For Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956
Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village. downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I've been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph the rhythm the rhythm—and your memory in my head three years after— And read Adonais' last triumphant stanzas aloud—wept, realizing how we suffer— And how Death is that remedy all singers dream of, sing, remember, prophesy as in the Hebrew Anthem, or the Buddhist Book of An- swers—and my own imagination of a withered leaf—at dawn— Dreaming back thru life, Your time—and mine accelerating toward Apoca- lypse, the final moment—the flower burning in the Day—and what comes after, looking back on the mind itself that saw an American city a flash away, and the great dream of Me or China, or you and a phantom Russia, or a crumpled bed that never existed— like a poem in the dark—escaped back to Oblivion— No more to say, and nothing to weep for but the Beings in the Dream, trapped in its disappearance, sighing, screaming with it, buying and selling pieces of phantom, worship- ping each other, worshipping the God included in it all—longing or inevitability?—while it lasts, a Vision—anything more? It leaps about me, as I go out and walk the street, look back over my shoulder, Seventh Avenue, the battlements of window office buildings shoul- dering each other high, under a cloud, tall as the sky an instant—and the sky above—an old blue place. or down the Avenue to the south, to—as I walk toward the Lower East Side —where you walked 50 years ago, little girl—from Russia, eating the first poisonous tomatoes of America frightened on the dock then struggling in the crowds of Orchard Street toward what?—toward Newark— toward candy store, first home-made sodas of the century, hand-churned ice cream in backroom on musty brownfloor boards— Toward education marriage nervous breakdown, operation, teaching school, and learning to be mad, in a dream—what is this life? Toward the Key in the window—and the great Key lays its head of light on top of Manhattan, and over the floor, and lays down on the sidewalk—in a single vast beam, moving, as I walk down First toward the Yiddish Theater—and the place of poverty you knew, and I know, but without caring now—Strange to have moved thru Paterson, and the West, and Europe and here again, with the cries of Spaniards now in the doorstops doors and dark boys on the street, fire escapes old as you —Tho you're not old now, that's left here with me— Myself, anyhow, maybe as old as the universe—and I guess that dies with us—enough to cancel all that comes--What came is gone forever every time— That's good! That leaves it open for no regret—no fear radiators, lacklove, torture even toothache in the end— Though while it comes it is a lion that eats the soul—and the lamb, the soul, in us, alas, offering itself in sacrifice to change's fierce hunger--hair and teeth—and the roar of bonepain, skull bare, break rib, rot-skin, braintricked Implacability. Ai! ai! we do worse! We are in a fix! And you're out, Death let you out, Death had the Mercy, you're done with your century, done with God, done with the path thru it—Done with yourself at last—Pure —Back to the Babe dark before your Father, before us all—before the world— There, rest. No more suffering for you. I know where you've gone, it's good. No more flowers in the summer fields of New York, no joy now, no more fear of Louis, and no more of his sweetness and glasses, his high school decades, debts, loves, frightened telephone calls, conception beds, relatives, hands— No more of sister Elanor,—she gone before you—we kept it secret you killed her--or she killed herself to bear with you—an arthritic heart —But Death's killed you both—No matter— Nor your memory of your mother, 1915 tears in silent movies weeks and weeks—forgetting, agrieve watching Marie Dressler address human- ity, Chaplin dance in youth, or Boris Godunov, Chaliapin's at the Met, halling his voice of a weeping Czar —by standing room with Elanor & Max—watching also the Capital ists take seats in Orchestra, white furs, diamonds, with the YPSL's hitch-hiking thru Pennsylvania, in black baggy gym skirts pants, photograph of 4 girls holding each other round the waste, and laughing eye, too coy, virginal solitude of 1920 all girls grown old, or dead now, and that long hair in the grave—lucky to have husbands later— You made it—I came too—Eugene my brother before (still grieving now and