Who Is to Say

- 1942-
Who is to say
that the House of Tongues is not that place 
where rats swarm around your feet 
under blooming sofas

is not that place
of poisoned snows, pens run dry 
and secrets now too late to know 
and certainly the murmuring there below

was a mur-  was a mur-  was a 
murmuring almost to be heard 
a bubbling like water 
invisible, underneath

And look the shadow of a wing 
does fall here as blood 
does drink deeply of itself 
and does whisper yes for no

Once these faces behind glass 
might have returned your glance 
might even have gathered up 
their limbs, in order to stand

Who is to say
that certain of their words did not spill out 
as far as the eyes of cats could see 
across the river in the dark

                             Leningrad
                             15 sept 90

More by Michael Palmer

Eighth Sky

It is scribbled along the body
Impossible even to say a word

An alphabet has been stored beneath the ground 
It is a practice alphabet, work of the hand

Yet not, not marks inside a box
For example, this is a mirror box

Spinoza designed such a box
and called it the Eighth Sky

called it the Nevercadabra House 
as a joke

Yet not, not so much a joke
not Notes for Electronic Harp

on a day free of sounds
(but I meant to write "clouds")

At night these same boulevards fill with snow 
Lancers and dancers pass a poisoned syringe,

as you wrote, writing of death in the snow, 
Patroclus and a Pharaoh on Rue Ravignan

It is scribbled across each body
Impossible even to name a word

Look, you would say, how the sky falls 
at first gently, then not at all

Two chemicals within the firefly are the cause 
Twin ships, twin nemeses

preparing to metamorphose
into an alphabet in stone


        St.-Benoît-sur-Loire
               to Max Jacob

Sun

Write this. We have burned all their villages

Write this. We have burned all the villages and the people in them

Write this. We have adopted their customs and their manner of dress

Write this. A word may be shaped like a bed, a basket of tears or an X

In the notebook it says, It is the time of mutations, laughter at jokes,
secrets beyond the boundaries of speech

I now turn to my use of suffixes and punctuation, closing Mr. Circle
with a single stroke, tearing the canvas from its wall, joined to her,
experiencing the same thoughts at the same moment, inscribing 
them on a loquat leaf

Write this. We have begun to have bodies, a now here and a now 
gone, a past long ago and one still to come

Let go of me for I have died and am in a novel and was a lyric poet, 
certainly, who attracted crowds to mountaintops. For a nickel I will 
appear from this box. For a dollar I will have text with you and 
answer three questions

First question. We entered the forest, followed its winding paths, and 
emerged blind

Second question. My townhouse, of the Jugendstil, lies by 
Darmstadt

Third question. He knows he will wake from this dream, conducted
in the mother-tongue

Third question. He knows his breathing organs are manipulated by 
God, so that he is compelled to scream

Third question. I will converse with no one on those days of the week 
which end in y

Write this. There is pleasure and pain and there are marks and signs. 
A word may be shaped like a fig or a pig, an effigy or an egg
                                                             but
there is only time for fasting and desire, device and design, there is 
only time to swerve without limbs, organs or face into a
                                                        scientific
silence, pinhole of light

Say this. I was born on an island among the dead. I learned language 
on this island but did not speak on this island. I am writing to you 
from this island. I am writing to the dancers from this island. The 
writers do not dance on this island

Say this. There is a sentence in my mouth, there is a chariot in my 
mouth. There is a ladder. There is a lamp whose light fills empty 
space and a space which swallows light

A word is beside itself. Here the poem is called What Speaking Means 
to Say
      though I have no memory of my name
	  
Here the poem is called Theory of the Real, its name is Let's Call This, 
and its name is called A Wooden Stick. It goes yes-yes, no-no. It goes 
one and one

I have been writing a book, not in my native language, about violins 
and smoke, lines and dots, free to speak and become the things we 
speak, pages which sit up, look around and row resolutely toward 
the setting sun

Pages torn from their spines and added to the pyre, so that they will 
resemble thought

Pages which accept no ink

Pages we've never seen--first called Narrow Street, then Half a 
Fragment, Plain of Jars or Plain of Reeds, taking each syllable in her 
mouth, shifting position and passing it to him

Let me say this. Neak Luong is a blur. It is Tuesday in the hardwood 
forest. I am a visitor here, with a notebook

The notebook lists My New Words and Flag above White. It claims 
to have no inside
                 only characters like A-against-Herself, B, C, L and 
N, Sam, Hans Magnus, T. Sphere, all speaking in the dark with their 
hands

     G for Gramsci or Goebbels, blue hills, cities, cities with hills, 
modern and at the edge of time

                               F for alphabet, Z for A, an H in
an arbor, shadow, silent wreckage, W or M among stars

What last. Lapwing. Tesseract. X perhaps for X. The villages are 
known as These Letters--humid, sunless. The writing occurs on
their walls

Dearest Reader

He painted the mountain over and over again 
from his place in the cave, agape 
at the light, its absence, the mantled 
skull with blue-tinted hollows, wren-
like bird plucking berries from the fire 
her hair alight and so on
lemon grass in cafe in clear glass. 
Dearest reader there were trees 
formed of wire, broad entryways 
beneath balconies beneath spires 
youthful head come to rest in meadow 
beside bend in gravel road, still 
body of milky liquid
her hair alight and so on 
successive halls, flowered carpets and doors 
or the photograph of nothing but pigeons 
and grackles by the shadow of a fountain.