To be a Jew in the twentieth century
To be a Jew in the twentieth century
Is to be offered a gift. If you refuse,
Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity
Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.
The gift is torment. Not alone the still
Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.
That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,
Daring to live for the impossible.
This is the cripple’s hour on Seventh Avenue
when they emerge, the two o’clock night-walkers,
the cane, the crutch, and the black suit.
Oblique early mirages send the eyes:
night dramatized in puddles, the animal glare
that makes indignity, makes the brute.
Not enough effort in the sky for morning.
No color, pantomime of blackness, landscape
where the third layer black is always phantom
Here comes the fat man, the attractive dog-chested
legless—and the wounded infirm king
with nobody to use him as a saint.
Now they parade in the dark, the cripples’ hour
to the drugstore, the bar, the newspaper-stand,
past kissing shadows on a window-shade to
colors of alcohol, reflectors, light.
Wishing for trial to prove their innocence
with one straight simple look:
the look to set this avenue in its colors—
two o’clock on a black street instead of
wounds, mysteries, fables, kings
in a kingdom of cripples.
Camera at the crossing sees the city
a street of wooden walls and empty windows,
the doors shut handless in the empty street,
and the deserted Negro standing on the corner.
The little boy runs with his dog
up the street to the bridge over the river where
nine men are mending road for the government.
He blurs the camera-glass fixed on the street.
Railway tracks here and many panes of glass
tin under light, the grey shine of towns and forests:
in the commercial hotel (Switzerland of America)
the owner is keeping his books behind the public glass.
Postoffice window, a hove of private boxes,
the hand of the man who withdraws,
the woman who reaches her hand
and the tall coughing man stamping an envelope.
The bus station and the great pale buses stopping for food;
April-glass-tinted, the yellow-aproned waitress;
coast-to-coast schedule on the plateglass window.
The man on the street and the camera eye:
he leaves the doctor’s office, slammed door, doom,
any town looks like this one-street town.
Glass, wood, and naked eye: the movie-house
closed for the afternoon frames posters streaked with rain,
advertise “Racing Luck” and “Hitch-Hike Lady”.
Whistling, the train comes from a long way away,
slow, and the Negro watches it grow in the gray air,
the hotel man makes a note behind his potted palm.
Eyes of the tourist house, red-and-white filing station,
the eyes of the Negro, looking down the track,
hotel-man and hotel, cafeteria, camera.
And in the beerplace on the other sidewalk
always one’s harsh night eyes over the beerglass
follow the waitress and the yellow apron.
The road flows over the bridge,
Gamoca pointer at the underpass,
opposite, Alloy, after a block of town.
What do you want – a cliff over a city?
A foreland, sloped to sea and overgrown with roses?
These people live here.
Waiting for Icarus
He said he would be back and we'd drink wine together
He said that everything would be better than before
He said we were on the edge of a new relation
He said he would never again cringe before his father
He said that he was going to invent full-time
He said he loved me that going into me
He said was going into the world and the sky
He said all the buckles were very firm
He said the wax was the best wax
He said Wait for me here on the beach
He said Just don't cry
I remember the gulls and the waves
I remember the islands going dark on the sea
I remember the girls laughing
I remember they said he only wanted to get away from me
I remember mother saying: Inventors are like poets, a trashy lot
I remember she told me those who try out inventions are worse
I remember she added: Women who love such are the worst of all
I have been waiting all day, or perhaps longer.
I would have liked to try those wings myself.
It would have been better than this.
The South is green with coming spring; revival
flourishes in the fields of Alabama. Spongy with rain,
plantations breathe April: carwheels suck mud in the roads,
the town expands warm in the afternoons. At night the black boy
teeters no-handed on a bicycle, whistling The St. Louis Blues,
blood beating, and hot South. A red brick courthouse
is vicious with men inviting death. Array your judges; call your jurors; come,
here is your justice, come out of the crazy jail.
Grass is green now in Alabama; Birmingham dusks are quiet
relaxed and soft in the park, stern at the yards:
a hundred boxcars shunted off to sidings, and the hoboes
gathering grains of sleep in forbidden corners.
In all the yards: Atlanta, Chattanooga,
Memphis, and New Orleans, the cars, and no jobs.
Every night the mail-planes burrow the sky,
carrying postcards to laughing girls in Texas,
passionate letters to the Charleston virgins,
words through the South: and no reprieve,
no pardon, no release.
A blinded statue attends before the courthouse,
bronze and black men lie on the grass, waiting,
the khaki dapper National Guard leans on its bayonets.
But the air is populous beyond our vision:
all the people's anger finds its vortex here
as the mythic lips of justice open, and speak.
Hammers and sickles are carried in a wave of strength, fire-tipped,
swinging passionately ninefold to a shore.
Answer the back-thrown Negro face of the lynched, the flat forehead knotted,
the eyes showing a wild iris, the mouth a welter of blood,
answer the broken shoulders and these twisted arms.
John Brown, Nat Turner, Toussaint stand in this courtroom,
Dred Scott wrestles for freedom there in the dark corner,
all our celebrated shambles are repeated here: now again
Sacco and Vanzetti walk to a chair, to the straps and rivets
and the switch spitting death and Massachusetts' will.
Wreaths are brought out of history
here are the well-nourished flowers of France, grown strong on blood,
Caesar twisting his thin throat toward conquest,
turning north from the Roman laurels,
the Istrian galleys slide again to sea.
How they waded through bloody Godfrey's Jerusalem!
How the fires broke through Europe, and the rich
and the tall jails battened on revolution!
The fastidious Louis', cousins to the sun, stamping
those ribboned heels on Calas, on the people;
the lynched five thousand of America.
Tom Mooney from San Quentin, Herndon: here
is an army for audience
to a gobbet of tobacco, spat, and the empanelled hundred,
a jury of vengeance, the cheap pressed lips, the narrow eyes like hardware;
the judge, his eye-sockets and cheeks dark and immutably secret,
the twisting mouth of the prosecuting attorney.
Nine dark boys spread their breasts against Alabama,
schooled in the cells, fathered by want.
—Mother: one writes: they treat us bad. If they send
—us back to Kilby jail, I think I shall kill myself.
—I think I must hang myself by my overalls.
Alabama and the South are soft with spring;
in the North, the seasons change, sweet April, December and the air
loaded with snow. There is time for meetings
during the years, they remaining in prison.
In the Square
a crowd listens, carrying banners.
Overhead, boring through the speaker's voice, a plane
circles with a snoring of motors revolving in the sky,
drowning the single voice. It does not touch
the crowd's silence. It circles. The name stands: