IN THE BUILDED PLACE
When the slight rasp in his throat starts up
My nuclear war-time goes interior, fills the whole head.
The shock-waved halfway house of hope de-domesticates to splinters.
The stores on the mall are so much bought hambone of desire,
Rorschachs of the mental wobblies, the local sales centers of sex,
Ingestion, degustation flattening in the in-rush of punched air,
Uplifting the fear-bird's white wings, the smothering clutch
Of feathers that crams gullets. And the young boy
Whose sweet life is a keep, is my bank overdraft, my
Joy vault, he, who is not yet even historical, and so
Expends himself in file-throated shout, in play over
The junk-food city, the toy torture of the TV
That makes an idea as political as sliced pie
Or Psyche's credit-card sorting of seeds, laying
Down diet, health, avarice to store coin for
The dim video game of winter. And the child's
Cough, not the madman's speech, is so irrational, so contrary,
That black squander of air, that thick squalor
Where in this century most air is stolen.
HETEROGLOSSIA ON FIFTY THIRD
Streets of a city, I walk and lose the hour.
Today, unsure of what I write, I circumambulate
the new and the ruin, find it
twelve noon amidst museums and gleaming limousines.
A bag lady shouts "I am entitled!" I also
am entitled to my thoughts at least, yet all day,
dream or nightmare do my talk, undo my walk,
so I let talk pitch self into doze or dream and chat:
man, woman, testicle, dessert. The language falls,
a chunk of disembodied sound through space.
My body sometimes feels like a corpse, but talk hears talk,
and I'm entitled in the streets, astride the century's
fatted calf, the pavement-glutted bowel. The talk of
street people is a groaning, each to each; I have heard
them singing on the trash. Ghost words, ghost fuckers!
They utter their words right out to do their ravaging
in me, joining my dead lords of speech like animals
granted province over those on whom they prey.
ON A LINE FROM BAUDELAIRE
at Pere Lachaise
"The dead, the poor dead, have their bad hours"
If there are the dead, have they lived in vain?
Things continue, it all says, the stars bulge and quiver,
The neutrino beats, the oxidizing of metals
Heats modernity. In Paris, over the poor dead,
The tombstones fascinate, the cats hide in
Marble and shrubbery, the walls are like a vise
And enclose. Once they asked for flowers, too late,
For flowers. Green spring honors the living but who
Begged? The spring resonates with her silk; even gravel
Sings, the worm has turned me to poetry. The dead,
The powdered rich: names are taken. History spirals
Into the center of this conch shell, the air swirls
Over Paris, out of reach, lives on, dies on.
The airs of the universe beat oceanic
On these well set up stones.
CONSTELLATIONS OF WAKING
on the suicide of Walter Benjamin
at the Franco-Spanish border, 1940
Something you wrote:
"Eternity is far more
the rustle of a dress
than an idea."
What odd sounds
to listen to
beneath occluded skies
that darken rivers,
Dnieper, Havel, Ebro,
their tree-lined banks ...
"In the fields
with which we are concerned,
knowledge comes only
in flashes. The text
is thunder rolling
And thus, and thus ...
which are not composed of stars
but the curls of shriveled leaves
by which the tree expressed
the notion of the storm. You
lived in storm, your outer life:
"adversities on all sides
which sometimes came
as wolves." Your father --
Europe was your father
who cast you on the path,
hungry, into constellated cities:
Berlin, Moscow, Paris.
Minerva's owl alight,
on what dark branch
to display its polished
and in Paris, the library
no longer on the shelves --
they were "touched," you wrote
"by the mild boredom
one among many
on trees that lead
to a border crossing.
But black wolves in France,
they have changed the idea
of eternity. Toward
Port Bou, bright dust
with the ocean's salt air.
Wave-fleck from train:
each spun light
must have its meaning.
So to consider
as ultimate work
that sea bed of
all citation -
you'd allow nothing of your own -
thus the perfected volume.
And then no death?
The sea is inscribed
with The Prayer
for the Dead. No
author and then
no death? But the leaf
acquired shadow by
the ideal of light,
The books are not
for that was Paris.
This the closed road
from Port Bou
which glistens with the dew
of morning. Redemptive
as tree, as leaf
on the way to a border.
WATER, HEADS, HAMPTONS
"the unbearableness of idyllic literature"
- C A N E T T I
it is summer. Time to be out of time.
Let us read together the world's newspapers.
But the wind blows away the pages of the Times --
they rise, stretch full-length in the breeze like
any vacationer wanting a day in the sun, an even tan
to return with to a city, to proclaim "I too have been away."
Let us read. We can! Memory is our language. We are two
minds that lie athwart each other, two continental plates
with errant nationalities that articulate via subterranean grit.
In time, we will grind this world to powder, to be upraised
and bleached by processes of the seas.
But the wind blows. The surf ripples and slaps with the sough
of all the living and dead it has dissolved, and, with a great
respiratory suck, deposits on the beach what waves
must leave even as they take back what must be taken back.
Ah, you hear the anti-noise where gusts expose the sheet
of crumpled newsprint buried in the sand. What is written
is written. But we will lean close, intent, where
wind-blown grains pepper the page with faint pings.
It is one of those days when my will seems no more
than the will to conflate utter laziness with a poem
or with roiling sleepily in some good sex. Sleep,
0 langorous sleep where I am forgetful of the misery
of history, my brutal West, a dozing Prince
before which all gives way.
lightning at the sea's rim transforms the high
gorgeous blocks of clouds into a dance, a shadow-screen
of our imaginable gods: blue Buddha, Shiva of the knife,
Kali who follows footsteps in trackless sand, aerated Christ!
A weird pang of nameless joy. Look, a swimmer's head
is bobbing in the sea. And I point, my finger
like a sunbeam in a barrel. Here's this head
that moves from horizon to beach, this flesh-dot
that seems to swim away from the end
of an entrapping sentence, re-opening its syntax,
and so, for once, is at work against
premature closure. So I identify
a brother eidolon against the tide's flat reach.
Summer's paradise. Its rhythm. But not
the incessant flights of midges swarming in dark air,
alighting on the body through which hope and pain trickle,
those substantial rivers flowing to the seas.
Will you swat the tic of memory and enter into
ever-present babble of flies? Madness of the words.
Old tropes like brilliance of coral shoals on which
waves break and shipwrecks and glittery cabin lights
are extinguished in the deeps.
To the white sands who will speak a name?
The quiet of dusk comes back. Noiseless flight
of gulls inscribes the air and the world goes down
in a rhythm of deepening colors.
Surely the gods we invent bring out the night's phenomena:
flux into perfection, corollas and auroras, St. Elmo's fire
for all those who suffer the agonies of speech.
no longer offer up yourselves for ceaseless dictation,
no language anyway, our mouths are on each other.
Some lord of silence rises with stars and planets ...
Copyright © 1989 by Michael Heller.
From In the Builded Place, published by Coffee House Press.
Michael Heller Survey
Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry