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Lit 337 Post-War Poetry

Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Skunk Hour
Robert Lowell, 1917 - 1977
For Elizabeth Bishop


Nautilus Island's hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son's a bishop.  Her farmer
is first selectman in our village,
she's in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria's century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season's ill--
we've lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue.  His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy 
decorator brightens his shop for fall,
his fishnet's filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler's bench and awl,
there is no money in his work,
he'd rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill's skull,
I watched for love-cars.  Lights turned down, 
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind's not right.

A car radio bleats,
'Love, O careless Love . . . .' I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat . . . .
I myself am hell,
nobody's here--

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes' red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air--
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket
Robert Lowell, 1917 - 1977

(For Warren Winslow, Dead At Sea)

Let man have dominion over the fishes of the sea and
the fowls of the air and the beasts and the whole earth,
and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.

I

A brackish reach of shoal off Madaket--
The sea was still breaking violently and night
Had steamed into our North Atlantic Fleet,
When the drowned sailor clutched the drag-net.  Light
Flashed from his matted head and marble feet,
He grappled at the net
With the coiled, hurdling muscles of his thighs:
The corpse was bloodless, a botch of reds and whites,
Its open, staring eyes
Were lustreless dead-lights
Or cabin-windows on a stranded hulk
Heavy with sand.  We weight the body, close
Its eyes and heave it seaward whence it came,
Where the heel-headed dogfish barks its nose
On Ahab's void and forehead; and the name
Is blocked in yellow chalk.
Sailors, who pitch this portent at the sea
Where dreadnaughts shall confess
Its hell-bent deity,
When you are powerless
To sand-bag this Atlantic bulwark, faced
By the earth-shaker, green, unwearied, chaste
In his steel scales: ask for no Orphean lute
To pluck life back.  The guns of the steeled fleet
Recoil and then repeat
The hoarse salute.

 
II

Whenever winds are moving and their breath
Heaves at the roped-in bulwarks of this pier,
The terns and sea-gulls tremble at your death
In these home waters.  Sailor, can you hear
The Pequod's sea wings, beating landward, fall
Headlong and break on our Atlantic wall
Off 'Sconset, where the yawing S-boats splash
The bellbuoy, with ballooning spinnakers,
As the entangled, screeching mainsheet clears
The blocks: off Madaket, where lubbers lash
The heavy surf and throw their long lead squids
For blue-fish?  Sea-gulls blink their heavy lids
Seaward.  The winds' wings beat upon the stones,
Cousin, and scream for you and the claws rush
At the sea's throat and wring it in the slush
Of this old Quaker graveyard where the bones
Cry out in the long night for the hurt beast
Bobbing by Ahab's whaleboats in the East.

 
III

All you recovered from Poseidon died
With you, my cousin, and the harrowed brine
Is fruitless on the blue beard of the god,
Stretching beyond us to the castles in Spain,
Nantucket's westward haven.  To Cape Cod
Guns, cradled on the tide,
Blast the eelgrass about a waterclock
Of bilge and backwash, roil the salt and sand
Lashing earth's scaffold, rock
Our warships in the hand
Of the great God, where time's contrition blues
Whatever it was these Quaker sailors lost
In the mad scramble of their lives.  They died
When time was open-eyed,
Wooden and childish; only bones abide
There, in the nowhere, where their boats were tossed
Sky-high, where mariners had fabled news
Of IS, the whited monster.  What it cost
Them is their secret.  In the sperm-whale's slick
I see the Quakers drown and hear their cry:
"If God himself had not been on our side,
If God himself had not been on our side,
When the Atlantic rose against us, why,
Then it had swallowed us up quick."

 
IV

This is the end of the whaleroad and the whale
Who spewed Nantucket bones on the thrashed swell
And stirred the troubled waters to whirlpools
To send the Pequod packing off to hell:
This is the end of them, three-quarters fools,
Snatching at straws to sail
Seaward and seaward on the turntail whale,
Spouting out blood and water as it rolls,
Sick as a dog to these Atlantic shoals:
Clamavimus, O depths.  Let the sea-gulls wail

For water, for the deep where the high tide
Mutters to its hurt self, mutters and ebbs.
Waves wallow in their wash, go out and out,
Leave only the death-rattle of the crabs,
The beach increasing, its enormous snout
Sucking the ocean's side.
This is the end of running on the waves;
We are poured out like water.  Who will dance
The mast-lashed master of Leviathans
Up from this field of Quakers in their unstoned graves?

 
V

When the whale's viscera go and the roll
Of its corruption overruns this world
Beyond tree-swept Nantucket and Wood's Hole
And Martha's Vineyard, Sailor, will your sword
Whistle and fall and sink into the fat?
In the great ash-pit of Jehoshaphat
The bones cry for the blood of the white whale,
The fat flukes arch and whack about its ears,
The death-lance churns into the sanctuary, tears
The gun-blue swingle, heaving like a flail,
And hacks the coiling life out: it works and drags
And rips the sperm-whale's midriff into rags,
Gobbets of blubber spill to wind and weather,
Sailor, and gulls go round the stoven timbers
Where the morning stars sing out together
And thunder shakes the white surf and dismembers
The red flag hammered in the mast-head.  Hide,
Our steel, Jonas Messias, in Thy side.

 
VI

OUR LADY OF WALSINGHAM

There once the penitents took off their shoes
And then walked barefoot the remaining mile;
And the small trees, a stream and hedgerows file
Slowly along the munching English lane,
Like cows to the old shrine, until you lose
Track of your dragging pain.
The stream flows down under the druid tree,
Shiloah's whirlpools gurgle and make glad
The castle of God.  Sailor, you were glad
And whistled Sion by that stream.  But see:

Our Lady, too small for her canopy,
Sits near the altar.  There's no comeliness
at all or charm in that expressionless
Face with its heavy eyelids.  As before,
This face, for centuries a memory,
Non est species, neque decor,
Expressionless, expresses God: it goes
Past castled Sion.  She knows what God knows,
Not Calvary's Cross nor crib at Bethlehem
Now, and the world shall come to Walsingham.

 
VII

The empty winds are creaking and the oak
splatters and splatters on the cenotaph,
The boughs are trembling and a gaff
Bobs on the untimely stroke
Of the greased wash exploding on a shoal-bell
In the old mouth of the Atlantic.  It's well;
Atlantic, you are fouled with the blue sailors,
sea-monsters, upward angel, downward fish:
Unmarried and corroding, spare of flesh
Mart once of supercilious, wing'd clippers,
Atlantic, where your bell-trap guts its spoil
You could cut the brackish winds with a knife
Here in Nantucket, and cast up the time
When the Lord God formed man from the sea's slime
And breathed into his face the breath of life,
And blue-lung'd combers lumbered to the kill.
The Lord survives the rainbow of His will.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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One Art
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant 
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.


—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan't have lied.  It's evident
the art of losing's not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Daddy
Sylvia Plath, 1932 - 1963
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.

Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time--
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal

And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
Ach, du.

In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.

It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene

An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.

The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.

I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You-- 

Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.

You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not 
Any less the black man who

Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.

But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look

And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.

If I've killed one man, I've killed two--
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.

There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.

12 October 1962

Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Dream Song 1
John Berryman, 1914 - 1972
Huffy Henry hid    the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point,—a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked.

All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry's side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don't see how Henry, pried 
open for all the world to see, survived.

What he has now to say is a long 
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Dream Song 29
John Berryman, 1914 - 1972

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart
só heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry's ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of.  Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late.  This is not for tears;
thinking.

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.

 


 



Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Dream Song 4
John Berryman, 1914 - 1972
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
twice.
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her

or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni.--Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.

--Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast . . . The slob beside her     feasts . . . What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes.  She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
--Mr. Bones: there is.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Anne Sexton, 1928 - 1974
No matter what life you lead
the virgin is a lovely number:
cheeks as fragile as cigarette paper,
arms and legs made of Limoges,
lips like Vin Du Rhône,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes
open and shut.
Open to say, 
Good Day Mama,
and shut for the thrust
of the unicorn.
She is unsoiled.
She is as white as a bonefish.

Once there was a lovely virgin
called Snow White.
Say she was thirteen.
Her stepmother,
a beauty in her own right,
though eaten, of course, by age,
would hear of no beauty surpassing her own.
Beauty is a simple passion,
but, oh my friends, in the end
you will dance the fire dance in iron shoes.
The stepmother had a mirror to which she referred--
something like the weather forecast--
a mirror that proclaimed 
the one beauty of the land.
She would ask,
Looking glass upon the wall,
who is fairest of us all?
And the mirror would reply,
You are the fairest of us all.
Pride pumped in her like poison.

Suddenly one day the mirror replied,
Queen, you are full fair, 'tis true,
but Snow White is fairer than you.
Until that moment Snow White
had been no more important
than a dust mouse under the bed.
But now the queen saw brown spots on her hand
and four whiskers over her lip
so she condemned Snow White
to be hacked to death.
Bring me her heart, she said to the hunter,
and I will salt it and eat it.
The hunter, however, let his prisoner go
and brought a boar's heart back to the castle.
The queen chewed it up like a cube steak.
Now I am fairest, she said,
lapping her slim white fingers.

Snow White walked in the wildwood
for weeks and weeks.
At each turn there were twenty doorways
and at each stood a hungry wolf,
his tongue lolling out like a worm.
The birds called out lewdly,
talking like pink parrots,
and the snakes hung down in loops,
each a noose for her sweet white neck.
On the seventh week
she came to the seventh mountain
and there she found the dwarf house.
It was as droll as a honeymoon cottage
and completely equipped with
seven beds, seven chairs, seven forks
and seven chamber pots.
Snow White ate seven chicken livers
and lay down, at last, to sleep.

The dwarfs, those little hot dogs,
walked three times around Snow White,
the sleeping virgin.  They were wise
and wattled like small czars.
Yes.  It's a good omen,
they said, and will bring us luck.
They stood on tiptoes to watch
Snow White wake up.  She told them
about the mirror and the killer-queen
and they asked her to stay and keep house.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
Soon she will know you are here.
While we are away in the mines
during the day, you must not
open the door.

Looking glass upon the wall . . .
The mirror told
and so the queen dressed herself in rags
and went out like a peddler to trap Snow White.
She went across seven mountains.
She came to the dwarf house
and Snow White opened the door
and bought a bit of lacing.
The queen fastened it tightly
around her bodice,
as tight as an Ace bandage,
so tight that Snow White swooned.
She lay on the floor, a plucked daisy.
When the dwarfs came home they undid the lace
and she revived miraculously.
She was as full of life as soda pop.
Beware of your stepmother,
they said.
She will try once more.

Looking glass upon the wall. . .
Once more the mirror told
and once more the queen dressed in rags
and once more Snow White opened the door.
This time she bought a poison comb, 
a curved eight-inch scorpion,
and put it in her hair and swooned again.
The dwarfs returned and took out the comb
and she revived miraculously.
She opened her eyes as wide as Orphan Annie.
Beware, beware, they said,
but the mirror told,
the queen came,
Snow White, the dumb bunny,
opened the door
and she bit into a poison apple
and fell down for the final time.
When the dwarfs returned
they undid her bodice,
they looked for a comb,
but it did no good.
Though they washed her with wine
and rubbed her with butter
it was to no avail.
She lay as still as a gold piece.

The seven dwarfs could not bring themselves
to bury her in the black ground
so they made a glass coffin
and set it upon the seventh mountain
so that all who passed by
could peek in upon her beauty.
A prince came one June day
and would not budge.
He stayed so long his hair turned green
and still he would not leave.
The dwarfs took pity upon him
and gave him the glass Snow White--
its doll's eyes shut forever--
to keep in his far-off castle.
As the prince's men carried the coffin
they stumbled and dropped it
and the chunk of apple flew out
of her throat and she woke up miraculously.

