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CITIES

(Alashka, Part 1)

by

Janet Rodney and Nathaniel Tarn

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NT, Paris, to JR, New Hope: 5/17/76


Remember the morning
after the tourists had whooped it up all night 
making a ruin of Pennsylvania
                 we sat in our forest 
the one we pretend to own
                 (until about noon
when the tourists come back to claim it) 
         and we listened to the birds 
with our eyes closed
                 making time together 
   outside of history?
It's the poetry going thru us matters I believe
                 not ourselves as poets
same as the life, bird to bird, season to season
   not the bird itself.

Remember in future:
                 when you can't see the birds 
close your eyes and listen --
then they will unfold their major gifts.
    As they work, going about survival,
they offer, for whatever purpose of their own 
                 those astonishing sounds 
which gives us meaning.

                 We heard that concert then 
which had been kept from us all season 
                 by our "responsibilities," 
day of invisible music
                 rustling up summer, 
   opening the road.
"Thank God" we said, "we are going back
                 to every thing that matters."

Time of patience now, testing out
                 our memory of roads once travelled
   further than night
in an air of crystals.where the breath 
                 is multi-faceted as thought.  
Patience hunts the poem.
                 The poem surrenders, opening 
a two-way mirror.  Each life answers the other.



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JR, New Hope, to NT, Paris: 5/18/76


Answer a poem.
Only this one
wasn't dialed.
The door opened 
I stepped inside 
& found your message 
on the floor.
Answer.
I mean, a half
of what I say to you 
comes from you. 
& I trust you 
to make the connection 
when I don't, I rely 
on your intelligence.

People used to write letters.
They would get up early and write.
While their minds were fresh.
Set the day straight in writing.
Wire the day with words.
A diary for someone other.  
They would give away 
their best mind
and still have time.

Just as
there's light
at both ends 
of a tunnel 
& we carry this bulb 
from one end 
to the other,
I thought,
when I picked up yr. note 
this is a light 
transmission: 
moves so fast 
it's invisible,
moves so slow 
it's invisible, 
a feather passing 
over skin, 
the gradual brightening 
of male plumage, 
the order of seasons.
What are you doing now?

Each summer I
start to record
my dreams.

We were
sitting in a chair 
back to back 
with a double face 
& through our mind 
a movie flashed 
of changing shadows, 
we both could see light 
but at different ends.  
I turned to say -- 
but you weren't there, 
you were
at the back of my mind,
eyes staring out
of my crown,
pulling me
towards the light.



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NT, Paris, to JR, New Hope: 5/20/76


I sit at one of the crossroads of the city
which is itself all one crossroads of the universe.
Born here: so as to speak.
                      No stone has moved, n.b.,
                      the spirit-city still
                                 in essence 
                      inviolate.
First station of the cross,
                      morning after arrival
gas-chambers monument 
at the tip of Notre Dame:
     "They went unto the ends of the earth and they
                      did not return."
I had waited years to see that.
   We have been, returned,
                      and are going again soon.
Later, at the Laboratoire for social anthropology,
   fall nose to spine with the British Columbia collection.
Levi-Strauss has seen at last, I am informed,
                      the Skeena's mist-skirts.

          I fly the Alashka flag among crowds
half of which carry the flags and patches of other nations 
and are far too busy doing that to care about AK.
          I meet with Jacques Roubaud
who will walk three months from Minnesota to Louisiana 
          setting his spine on Mark Twain's rock.  
  We might send him a postcard as we cross?
The correspondences cannot end, not if they tried to.
The center is just another margin of another center
                      bound by whale bones and beach ridges 
                      stretched like time's bow 
                         behind the arctic sea.
                                      Giddings, Louis:
homage to that man who dug us in 
   thousands of years into the past, back of 
first tattle of trekkers hunting land
   when all they had to do was stand still.
                       And did. So as to speak.

The girl at lunch gets up, over and over,
                      stoops on her lover
    so as to show the breasts in her open blouse.
I eat her breasts, among my salad, which is what she wants
          and miss your body language.
(Besides which, it is all good cannibalism, within custom.)
     Tonight, the Deutsches Requiem at Notre Dame 
          with my lady mother, city-born also, 
who comes here to wake her own mother 
          lying between death and sleep,
                    the small, cold waves
          bearing the birds of life
                    on the swell of the Bering Sea.

