The ore in the crucible is pungent, smelling like acrid wine, It is dusky red, like the ebb of poppies, And purple, like the blood of elderberries. Surely it is a strong wine – juice distilled of the fierce iron. I am drunk of its fumes. I feel its fiery flux Diffusing, permeating, Working some strange alchemy… So that I turn aside from the goodly board, So that I look askance upon the common cup,
And from the mouths of crucibles Suck forth the acrid sap.
Some have God’s words; others have songs of comfort for the bereaved. If I can pluck courage here, I would like to speak directly to the dead—the September dead. Those children of ancestors born in every continent on the planet: Asia, Europe, Africa, the Americas…; born of ancestors who wore kilts, obis, saris, geles, wide straw hats, yarmulkes, goatskin, wooden shoes, feathers and cloths to cover their hair. But I would not say a word until I could set aside all I know or believe about nations, wars, leaders, the governed and ungovernable; all I suspect about armor and entrails. First I would freshen my tongue, abandon sentences crafted to know evil—wanton or studied; explosive or quietly sinister; whether born of a sated appetite or hunger; of vengeance or the simple compulsion to stand up before falling down. I would purge my language of hyperbole; of its eagerness to analyze the levels of wickedness; ranking them; calculating their higher or lower status among others of its kind. Speaking to the broken and the dead is too difficult for a mouth full of blood. Too holy an act for impure thoughts. Because the dead are free, absolute; they cannot be seduced by blitz. To speak to you, the dead of September 11, I must not claim false intimacy or summon an overheated heart glazed just in time for a camera. I must be steady and I must be clear, knowing all the time that I have nothing to say—no words stronger than the steel that pressed you into itself; no scripture older or more elegant than the ancient atoms you have become. And I have nothing to give either—except this gesture, this thread thrown between your humanity and mine: I want to hold you in my arms and as your soul got shot of its box of flesh to understand, as you have done, the wit of eternity: its gift of unhinged release tearing through the darkness of its knell.
Not while the snow-shroud round dead earth is rolled, And naked branches point to frozen skies.— When orchards burn their lamps of fiery gold, The grape glows like a jewel, and the corn A sea of beauty and abundance lies, Then the new year is born. Look where the mother of the months uplifts In the green clearness of the unsunned West, Her ivory horn of plenty, dropping gifts, Cool, harvest-feeding dews, fine-winnowed light; Tired labor with fruition, joy and rest Profusely to requite. Blow, Israel, the sacred cornet! Call Back to thy courts whatever faint heart throb With thine ancestral blood, thy need craves all. The red, dark year is dead, the year just born Leads on from anguish wrought by priest and mob, what undreamed-of morn? For never yet, since on the holy height, The Temple’s marble walls of white and green Carved like the sea-waves, fell, and the world’s light Went out in darkness,—never was the year Greater with portent and with promise seen, Than this eve now and here. Even as the Prophet promised, so your tent Hath been enlarged unto earth’s farthest rim. To snow-capped Sierras from vast steppes ye went, Through fire and blood and tempest-tossing wave, For freedom to proclaim and worship Him, Mighty to slay and save. High above flood and fire ye held the scroll, Out of the depths ye published still the Word. No bodily pang had power to swerve your soul: Ye, in a cynic age of crumbling faiths, Lived to bear witness to the living Lord, Or died a thousand deaths. In two divided streams the exiles part, One rolling homeward to its ancient source, One rushing sunward with fresh will, new heart. By each the truth is spread, the law unfurled, Each separate soul contains the nation’s force, And both embrace the world. Kindle the silver candle’s seven rays, Offer the first fruits of the clustered bowers, The garnered spoil of bees. With prayer and praise Rejoice that once more tried, once more we prove How strength of supreme suffering still is ours For Truth and Law and Love.
“Wild geese have never flown as far as Hengyang”; How then will my embroidered words be carried all the way to Yongchang? Like the willow’s flowers by the end of spring, I am ill-fated indeed; In the mists of that alien land, you feel the pangs of despair. “Oh, to go home, to go home,” you mourn to the year’s bitter end. “Oh, if it would rain, if it would rain,” I complain to the bright dawn. One hears of vain promises that you could be set free; When will the Golden Cock reach all the way to Yelang?
We present this work in honor of the poet’s 80th birthday.
my friends, my sweet barbarians, there is that hunger which is not for food — but an eye at the navel turns the appetite round with visions of some fabulous sandwich, the brain’s golden breakfast eaten with beasts with books on plates
let us make an anthology of recipes, let us edit for breakfast our most unspeakable appetites — let us pool spoons, knives and all cutlery in a cosmic cuisine, let us answer hunger with boiled chimera and apocalyptic tea, an arcane salad of spiced bibles, tossed dictionaries — (O my barbarians we will consume our mysteries)
and can we, can we slake the gaping eye of our desires? we will sit around our hewn wood table until our hair is long and our eyes are feeble, eating, my people, O my insatiates, eating until we are no more able to jack up the jaws any longer —
to no more complain of the soul’s vulgar cavities, to gaze at each other over the rust-heap of cutlery, drinking a coffee that takes an eternity — till, bursting, bleary, we laugh, barbarians, and rock the universe — and exclaim to each other over the table over the table of bones and scrap metal over the gigantic junk-heaped table:
Away from the gouache of his lips to those who want it, just as the border defends itself from those who besiege it, one is defended by sabers and spears, and those who are protected by the magic of her eyes.