And thus Snow White became the prince's bride.
The wicked queen was invited to the wedding feast
and when she arrived there were
red-hot iron shoes,
in the manner of red-hot roller skates,
clamped upon her feet.
First your toes will smoke
and then your heels will turn black
and you will fry upward like a frog,
she was told.
And so she danced until she was dead,
a subterranean figure,
her tongue flicking in and out
like a gas jet.
Meanwhile Snow White held court,
rolling her china-blue doll eyes open and shut
and sometimes referring to her mirror
as women do.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Howl, Parts I & II
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

For Carl Solomon

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving
  hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry
  fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the 
  starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the
  supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of
  cities contemplating jazz,
who bared their brains to Heaven under the El and saw Mohammedan angels
  staggering on tenement roofs illuminated,
who passed through universities with radiant cool eyes hallucinating Arkan-
  sas and Blake-light tragedy among the scholars of war,
who were expelled from the academies for crazy & publishing obscene odes
  on the windows of the skull,
who cowered in unshaven rooms in underwear, burning their money in
  wastebaskets and listening to the Terror through the wall,
who got busted in their pubic beards returning through Laredo with a belt 
  of marijuana for New York,
who ate fire in paint hotels or drank turpentine in Paradise Alley, death, or
  purgatoried their torsos night after night
with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares, alcohol and cock and 
  endless balls,
incomparable blind streets of shuddering cloud and lightning in the mind
  leaping toward poles of Canada & Paterson, illuminating all the mo-
  tionless world of Time between,
Peyote solidities of halls, backyard green tree cemetery dawns, wine drunk-
  enness over the rooftops, storefront boroughs of teahead joyride neon
  blinking traffic light, sun and moon and tree vibrations in the roaring
  winter dusks of Brooklyn, ashcan rantings and kind king light of
  mind,
who chained themselves to subways for the endless ride from Battery to holy
  Bronx on benzedrine until the noise of wheels and children brought 
  them down shuddering mouth-wracked and battered bleak of brain
  all drained of brilliance in the drear light of Zoo,
who sank all night in submarine light of Bickford's floated out and sat
  through the stale beer afternoon in desolate Fugazzi's, listening to the
  crack of doom on the hydrogen jukebox, 
who talked continuously seventy hours from park to pad to bar to Bellevue
  to museum to the Brooklyn Bridge,
a lost battalion of platonic conversationalists jumping down the stoops off fire
  escapes off windowsills of Empire State out of the moon,
yacketayakking screaming vomiting whispering facts and memories and
  anecdotes and eyeball kicks and shocks of hospitals and jails and wars,
whole intellects disgorged in total recall for seven days and nights with
  brilliant eyes, meat for the Synagogue cast on the pavement,
who vanished into nowhere Zen New Jersey leaving a trail of ambiguous
  picture postcards of Atlantic City Hall,
suffering Eastern sweats and Tangerian bone-grindings and migraines of
  China under junk-withdrawal in Newark's bleak furnished room,
who wandered around and around at midnight in the railroad yard wonder-
  ing where to go, and went, leaving no broken hearts,
who lit cigarettes in boxcars boxcars boxcars racketing through snow toward
  lonesome farms in grandfather night,
who studied Plotinus Poe St. John of the Cross telepathy and bop kabbalah
  because the cosmos instinctively vibrated at their feet in Kansas,