Tomorrow I read my poems on the French radio
          in this language I first spoke--
chatting with dear Deguy and Claude Royet-Journoud
                                      about Alashka.
And, of course, every night, the Seigle, my second parents
who love me from my twenties.  My fellow student Chiva too,
and Lucien Biton, cook to the mortal mind,
    cousins and uncles also: Claude, Daniel, Marion.  
While my mother's mother dies at one end of Paris 
          and at the other end, another of her sons.

                    Meanwhile I recommend
    our Pennsylvania to you as you wake 
                    since you still sleep there 
    six hours behind me on the waves of May
                    among our wrens and orioles.
             Until our bones can buck the thaw 
and freeze again in old
             yet still so virgin summer ice 
and feel no pain, life draining out,
             as we return outside of human time, 
                                       to the great bow 
which draws the earth, and every nature in it,
                       backwards to origin. . .
             I travel hard, with little company, 
shuttle between the living and the dead,
             being of ice now, in my inmost thoughts,
and tho the world beats here with all its blood.




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JR, Madrid, to NT, Paris: 5/24-25/76


Above the Atlantic 
many miles high 
imagine me 
flying backwards 
to that place between the ribs, 
that warmest of 
all hearts,
where they
bury their dead.
I suppose
the priest
told them to put up 
a picket fence: 
they took their slats 
from the biggest tree. 
& what better place 
than a grove of 
whalerib.
Different from this cage 
skimming the tops of clouds 
while somewhere below 
you walk thru a door 
or sit at the crossroads 
where you have been lounging 
these past days in my mind 
in that last masque 
you painted 
of vegetable family, 
packed in quilts 
of ice.




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JR, Madrid, to NT, London: 5/27/76


To be idle rich
not my wish
nor idle poor
but somewhere between 
something parasitic maybe 
unclaimed by gods or men 
with time to do nothing, 
or not.
As one chooses.
To engage the world
with time
to live & die
in doses
chosen at will
or letting either come 
as it will
to do me in
or out,
to glide over
the mind's cities & woods 
stepping through 
the broken lights on pavements 
or clearings
between your eye and mine 
walking under the rains 
within that fall,
leaving us dry as winter 
aging in our frames,
but with words to say it 
& let them rise around us, 
the words, and think:
"how they rise like a city around us"
or, "how they rise like a forest in our middle" 
and watch them grow,
and watch us grow.




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NT, Paris, to JR, Madrid: 5/26/76


This morning I heard a
                   bird among stars
   Egypt was singing
                   in the dark,
                           the king's 
childhood sat under the falcon's shadow 
who had descended from the sun,
                    down ladders from the sun
and become, in the lower world,
          darkness.
                                           --They

made these stones
          last some 3000 years
solid and earth-bound
          like his grandfather (Ramses's) 
who writes the earth down:
          birds all the names of 
          birds & all the trees around.
                   Fish in blue pools.
                Heat   /   heat.  Far from 
the ice-cap, bringing down the pole 
                over the golden faces 
of women longing at stars
          bulls, geese, hares
                plaited in their tresses . . .

                Do you know
                         how OLD we are
     to
speak to each other
          one in Paris      /      one in Madrid
                   (under Velazquez light,
          London between, later    Pennsylvania 
and later still
          departure in the dark
                 again toward the pole?
          Old with the world behind us 
enough to have made ourselves
                          in our separation 
cry to each other
          taking in hand our sexes 
                          each creating 
from the rush of it
          (brother & sister holding free hands)
                          an independent world . . . 

                          And a world created from that.
          My that and your this.
From the mixing of.  My this and your that.
Nor woman/nor man.  Bird.  Fish.
                    Hinted at in former times.
                                    Never    more.



