
don't feel the wind --
or the water -- as we would,
dying: if measured by light,
the dark can be forgotten. The firs
on the valley wall are black
in winter, blue in spring --
translucent. Snow
is the mirror of water
I have called for
in mimicry of the mind: light,
a world in rich hue,
our absence.

The words pressed close
to leave room for decision,
the poem is a mind thinking;
and the wind is firm
between us; dawn already rising
from frozen air.
A blast of heat through the doorway,
light blowing out, swirling:
I step in to greet you --
rising from your chair, awkward,
a book held in your hands,
nervously, in deprecation.
"It is so cold. Thoughts
I chased for 60 yrs.: the waste
of a lifetime. Men are desire,
burning. Usura
turns the mind to fire.
She turns the mind to flame.
Words are so cold now,
without that,
in what I claimed for them --
glint of sun off grape leaf,
the mind stirring,
restless, ungathered. This
is not such a bad place --
Dante didn't have it right:
I've lived with the damned already,
tho' I couldn't write of them.
Only the living hurt me now."

"What's the matter with him?" [Graves],
from the trenches,
who came to sing of women,
terrible, in his old age, in English
you learned too thinly --
it wasn't yours to sing of,
American of slow words.
The world escapes us,
doesn't it, Ezra, 'til it burns
to the ground of human hate: reality
you tried to come to

with elusive words,
and arrived at, caged -- poetry
a book to read in the shithouse;
remaking time for your country,
the country of loneliness,
without blessing.
They thought you were dangerous --
your cage rusted in the rains.
The blue burns of the welds
that held you glistened
in benediction. "Who
out of all terror
knows my words now?"
more than forgotten.

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