Nathaniel Tarn - "The Great Odor of Summer"



Nathaniel Tarn


The land has been dead in its pores all the war long now wakes to dogwood without transition we've had no time at all for spring great perfume exhalations on the edges of summer fast water births and blood-filled afterbirths the gloat of trees leaf legions shining trash of bird squadrons animal regiments coursing of eagles through clouds freeing the perfumes needles of warbler beaks in the clouds opening avenues for the freshening rain High on sleep high on our own desires to the high scream of jays their presages taking over these fields from the predators our own authority returning to our hands high on sleep high over arguments messages codes informations listening to the say-so of time South Carolina talking the other day of the line which is the circle which is the line while more inches than needed were to lie down in Ohio and in the trees the leaves were opening to a music not only the trees were to hear seeds were preparing their shadows not only for generations of birds and warblers were weaving round thick trunks a female lure to our preparations to perfume the reddening rain In a small corner of the dreamtime I dreamed the ceremony I had not seen on the first field those many years ago in the abundance of waters it was the pendant rite of bringing in the summer ah the rain we had talked of that had practiced that except that here the colors were as bright as hay and corn and cardinals and the brown of an infant's shit the war-chief had looked up at me sideways my presence worried him and the peace-chief too holding his kite with which he was about to tie the earth to outer suns to stars they decided to carry out the rites just as I woke in a corner of the dream between hut and hut and in her thickets in her lowest reaches where revolution slips in her red placenta we look to find in the bent over branches the paradisal forking of desire these odors of her effluence her loving pollution love's yielding form as yet unknown to all our lunge and parry in the dark I came to poetry late had looked to other things for my family and woke to find myself an orphan to all else then came my mother-fathers brothers sisters cousins sons daughters grandchildren as thick as sand in the shape of other poets whose books I kissed as precisely as I would kiss a stone on falling in love with its polish Warblers' wings like mouths brushing against the dark butterflies panting wet cunts of violets worms in the slime of the moon the sun's hair streaming bent to our roots as our heads batter the skies the great odor of love spreads from our crotches out there to break the gathering dark Well What will you do with the Academy? saw down the branch you sit on? change it? burn it? rape it? drown it in wine and sperm? dance it to ritual? retrieve it for disaster? fruitful disaster? take it over for your own harvest? occupy the great odor? When we sit down to talk of values and start where most men end neglecting the simple beginnings we make an end of the Academy I am interested in those who begin at the beginnings philosophers in caves playing with light and shadow taking the explanations of others who sit in caves and welding them together into one answer Look do you know that 99% of mankind is syncretistic that isms are a luxury of the rich and that we with our eyes of ice our eyes of petal and flame our eyelids like the wings of summer flies in the great light of total opposition are poor and rightly poor and rightly rightly poor? And Beatrice if she had lived what then? if she'd been met with at every corner by the poet at his work or at his meditations if she had walked with that sweet front of hers to the wind like an ageing revolution with banners her hair against the sharp horizon of her wings with rhetoric on her upper lip and the booty of war on the lower? No the muse dies to the high cry of jays the muse ages she changes altogether the muse dies to the high omen of jays in the cut-up of the summer sky and we start another revolution our authority returns to us in the great odor of summer in the freshness of our own days The small blue world in my hand like an eye I have lost I glare at with the other eye the small blue world running with blood prepared for you while we select the America we are dreaming and the great elegy that the world is writing for itself in silence somewhere hardly known to itself which we recite behind our voices each time we speak To the Academy in the tundra to the Academy in the forest to the Academy in the fields to the Academy in the marshes to the Academy in the mountains to the Academy in the clouds to the Academy in the rivers to the Academy in the seas to the Academy of love to the Academy of pleasure to the Academy of beauty to the Academy of desire to the Academy of surprise to the Academy of imagination to the blood on the pavements and on the bayonets to the blood on the brain's gutters on the heart's highways to the blood on our hands and in our armpits to the blood in our eyes and in our matted hair to the blood over this field as over Ohio we subscribe high on sleep high on our own desires under the screams of jays in the great odor of summer v. v. mcmlxx


Copyright 1970 by Nathaniel Tarn.

From A Nowhere for Vallejo, published by Random House, New York.

The date of composition, May 5, 1970, given in roman numerals, is the day on which National Guard troops executed student demonstrators at Kent State University.

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