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JR, Madrid, to NT, London: 5/30/76


This was my piece of Eden once, 
the clear Velazquez air 
& sky so close 
to old stones, 
rainworn tiles 
sloping streetward, 
lines clear 
as your eye, 
bells contrapuntal 
music of the night, 
clear, as your mind 
among stars, 
marking another time, 
the falcon's, 
his laser eye (like yours) 
slept and woke 
to sound of steps 
going down 
rung by rung 
to darkness,
wings spread out like hooks
to draw up the fish.

But there's nothing
of innocence 
here now, goes back 
to a sound of laughter, 
like water, 
a hand churning 
deep inside the pools 
as fish leapt up 
the ladders of fountains, 
sun glinting off their scales, 
they hit the sky 
dazzling in their flight, 
their migration north.

Now the Eden lies 
like sun behind the rain, 
when it comes, 
revealing all the splendors 
of darkness. its colors ...




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JR, Madrid, to NT, London: 6/1/76


From this poverty of nature, 
all I can give you right now 
is gold among the pines at noon, 
      dark groves of the Meseta,
             their metal strings
                     sighing above the trenches
where an army of brothers
assailed their brothers in the city.
             Today,
      flowers were exploding among nettles, 
      each seed a parachute
      ready for the wind.
On that prow of land
I tend most afternoons
to drive out to with my Mother.

      pointing (like a ship)
      to the Sierra de Guadarrama,
                I stood like a mast
                as suddenly a gust
                      rippled the grass 
                      and, sails full,
                I was borne off,
                Mother waving from the pier, 
on a trip of discovery,
you and I back in Alashka,
                putting in at coves 
      where high peaks veer into the sea 
      & snow falls throughout the year,
                       delicate lace-tips 
                       hardening on top 
      while far below, the ice, 
      softeneing under its own weight 
begins to flow
and cracks in the surface 
open and close,
      the whole mass breathing
      as it tramples over woods/lakes
wearing down/
building up
new mountains,
              gouging out valleys 
              where the milk-carrying rivers 
              deposit their sands,
                      rubbing the earth's muscle 
       with sun-golds, moon-silvers and ice-whites.



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NT, London, to JR, Madrid: 5/29/76


This morning I found: 
"...and they shall take down 
the veil of the screen 
and cover the ark 
of the testimony with it 
and shall put thereon 
a covering of sealskin
and shall spread over it 
a cloth all of blue..."
What were the seals doing in Israel I asked.
                                    For once the
rabbis couldn't answer.


Of all the outer masks:
the oldest operational again.
      I woke to watch my son ceasing to be a child,
wearing, on his shoulders, the shawl
      of all humanity, present and absent.
In his voice, a sorrow old as sand:
      our people chased like rats out of the Egypt.
                          This morning I heard the
Egypt singing, a
                very sweet bird
I longed for, but 1:      (was ice, I came
                to the sun and was ice.


                In my tradition:
these men left Egypt
aeons ago--since then 
leaving the home they found also.  
Their aspirations have become 
                another home
                           and the ice
has ceased to bother them.
                They have no knowledge 
      of solitude. The race dreams a home 
      but Isaiah, Elijah, Ezekiel
                are no longer among them.


                             They claim
the thing is live, moves, changes 
but have no knowledge of change 
or what could bring it about.
                In their blindness
the poet-princes of Israel escape them, 
they don't see them here.


                This morning I heard
the Egypt singing, a
                very sweet bird
      voice of sunlight, coming out of a pool,
                turquoise, with goldfish veins.

Egypt was saying to the prophets
"Princes: unto you the song is given.
The exile which never ends is yours
                                and goes 
beyond the desert, into the fertile land 
and beyond the fertile land 
into the desert again, but 
this time it is a desert of ice
                at the ends of 
      known world.
          Where Egypt sings now, you would not 
      believe it."

And the Diaspora went forward 
   into eternity as such 
is my take on us poets:
we are sundered   /   sundered and...
                                 the world goes round 
in never ending spirals, and, 
we remain sundered   /   rootless   /   unhoused 
      until the end.
When the Egypt sings, she has our voice,
           People of no country, flesh of the poets: 
where Egypt sings now, you would not 
                             believe it.