will gream on to his last stiff hand, as he goes thru his cancer—or kill —later perhaps—soon he will think—) And it's the last moment I remember, which I see them all, thru myself, now --tho not you I didn't foresee what you felt--what more hideous gape of bad mouth came first--to you--and were you prepared? To go where? In that Dark--that--in that God? a radiance? A Lord in the Void? Like an eye in the black cloud in a dream? Adonoi at last, with you? Beyond my remembrance! Incapable to guess! Not merely the yellow skull in the grave, or a box of worm dust, and a stained ribbon—Deaths- head with Halo? can you believe it? Is it only the sun that shines once for the mind, only the flash of existence, than none ever was? Nothing beyond what we have—what you had—that so pitiful—yet Tri- umph, to have been here, and changed, like a tree, broken, or flower—fed to the ground—but made, with its petals, colored, thinking Great Universe, shaken, cut in the head, leaf stript, hid in an egg crate hospital, cloth wrapped, sore—freaked in the moon brain, Naughtless. No flower like that flower, which knew itself in the garden, and fought the knife—lost Cut down by an idiot Snowman's icy—even in the Spring—strange ghost thought some—Death—Sharp icicle in his hand—crowned with old roses—a dog for his eyes—cock of a sweatshop—heart of electric irons. All the accumulations of life, that wear us out—clocks, bodies, consciousness, shoes, breasts—begotten sons—your Communism—'Paranoia' into hospitals. You once kicked Elanor in the leg, she died of heart failure later. You of stroke. Asleep? within a year, the two of you, sisters in death. Is Elanor happy? Max grieves alive in an office on Lower Broadway, lone large mustache over midnight Accountings, not sure. His life passes—as he sees—and what does he doubt now? Still dream of making money, or that might have made money, hired nurse, had children, found even your Im- mortality, Naomi? I'll see him soon. Now I've got to cut through to talk to you as I didn't when you had a mouth. Forever. And we're bound for that, Forever like Emily Dickinson's horses —headed to the End. They know the way—These Steeds—run faster than we think—it's our own life they cross—and take with them. Magnificent, mourned no more, marred of heart, mind behind, mar- ried dreamed, mortal changed—Ass and face done with murder. In the world, given, flower maddened, made no Utopia, shut under pine, almed in Earth, blamed in Lone, Jehovah, accept. Nameless, One Faced, Forever beyond me, beginningless, endless, Father in death. Tho I am not there for this Prophecy, I am unmarried, I'm hymnless, I'm Heavenless, headless in blisshood I would still adore Thee, Heaven, after Death, only One blessed in Nothingness, not light or darkness, Dayless Eternity— Take this, this Psalm, from me, burst from my hand in a day, some of my Time, now given to Nothing—to praise Thee—But Death This is the end, the redemption from Wilderness, way for the Won- derer, House sought for All, black handkerchief washed clean by weeping —page beyond Psalm—Last change of mine and Naomi—to God's perfect Darkness--Death, stay thy phantoms! II Over and over—refrain—of the Hospitals—still haven't written your history—leave it abstract—a few images run thru the mind—like the saxophone chorus of houses and years— remembrance of electrical shocks. By long nites as a child in Paterson apartment, watching over your nervousness—you were fat—your next move— By that afternoon I stayed home from school to take care of you— once and for all—when I vowed forever that once man disagreed with my opinion of the cosmos, I was lost— By my later burden—vow to illuminate mankind—this is release of particulars—(mad as you)—(sanity a trick of agreement)— But you stared out the window on the Broadway Church corner, and spied a mystical assassin from Newark, So phoned the Doctor—'OK go way for a rest'—so I put on my coat and walked you downstreet—On the way a grammarschool boy screamed, unaccountably—'Where you goin Lady to Death'? I shuddered— and you covered your nose with motheaten fur collar, gas mask against poison sneaked into downtown atmosphere, sprayed by Grandma— And was the driver of the cheesebox Public Service bus a member of the gang? You shuddered at his face, I could hardly get you on—to New York, very Times Square, to grab another Greyhound—
From Collected Poems 1947-1980 by Allen Ginsberg, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1984 by Allen Ginsberg. Used with permission.