who loned it through the streets of Idaho seeking visionary indian angels
  who were visionary indian angels,
who thought they were only mad when Baltimore gleamed in supernatural 
  ecstasy,
who jumped in limousines with the Chinaman of Oklahoma on the impulse 
  of winter midnight streetlight smalltown rain,
who lounged hungry and lonesome through Houston seeking jazz or sex or
  soup, and followed the brilliant Spaniard to converse about America
  and Eternity, a hopeless task, and so took ship to Africa,
who disappeared into the volcanoes of Mexico leaving behind nothing but
  the shadow of dungarees and the lava and ash of poetry scattered in
  fireplace Chicago,
who reappeared on the West Coast investigating the FBI in beards and shorts
  with big pacifist eyes sexy in their dark skin passing out incompre-
  hensible leaflets,
who burned cigarette holes in their arms protesting the narcotic tobacco haze 
  of Capitalism,
who distributed Supercommunist pamphlets in Union Square weeping and 
  undressing while the sirens of Los Alamos wailed them down, and
  wailed down Wall, and the Staten Island ferry also wailed,
who broke down crying in white gymnasiums naked and trembling before 
  the machinery of other skeletons,
who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight in policecars for 
  committing no crime but their own wild cooking pederasty and 
  intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof
  waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and
  screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of
  Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rosegardens and the grass of
  public parks and cemeteries scattering their semen freely to whom-
  ever come who may,
who hiccuped endlessly trying to giggle but wound up with a sob behind
  a partition in a Turkish Bath when the blond & naked angel came to 
  pierce them with a sword,
who lost their loveboys to the three old shrews of fate the one eyed shrew
  of the heterosexual dollar the one eyed shrew that winks out of the
  womb and the one eyed shrew that does nothing but sit on her ass
  and snip the intellectual golden threads of the craftsman's loom.
who copulated ecstatic and insatiate with a bottle of beer a sweetheart a
  package of cigarettes a candle and fell off the bed, and continued
  along the floor and down the hall and ended fainting on the wall with
  a vision of ultimate cunt and come eluding the last gyzym of con-
  sciousness,
who sweetened the snatches of a million girls trembling in the sunset, and
  were red eyed in the morning but prepared to sweeten the snatch of
  the sunrise, flashing buttocks under barns and naked in the lake,
who went out whoring through Colorado in myriad stolen night-cars, N.C.,
  secret hero of these poems, cocksman and Adonis of Denver--joy to
  the memory of his innumerable lays of girls in empty lots & diner
  backyards, moviehouses' rickety rows, on mountaintops in caves or
  with gaunt waitresses in familiar roadside lonely petticoat upliftings
  & especially secret gas-station solipsisms of johns, & hometown alleys
  too,
who faded out in vast sordid movies, were shifted in dreams, woke on a 
  sudden Manhattan, and picked themselves up out of basements hung-
  over with heartless Tokay and horrors of Third Avenue iron dreams
  & stumbled to unemployment offices,
who walked all night with their shoes full of blood on the snowbank docks
  waiting for a door in the East River to open to a room full of steam-
  heat and opium,
who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hud-
  son under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall 
  be crowned with laurel in oblivion,
who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy 
  bottom of the rivers of Bowery,
who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions
  and bad music,
who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to
  build harpsichords in their lofts,