           I watch my son ceasing to be a child 
with a coat of sealskin on his shoulders, 
his voice rising into the rafters
           (to a drum he hears alone) 
   holding up the house.
His voice keeps him alone, 
the people fall off, drop back
                              into 'their secrets.
    My son rises on his own voice
                              takes up the harpoon 
            de profundis 
from the cloth all of blue:
            they have mistaken for the sky,
            when it is the sea, mother of all 
when it is the cloth of waters 
gave us our birthright 
and the seal sings in his own voice 
far into arctic nights 
the race forgot to name 
in the first days 
when all was gold and silver
           white as yet unknown 
asleep in the tip of the first harpoon
                     floating in the ocean.

                     We that are poor 
and yet have riches beyond the dreams 
of the men you and I know 
out there on the ice 
at the very end of world!
                     This morning I heard the
    Egypt singing
                a very sweet bird,
    all the inheritance of Egypt 
    all arts and musics 
    the old and silver poems..
But the Egypt was no Ionger a center.

What is our poverty (in regard to the riches of Egypt)
    beside the poverty of those who are poor
in regard to us?
                                    What is it like 
    that extremity of being poor 
on the fringes of the wide skirt of the diaspora 
    who is homeless to the end of time
                 out there with her children 
the children she has most lost
    in the blizzard, on the ice,
at the forward edge
of this thing that is supposedly changing,

that will not change, ever,
until all has been made sun-gold, or moon-silver,
                            or ice-white?




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JR, Madrid, to NT, London: 2/6/76


It is so good,
even in letters,
to keep the flesh between us 
      and the poems happening always 
      in amorous terms
             we both understand.
The meat of a rose
unfolding before our eyes 
& as we enter it
      in a text so wide 
      the whole garden 
      rises & declines there, 
we don't feel too much 
the loneliness of a long day 
spent apart in different lives,
      secreting words for an old world 
      grown dim in its ways
             and far from that northern rim 
             we've been leaning towards 
             these past years, pushed out
                        by centrifugal force, 
almost driven, from that mythical middle 
we call home.
      It is, I suppose,
      like water cascading down 
             that never falls 
or like the ice
on top of the globe
      that flows so slowly 
      it can only be seen 
             as still.
             And white.
We seem to move out
      from center to rim 
      and back
             both poles attracting,
             unable to be still.




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NT, London, to JR, Madrid: 6/3/76, 09.30 hrs.


Your three received
          (Alashka/Madrid), my own
London's out
          but, necessarily, the speed of light
around the world, into Pt.  Hope, and back
not calculated for:
    some seizure in the data, something broke.
"It works!  It works!"...
                         Tha-
              lassa, Tha-
                         lassa:   we have reached
                                              the sea

(too many musics playing, not sure
the subtlety of this is getting thru) but drafts, drafts
                         against the future.

This morning
Kluane        
             between your thighs
not knowing the mixture of waters
      white with the snows 
formed by our bloods in drainage of each other 
what degree of melt, into each other, 
as when the river and the sea meet 
and become one water.
Kluane,
      Klu/a/ni
flowing thru my mind
& our feast day
      spreading the cloth of waters between us,
placing the food on the cloth
      birds in our eyes
rising, plunging,
      the bodies like ships 
crossing in the night
   executing
      complex manoeuvres
around each other,
                    berthing
         BIRTHING

              because we are woman
                      & man
                         both with words.

I thought I would take the air 
as it remains, stubbornly clear for both of us, 
a kind of peace
              having descended upon us at the same moment, 
the air: castille or ile de france or thames 
all one pale color, ice, 
and, breaking it apart, 
reveal our mouths, frost-rimmed, eating each other 
and each other's words 
as the totem-birds 
in the night, invisible, 
speeding over our cities, 
carrying our thoughts 
into each other's minds
                   our desires into each other's 
thighs,
           migrating,
                   mixing the waters...
                            AND THIS BREAK, ing?


           it is a picture of mind
at work, you realize now,
nor idle rich, nor idle poor, but somewhere
                              in between,
to take, as I have always dreamed,
the whole world to one place & call both home,
the world melted into the place, the place
    into the world,
and why should not this be
those far, far, lots but, ah, untravelled so,
they stay so clear in the mind, so crystal clear,
            the mind can work on them, not be confused by 
world so too much with us, as are now 
these cities of the flesh we must transform:
                        cities of intellect.