Copyright © 2017 by Jennifer Grotz. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 12, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
Copyright © 2017 by Patricia Spears Jones. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 17, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
means nostalgia, I’m told, but also
nostalgia for what never was. Isn’t it
the same thing? At a café
in Rio flies wreathe my glass.
How you would have loved this: the waiter
sweating his knit shirt dark. Children
loping, in tiny suits or long shorts, dragging
toys and towels to the beach. We talk,
or I talk, and imagine your answer, the heat clouding our view.
Here, again, grief fashioned in its cruelest translation:
my imagined you is all I have left of you.
Copyright © 2017 by John Freeman. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on October 10, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.
I’m the matron-king of hell In yoga pants and a disused bra for a laurel & shatter the scene inside your simmering year Like a ransom scene filmed through shattered transom I smear in my glamour I make as if to justify the ways of God to man That’s my ticket in That’s why God lets me speak here Crystostoma’d on his couch Even though I’m derived from Hell Hellish Helenish Hellenic I’m the hanged man in this version pegged up in mine pegged jeans by mine ancles, an inversion mine manacles are monocoles I spit out the key and squinny through the keyhole back at the unquittable world In my rainment of gummy sunglasses and crows wings for epaulets I delicately squawk from the edges of things balance unsteadily on the bust of the goddess squawk: Aeschelus Euphorion Aeschelus Euphorion &: I’m going to tell you something so bad that when you hear it you’re gonna know it’s true. Like all the worst stories It comes from the heart & it goes there too. Back here in St. Joseph County a struck duck flies crown first into the asphalt and is stuck there with its brains for adhesive like someone licked the pavement and sealed it a postalette with its cartoon feet in the air and its Jeff Koon wings that’s roadkill for you: realer than real and the cars mill by with their wheels in reverse heavy as chariots in a dealership commercial and I am walking my dog by the river a matron from hell look on me and despise I am like the river: thick as beer and with a sudsy crown there polyethylene bags drape the banks like herons and a plastic jug rides a current with something like the determination that creases mine own brow as I attempt to burn my lunch off the determination of garbage riding for its drain hey-nonny it’s spring and everything wears a crown as it rides its thick doom to its noplace gently brushed by pollen by the wings of hymenoptera like a helicoptera performing its opera all above Indiana bearing the babes away from their births to their berths in the NICU in Indie-un-apple-us Unapple us, moron God, You’ve turned me Deophobic the greasy tracks you leave all over the internet the slicey DNA in the scramblechondria the torn jeans panicked like space invaders in an arcane video game oh spittle-pink blossom the tree don’t need nomore shook down to slick the pavement like a payslip you disused killer app each thought strikes my brain like the spirals in a ham pink pink for easter sliced by something machinic each thought zeros in flies hapless and demented festooned like a lawn dart finds its bit of eye spills its champagne split of pain then we come to our senses suddenly alone in the endzone
Copyright © 2018 by Joyelle McSweeney. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on November 13, 2018, by the Academy of American Poets.
When the bottle of hot sauce shattered in the kitchen
he stood in the doorframe, shook his head at the mess.
Not worried if I was injured,
mostly curious at what else it was I’d broken.
You are so clumsy with the things you hold,
he never said.
The red stain on my chest bloomed pungent,
soaked any apology.
I used his shirt, the one I slept in,
to wipe the counter and pale-colored kitchen floor.
That night and the next for a straight week
as he prepared boxes to leave
I hunched and scrubbed the tiles. Couldn’t rid myself
of the things that I’d sullied, of the look he left behind.
Copyright © 2019 by Elizabeth Acevedo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 4, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.
The hurt returns as it always intended—it is tender as the inside of my thighs, it is as blue, too. O windless, wingless sky, show me your empire of loneliness, let me spring from the jaws of what tried to kill me. Let me look at your face and see a heaven worth having, all your sorry angels falling off a piano bench, laughing. Do you burn because you remember darkness? Outside the joy is clamoring. It is almost like the worst day of your life is ordinary for everyone else.
Copyright © 2019 by Ruth Awad. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on March 5, 2019, by the Academy of American Poets.