who coughed on the sixth floor of Harlem crowned with flame under the
  tubercular sky surrounded by orange crates of theology,
who scribbled all night rocking and rolling over lofty incantations which in
  the yellow morning were stanzas of gibberish,
who cooked rotten animals lung heart feet tail borsht & tortillas dreaming
  of the pure vegetable kingdom,
who plunged themselves under meat trucks looking for an egg,
who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside 
  of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next 
  decade,
who cut their wrists three times successively unsuccessfully, gave up and
  were forced to open antique stores where they thought they were 
  growing old and cried,
who were burned alive in their innocent flannel suits on Madison Avenue
  amid blasts of leaden verse & the tanked-up clatter of the iron regi-
  ments of fashion & the nitroglycerine shrieks of the fairies of advertis-
  ing & the mustard gas of sinister intelligent editors, or were run down
  by the drunken taxicabs of Absolute Reality,
who jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge this actually happened and walked 
  away unknown and forgotten into the ghostly daze of Chinatown
  soup alleyways & firetrucks, not even one free beer,
who sang out of their windows in despair, fell out of the subway window,
  jumped in the filthy Passaic, leaped on negroes, cried all over the 
  street, danced on broken wineglasses barefoot smashed phonograph
  records of nostalgic European 1930s German jazz finished the whis-
  key and threw up groaning into the bloody toilet, moans in their ears
  and the blast of colossal steamwhistles,
who barreled down the highways of the past journeying to the each other's
  hotrod-Golgotha jail-solitude watch or Birmingham jazz incarnation,
who drove crosscountry seventytwo hours to find out if I had a vision or you
  had a vision or he had a vision to find out Eternity,
who journeyed to Denver, who died in Denver, who came back to Denver
  & waited in vain, who watched over Denver & brooded & loned in
  Denver and finally went away to find out the Time, & now Denver
  is lonesome for her heroes,
who fell on their knees in hopeless cathedrals praying for each other's salva-
  tion and light and breasts, until the soul illuminated its hair for a 
  second, 
who crashed through their minds in jail waiting for impossible criminals 
  with golden heads and the charm of reality in their hearts who sang
  sweet blues to Alcatraz,
who retired to Mexico to cultivate a habit, or Rocky Mount to tender Buddha
  or Tangiers to boys or Southern Pacific to the black locomotive or 
  Harvard to Narcissus to Woodlawn to the daisychain or grave,
who demanded sanity trials accusing the radio of hypnotism & were left with
  their insanity & their hands & a hung jury,
who threw potato salad at CCNY lecturers on Dadaism and subsequently
  presented themselves on the granite steps of the madhouse with
  shaven heads and harlequin speech of suicide, demanding instanta-
  neous lobotomy,
and who were given instead the concrete void of insulin Metrazol electricity
  hydrotherapy psychotherapy occupational therapy pingpong & am-
  nesia,
who in humorless protest overturned only one symbolic pingpong table,
  resting briefly in catatonia,
returning years later truly bald except for a wig of blood, and tears and 
  fingers, to the visible madman doom of the wards of the madtowns 
  of the East,
Pilgrim State's Rockland's and Greystone's foetid halls, bickering with the
  echoes of the soul, rocking and rolling in the midnight solitude-bench
  dolmen-realms of love, dream of life a nightmare, bodies turned to 
  stone as heavy as the moon,
with mother finally ******, and the last fantastic book flung out of the 
  tenement window, and the last door closed at 4 a.m. and the last 
  telephone slammed at the wall in reply and the last furnished room 
  emptied down to the last piece of mental furniture, a yellow paper
  rose twisted on a wire hanger in the closet, and even that imaginary,
  nothing but a hopeful little bit of hallucination--
ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you're really in the
  total animal soup of time--
and who therefore ran through the icy streets obsessed with a sudden flash 
  of the alchemy of the use of the ellipse the catalog the meter & the
  vibrating plane,
who dreamt and made incarnate gaps in Time & Space through images
  juxtaposed, and trapped the archangel of the soul between 2 visual
  images and joined the elemental verbs and set the noun and dash of
  consciousness together jumping with sensation of Pater Omnipotens
  Aeterna Deus
to recreate the syntax and measure of poor human prose and stand before
  you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet 
  confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his
  naked and endless head,
the madman bum and angel beat in Time, unknown, yet putting down here
  what might be left to say in time come after death,
and rose reincarnate in the ghostly clothes of jazz in the goldhorn shadow
  of the band and blew the suffering of America's naked mind for love
  into an eli eli lamma lamma sabacthani saxophone cry that shivered
  the cities down to the last radio
with the absolute heart of the poem of life butchered out of their own bodies 
  good to eat a thousand years.

