The White Fires of Venus
We mourn this senseless planet of regret, droughts, rust, rain, cadavers that can't tell us, but I promise you one day the white fires of Venus shall rage: the dead, feeling that power, shall be lifted, and each of us will have his resurrected one to tell him, "Greetings. You will recover or die. The simple cure for everything is to destroy all the stethoscopes that will transmit silence occasionally. The remedy for loneliness is in learning to admit solitude as one admits the bayonet: gracefully, now that already it pierces the heart. Living one: you move among many dancers and don't know which you are the shadow of; you want to kiss your own face in the mirror but do not approach, knowing you must not touch one like that. Living one, while Venus flares O set the cereal afire, O the refrigerator harboring things that live on into death unchanged." They know all about us on Andromeda, they peek at us, they see us in this world illumined and pasteled phonily like a bus station, they are with us when the streets fall down fraught with laundromats and each of us closes himself in his small San Francisco without recourse. They see you with your face of fingerprints carrying your instructions in gloved hands trying to touch things, and know you for one despairing, trying to touch the curtains, trying to get your reflection mired in alarm tape past the window of this then that dark closed business establishment. The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music converged on by ambulance sirens and they understand everything. They're on your side. They forgive you. I want to turn for a moment to those my heart loves, who are as diamonds to the Andromedans, who shimmer for them, lovely and useless, like diamonds: namely, those who take their meals at soda fountains, their expressions lodged among the drugs and sunglasses, each gazing down too long into the coffee as though from a ruined balcony. O Andromedans they don't know what to do with themselves and so they sit there until they go home where they lie down until they get up, and you beyond the light years know that if sleeping is dying, then waking is birth, and a life is many lives. I love them because they know how to manipulate change in the pockets musically, these whose faces the seasons never give a kiss, these who are always courteous to the faces of presumptions, the presuming streets, the hotels, the presumption of rain in the streets. I'm telling you it's cold inside the body that is not the body, lonesome behind the face that is certainly not the face of the person one meant to become.
From The Incognito Lounge and Other Poems, published by Carnegie Mellon University Press. Copyright © 1994 by Denis Johnson. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Born in Munich, Germany, in 1949, Denis Johnson is the author of many works of poetry and prose, including The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly: Poems Collected and New (Harper Perennial, 1995).
Date Published: 1994-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/white-fires-venus