. .


by Michael Heller:



Weren't you given a text? To honor the congregation, the organ dulcet,
the cantor's hum, hymnal of Europe's East, steps of sound made fugal

but laden with a weariness (joy for another day), history transmogrified
into plaint upon plaint, to be ushered into manhood, to be brought other's pain.

Early on, the Shekinah gone into exile. Most of that century you saw
not love but power, cruelty, the face which laughs against the sun.

What could you do if you were not steeped in things like the others
but merely walked to buy milk or bread, heaven above, earth below,

to visit the old streets, the elm's grainy seeds lying across paving stones,
tourists milling and the Atlantic past the bridge brilliant as a sword cut.

Saline, solute, salve, this art burning to base metal. What carries one
who would sing a hymn but eddies of language--never the pure thing--

maelstroms and tidal pools, word-forms, the will hemmed in like an ocean
to its basin, rhymed to the rack of its tides. The word's ring deflected

in the baffles of the city into space, echo bounced from storefront to tower,
fading toward soundlessness--ear cupped to catch emptiness, translation

to Paradise from which speech fled. Put down this cloth, said the rabbi.
Cover the text and emplace the cap. Live neither in blacks nor whites.

Avert from the scroll rising above the earth, gaze upon limitless blue,
the inventive weaving of clouds. Live straight ahead. Appearance

will be your pain and mentor. Be at the threshold, not at the Ark.
And later, to go back to plucking a word from the weave,

lamé, silver, deep magenta, designs mazed over the fold, lines and margins,
and underneath, as though one sensed through flesh, the delicate structure

of beths and vavs on parchment, the inner and outer of secrets.



                  to AS, in memorium

Finding the nothing full, I bring myself back
to the day's page, the window's revealing expanse

of snow, bardos tamped down upon bardos ("it is not
possible to contract for a stay"), brittle leaves

which sign but do not speak, the frost, the graveyard
across the road leaking its supply of portents, jargons

of elegies, white words without issue, the swan
on thin ice, images which imbue, only to lend perfume
to the acrid taste of being countried outside a soul.


At midnight, Orion and the Dog Star swell in blackness.
And on clouded nights, no constellation and no consolation.

Intelligence unable to code another winter night which, like
a tunnel, leads back to a helplessness only a child should feel.


At the window, January's sparse glories:
ice crystals adhering to rocks,

also winter birds that never quite
belong in snow-struck landscapes--

they signal what burns up old mechanisms,
the rote cyclicals of seasons, routines

into which one-way time-bound bodies are cast.
Winter making one desire--that part of it

containing stars or blankets, anything memory
clings to or words rend open. Stagnant water

reflecting back ridges of heaped up ground.
An autumnal reflux embodying a sorrow

or hunger for unfixed space. Death imagined
as a motionless mode of contemplation.


This world, that--I know one
should stop. Tired eyes

should rise from inked blue
lines inscribed on yellow pad.

And that the eye should elect
this hovering blur which,

if one is tired enough, becomes
spectral green as though

through writing one came
again to a parkland.


Do you Atrust@ phenomena? Old literalist,
Blake=s guinea sun is mocking you.

These short days blend unawares into nights,
instructions in how to join the great poets.

O yon pillowed laughter! Yet somewhere,
a dog howls, and self-knowledge is suddenly

the heat of an immense banked fire. Gone now,
names sequent to things unnamed. The blank page

no mystery. Composition is, composition is....


Philosopher's stone, shrine room's hoardings.
Everything under the august calm of the sacred.

Still panic that one can't live to the smallest jot,
to the least syllable of the matter. Wasn't it called

ghost or haunting, an iota of someone left?
Remember the dead or must a kind of iotacism

be proposed? Homer long ago: each beat
of the line awash in Heraclitus's river.


Scouring words for the relieving aura,
breathing deeply old vocabularies of sea,

of pine, ever-present tinge of salt.
Panoply of stars, planets. But often

one can't find what is being searched for,
the galaxy seemingly drained of that covenant.

Thus is it written out for syntax's rules,
for the untranslatable memory of black holes,

for voice, for love and against concept.


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Copyright © 2003 by Michael Heller

Light and Dust Anthology of Poetry