 

II

What sphinx of cement and aluminum bashed open their skulls and ate up
  their brains and imagination?
Moloch! Solitude! Filth! Ugliness! Ashcans and unobtainable dollars! Chil-
  dren screaming under the stairways! Boys sobbing in armies!  Old
  men weeping in the parks!
Moloch! Moloch! Nightmare of Moloch! Moloch the loveless! Mental Mo-
  loch! Moloch the heavy judger of men!
Moloch the incomprehensible prison! Moloch the crossbone soulless jail-
  house and Congress of sorrows! Moloch whose buildings are judg-
  ment! Moloch the vast stone of war! Moloch the stunned govern-
  ments!
Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running
  money! Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast 
  is a cannibal dynamo!  Moloch whose ear is a smoking tomb!
Moloch whose eyes are a thousand blind windows! Moloch whose skyscrap-
  ers stand in the long streets like endless Jehovahs! Moloch whose
  factories dream and croak in the fog! Moloch whose smokestacks and
  antennae crown the cities!
Moloch whose love is endless oil and stone! Moloch whose soul is electricity
  and banks! Moloch whose poverty is the specter of genius! Moloch
  whose fate is a cloud of sexless hydrogen! Moloch whose name is the
  Mind!
Moloch in whom I sit lonely! Moloch in whom I dream Angels! Crazy in
  Moloch! Cocksucker in Moloch! Lacklove and manless in Moloch!
Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness
  without a body! Moloch who frightened me out of my natural ec-
  stasy! Moloch whom I abandon! Wake up in Moloch! Light stream-
  ing out of the sky!
Moloch! Moloch! Robot apartments! invisible suburbs! skeleton treasuries!
  blind capitals! demonic industries! spectral nations! invincible mad houses
  granite cocks! monstrous bombs! 
They broke their backs lifting Moloch to Heaven! Pavements, trees, radios,
  tons! lifting the city to Heaven which exists and is everywhere about us! 
Visions! omens! hallucinations! miracles! ecstasies! gone down the American
  river! 
Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive
  bullshit! 
Breakthroughs! over the river! flips and crucifixions! gone down the flood!
  Highs! Epiphanies! Despairs! Ten years' animal screams and suicides!
  Minds! New loves! Mad generation! down on the rocks of Time!
Real holy laughter in the river! They saw it all! the wild eyes! the holy yells!
  They bade farewell! They jumped off the roofl to solitude! waving! carrying
  flowers! Down to the river! into the street!
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
next
Howl, Part III and Footnote to Howl
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997

 

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Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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A Supermarket in California
Allen Ginsberg, 1926 - 1997
  What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked 
down the sidestreets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking 
at the full moon.
  In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon
fruit supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
  What peaches and what penumbras!  Whole families shopping at 
night!  Aisles full of husbands!  Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes!
--and you, García Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?

  I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old grubber, poking
among the meats in the refrigerator and eyeing the grocery boys.
  I heard you asking questions of each: Who killed the pork chops?    
What price bananas?  Are you my Angel?
  I wandered in and out of the brilliant stacks of cans following you,
and followed in my imagination by the store detective.
  We strode down the open corridors together in our solitary fancy 
tasting artichokes, possessing every frozen delicacy, and never passing the 
cashier.

  Where are we going, Walt Whitman?  The doors close in a hour.
Which way does your beard point tonight?
  (I touch your book and dream of our odyssey in the supermarket and
feel absurd.)
  Will we walk all night through solitary streets?  The trees add shade
to shade, lights out in the houses, we'll both be lonely.
  Will we stroll dreaming of the lost America of love past blue automo-
biles in driveways, home to our silent cottage?
  Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage-teacher, what America
did you have when Charon quit poling his ferry and you got out on a 
smoking bank and stood watching the boat disappear on the black waters of
Lethe?

--Berkeley, 1955

Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
next
Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow
Robert Duncan, 1919 - 1988
as if it were a scene made-up by the mind, 
that is not mine, but is a made place,

that is mine, it is so near to the heart, 
an eternal pasture folded in all thought 
so that there is a hall therein

that is a made place, created by light 
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.

Wherefrom fall all architectures I am 
I say are likenesses of the First Beloved 
whose flowers are flames lit to the Lady.

She it is Queen Under The Hill
whose hosts are a disturbance of words within words 
that is a field folded.

It is only a dream of the grass blowing 
east against the source of the sun 
in an hour before the sun's going down

whose secret we see in a children's game 
of ring a round of roses told.

Often I am permitted to return to a meadow 
as if it were a given property of the mind 
that certain bounds hold against chaos,

that is a place of first permission,
everlasting omen of what is.
Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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Four Noble Truths
Anne Waldman, 1945

 

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Lit 337 Post-War Poetry
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In the Waiting Room
Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic 
(I could read) and carefully 
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson 
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was 
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't.  What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities--
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts--
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth 
of February, 1918.