Wednesday, June 8, 2016

A Ben Maddow (David Wolff) Poem

The City

Children of the cold sun and the broken horizon,
0 secret faces, multitudes, eyes of inscrutable grief,
great breath of millions, in unknown crowds or alone,
rooms of dreamers above the cement abyss, —and I,
who all night restive in the unsleeping rain,
awoke and saw the windows covered with tears.

I heard, like the noise of melting rivers, the concourse of the living
all hours mingled, violent, murmuring, or bright:
the cheers; the radio; the metal shriek of the accident;
the whisper of hired affection, hit of the week,
applause; gunfire on the screen; and at night the tragic houses
issuing like voluble flame the outcries of the city.

Yet none pronounced the truth, no hand disclosed
the heartbreak behind the muted door, denying all.
I longed to read letters therefore which were never sent,
to pierce walls, covers, silences, part the sad lips,
to stand by warm bed and witness the instantaneous dream,
put my hand in men's foreheads and clasp the beating spring.

The girl in the park cried Juan! Juan! but it was not I.
None answered, but I felt the breath of unknowable love.
Dawn silent: an old woman climbed with dry hands
the iron stoop where her daughter feared to give birth.
None spoke, but waited to watch the discolored twins drawn forth,
wrapped on the bed together, born to neglect.

Light on the painful eyelids, agony of beginnings;
the assault naked against the edges of the world;
then the long childhood inexplicably kind or cruel;
the boy fingering himself, the flush of the blind pulse,
the maiden touching the first blood of sex;
still ignorant of desire, the double wilderness.

Life smiles with heavy breast: her children run
forward with shouts, hunger, the impulse of free affection;
but each gets punished for his open face, each falls
twisted, twisted returns, gets dreaded blow, and turns
back screaming into that room at last, into himself
obscure, restful with lonely forces, like the sea.

The young return, —but cold, with skin-tight mask,
seeing this city honors most the most false:
the lady behind glass, untouched by human hand,
with plaster pubis, thigh, and docile belly lifting
the admired fabric up for sale, —
while the living long to wear her enameled eyes.

Within is dearer merchandise: men and numbered words
cold, vehement, or admiring, as the price demands;
where the painter hangs for sale beside his work,
the critic, the peddler, and the smiling acrobat;
toady and plagiarist for the price of one;
and a masked surgeon offering jars of happiness.

The sheen, the glamour, and the marvelous fanfare,
the alluring neon and the porcelain smile,
the arranged caress of furs, the forearm blazing with dollars,
the headlines bought in advance for the subnormal beauty;
and all life long the shoppers with laboring hearts
desire and possess at last: the corpse in cellophane.

Black halloween! I walked with the crooked nun;
heard the cruel father sob in the empty room,
and households dining together in daily hatred;
the posed hysteria, and the idiot calm; and those
whose love was poisoned with delay, I saw still smile,
— and felt in myself forever the anguish of understanding.

0 lost people! 0 vendors of desperate myths!
Who prints the cold path of stars that promise voyages?
Who markets the daydream to the tubercular,
puts obscene clothing on the frigid wife,
makes woman its soft automaton, and man its bed,
and brands the false face on the living flesh of the child?

I read the smooth journals, but they gave no news of this.
Who rents the cells of this city? Whom shall I learn to kill?
The mysterious pencil? The dealer in abstract food?
Or past the chrome-steel and the politeness of corridors,
with row of buttons summoning tears or flattery,
at his old powerful desk, the immaculate imbecile?

As I walked on the glossy avenue, and with morose fire
thought the immense proud fraudulence to vivisect,
I heard the derision and the girls' duet of laughter
of two who stopped before me with flaunting hair,
insulting the photo of the noted man,
who, finger in his printed cheek, could not reply.

All three we drank together, mentioning love,
delights, friends, quick passion, and the fine pale sky.
So rapid cognac glittered in our heads,
while I to each gave sumptuous years; to one
her house with windows full of the green sea light;
and foretold one to have love wherever she goes.

And late, after the headlong passage of first desire,
now two alone, we lay awake in murmuring ease,
and spoke again of happiness, and of the elan of flight,
and as outdoors the high branch yielding to invisible air,
so she to her wish to learn the touch of that wand,
hold motor, and ride on the immeasurable gestures of space.

Night dwindling, from how many tranquil hands, white
morning extends the beautiful directions of the word;
luminous chasms, city of vertical south, north,
upward, dark march of windows, inlaid each by that star
softening with precious light in streams of dawn
toward the close court, the black leap, and the suicide's open eye.

Like a fall forward into time too fast, is death,
springing in each the coil of irreversible years:
the lymph and architecture of the self,
unique delirium, lust, and dreams of lightning,
the body remembered in luscious movement or at ease,
names lost forever, and childhood of wonderful snow.

Knees broken backward, refugees from life,
leaving behind the houses they have lived in,
the sweat on the walls, the toilet, the hateful embrace,
the colored mottoes and the step of the insane son;
or failure driving like point of dynamite into the heart
lifelong, till they enter the impossible wall.

0 space that lifts the monoplane strong did suck them down,
this act upon this stone; and shadows on it of living people,
noon, and dark twilight, and night with argon peaks,
matchless city, terrible, and I cried aloft
What monster, 0 what monstrous foot
here trod, leaving in blood the measure of its corruption?

Rages in this packed town, in this wilderness of hands,
beast over mankind, ruling with cruel mark;
on the delicate mind, on the beautiful mouth like syphilis,
sometime on everyone, on myself horrible I have seen it:
the perversion by money, wasting, mad, and universal,
measure of humanity, and its heavy assassin.

Here the strict labor of the many must support
the monotony of the useless; and luxury is got
with smiles, false kindness, marriage, or embezzlement;
he who can feign desire, praise poison, or hang by his teeth,
lives well, accumulates the powerful bond,
receives inhuman honor, —but the kind man is strangled.

Vaulting metropolis, under whose diagrams of eloquent light
wrestle decay and energy, both blind —
I went in your purest hours, and met with friends,
some with familiar calm, or gay, or drunk in the bright rooms,
but I heard the terrifying pulse of other selves:
on the face of each I touched unknown the invisible tear.

In the membranes of the skull there lie in millionfold
powers and memories, and I find them forth often:
the deep smile, and the simple day at the zoo,
the voices over the bay, the avowal, and the window with leaves,
the joint of the thigh of the beloved person,
and the wish to live calmly on the highest level.

Yet who is it crawls on the subway's iron floor to sing
where all must give or listen, since the door is shut?
0 in the proud mirrors of the brain, the ugly clerk
I see is myself! and the murderer trapped on the fire-escape;
and the desperate salesman; the thief; and the pale girl bought
to open herself again to the stranger's thrust.

I see a boy's hand move as pale as glass,
and women sleeping with infinite eyes, and all, all
I see are innocent; not walls, nor men
brutal, remote, stunned, querulous, weak, or cold
do crimes so massive, but the hideous scheme
stands guilty: the usurpation of man over man.

Thus in the grating rack and torsion of society
the inmost being cracks; gulfs there with groaning cliffs
disfigure hope; and secret fires grow; and chasms
unknown hold paralyzed the maelstroms of love; despair
with frigid pinnacles, hatred, silent catastrophes;
crevasses of self the self dares not discover, —

Between the inner and the outer face,
between the cold palm and the incestuous mind,
between the thought, the pleasure, and the indifference,
between the bright talk and the solitude,
between the oratory and the massacre,
between the music and the soundless scream.


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