Yes, the wind blows 
already over our bones.
We must find the 
locus of those bones.
Life is the business
                       death has with us,
it is nothing but
                a matter of
                          recognition.
    And out of that the poem.  
I'll hunt as never before.  
There will be, among children,
                       nothing like this child:
they will say the ice
                  works miracles.




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JR, Madirid, to NT, London: 6/3/76

                           "...and no craftsman, of whatsoever 
                           craft he be, shall be found any more
                           in thee... for thy merchants were the
                           great men of the earth; for by thy
                           sorceries were all nations deceived."



             You can listen
              to the Egypt sing
              lucky you,
              but I hear guns
              & hoofbeats in the distance,
                     someone riding all night,
                     the wind in his cloak
                     a cancer on his face
      from Dover to Philadelphia
      to break a tie
      changing the course
      of what?
              Sent Delaware to Revolution 
                   sent men to their graves 
                         sent England finally packing
in the name
      of such a hackneyed tale
      I don't have to tell you,
              you lucky,
              a bird in your ear, 
              myth at least 
              to make your day
      while I
      with my bestiary
      of ancestors
      listen to an ominous drone,
             looking for that mud
             not in the Nile,
             but the cantilevered nest
             sending down its cones
             under our eaves,
our "promised land"
with its final sting
sending all hope,
all new-found things,
to market.
             You can say
             it's the Egypt singing 
             but it's your voice 
             I hear,
             giving it all a season,
                               joining all the oceans 
                               or taking the whole world 
                               to one place,
                      your boy
                      holding up the roof
                      because you have been standing 
                      since he began 
              holding up that roof
                      for him with your song.
In my tradition:
      these men left England 
      not so long ago 
      and since
              have found another home 
              in their sorceries 
              with which they deceive
                      all nations: and home
                                    is what can buy 
                                    and what can sell,
                      all else in exile: how easy 
                      it must have been, 
                      far from land 
                      to see the hills 
      through which our Delaware moves, 
      its birds of many kinds 
      making their homes on its banks
            rubbing the air with their wings.  
In spite of hardship,
      how easy
      it would be
      for those early travellers
            to change their course, 
            an easy move upriver 
            to a landscape as yet
                     unspoiled by history.

Your song, not Egypt's
will stop the lynx, yes,
stupefy him in his tracks,
      the rivers will be silent,
      for a moment
      stop their flow,
            the wind
            will die down
            the leaves will be still
                  & long after the ice has gashed our feet
                  I'll remember your rhythm,
            how it speaks. of a paradise
            where we could grow old together
                  & where love can grow
                  as the trees grow,
                                 far from the riches of Egypt.




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The United States are about to descend upon Alashka.  
On the ferry, as you sail up the spectacular coastlines, 
there is nowhere you can escape the "Muzak." The Army 
of consumers is prevented from realizing that nature 
is more than just a moving window.

The tragedy of this State is that it is the last
in the Union (so far as we know) about to be "developed," 
this time with all the options known and documented.  
Yet it is already defeated for lack of planning, lack 
of faith where planning exists, lack of leadership and 
above all a belief in monolithic "Progress."

Progress meaning: "more jobs, more people, more 
improvements." There is no other notion of "Progress." 
The garage man at Kachemak Bay told us of an oil pros-
pector he threw out because of "overbearing manners." 
Yet oil itself would ruin his town eventually.  We can 
be individual but not collective in our last stands.

The people who homesteaded here had solitude and 
risk to dignify their poverty.  Now the tidal waves 
flood up, with instant "Culture," instant "Communications," 
instant "Betterment." Everyone is instantly rich.  What 
can the homesteader do but sell out and move on?  For that 
matter, where to?




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Copyright © 1979 by Janet Rodney and Nathaniel Tarn.

From Atitlan / Alashka, published by Brillig Works.


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