INTRODUCTION Kenneth Rosen FORGING REALITY, THE POETRY OF OSWALD LE WINTER Karl Krolow EXCERPT FROM THE JUDGE'S STATEMENT ON AWARDING THE INTERNATIONAL RILKE PRIZE TO OSWALD LE WINTER CONTENTS THE POETRY OF OSWALD LE WINTER A MAGNASCO SEA TRIBAL WARS LEDA WHAT OF THE QUARRY? MRS. TAYLOR'S LIFE THE DANCER AT VERSAILLES II HISTORY AN AMERICAN REQUIEM A TINY MIRACLE TRUE SCALE EQUINE LOVE ADAM ANSWERS EVE ADRIFT ON THE ICEBERG OF TIME SOLDIER’S FAREWELL THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM IN TENEBRIS BENNINGTON, JULY 1955 ENTOMBED NIGHT DEATH OF A BULL RHINO HOELDERLIN AT HEIDELBERG BLACK SUN BOATING A SHARK JOSEPH CONRAD BEFORE THE NELSON MONUMENT FATIMA COSTA DA CAPARICA PORTUGUESE FLIES LIKE A RIDDLE-POTENT KNOT COSSACKS BEACHSIDE CEMETERY IN THE HOSPITAL BEHIND THE FRONT BREAKFAST IN HELL NOCTES IRAE BORDER TRADE YOU CAN'T MAKE POETRY FROM A FART Translated by Mirja Kraemer POST SCRIPTUM Oswald Le Winter Credits
Kenneth Rosen FORGING REALITY, THE POETRY OF OSWALD LE WINTER Oswald LeWinter is an American poet living in Portugal. He was born in Vienna, Austria, separated from his family and shipped by boat to America to escape the holocaust of the Third Reich. In the United States he lived in a Philadelphia orphanage for Jewish refugees and did not see his parents again until he was ten and they had immigrated. He was educated at U. Cal., Berkeley, where he lettered in track and was an all-star football player, declining an opportunity to try-out with the San Francisco professional football team in order to become a U.S. Ranger and serve in Korea. Eventually LeWinter completed his advanced degrees at Columbia University, and acquired a doctorate in psychology in Germany. LeWinter worked on many continents for many years, primarily in disinformation and disruption, for American Central Intelligence. Most recently he was for three years in Vienna, place of his birth, as an involuntary guest of the Austrian government, for seeking to provide the aggrieved Egyptian billionaire Mohamed El Fayed with documents illustrating Buckingham Palace and British intelligence services' involvement with the death of his son Dodi El Fayed and Dodi's fiancee Princess Diana, in return for money. Mohamed El Fayed subsequently and unsuccessfully sued the American government under the Freedom of Information Act for the same papers he declined to purchase from retired General LeWinter, explaining in court that LeWinter's papers were forgeries of genuine documents. Thus besides intimate acquaintance with America's principal poets and critics of the last fifty years, which LeWinter accomplished by energy, acumen, and poetic versatility, literary lights whose reputations have fluctuated like American allegiances in the Middle East, American loyalty to hard-pressed or compromised intelligence operatives, or the American stock market, LeWinter's stream of surprise and disillusioned realpolitik is informed by his extraordinary involvement in the international intrigues of the same period. Like his life, LeWinter's poetry dramatizes the "American" centuries' violent inversion of vivid realities: physicians attempt to make human limbs from mud, blood-puddles and bone crumbs "In the Hospital Behind the Front"; a dog is lovingly appreciated for its misconception of itself as a snapping crocodile in "Portuguese Flies"; and in "Tribal Wars," the ‘mambas' of intra-familial antipathy between cousins, in both his father's generation and his own, are deadlier than the bullets of Nigerian inter-tribal hostilities, where the poet had been sent to assess contending factions for their prospective contribution to American regional interests, presumably oil. Morever, the cousin Joe with whom the poet has no hope of rapproachment, once sealed their mutual love "in childhood when each pressed/His nicked wrist against the other's as a bond." Rage at the confusion over what is essentially human that has infested our civilization, and the inevitable betrayal of essential humanity our arrogant hysteria entails, is expressed by the force with which LeWinter forges a lyric utterance from an immense historical and literary erudition, and from an equally immense stylistic range. Oswald LeWinter's poetry is the bad news that comes closer to the truth than most of the poetry currently read and written, and his vision and authority were earned the hard way. Kenneth Rosen is author of the recently published collection of poems, THE ORIGINS OF TRAGEDY, CavanKerry Press, Fort Lee, NJ. Portland, Maine April 6, 2003
EXCERPT FROM THE JUDGE'S STATEMENT ON AWARDING THE INTERNATIONAL RILKE PRIZE TO OSWALD LE WINTER January 1997 Oswald LeWinter is one of a kind in contemporary American poetry. He may, in fact, be unique in the annals of modern poetry in any country. His life sounds like a tale composed by Baron Munchhausen and edited by John Le Carre. Born in Vienna in 1931, he escaped the Holocaust by being chosen as one of only 1,000 Jewish children from all of Europe, tested for their intelligence quotients and permitted to enter the United States in 1939. After two years in an Orphanage, he was united with his parents. He grew up as a street child, since both parents had to work, in one of the poorest sections of New York. He graduated from High School at 16 and from a major university at 19. He has confirmed that he entered the Army in 1950, in time to take an active part in the Korean conflict, more out of gratitude to the country that had adopted him than out of patriotism. He became a highly decorated war hero and prisoner of war and came home in 1953. He fulfilled his service obligations until 1959 rising to the rank of Major, when he transferred to the reserves and returned to the university to obtain his doctorate and to teach. He had begun to write poetry in his thirteenth year and saw his first poems published in 1948, and collected in two books that friends had paid for, in 1959 (To Encircle the Center) and 1962 ( A Horse of Air). Although both editions were severely limited in number, his work was noticed and he began to receive the acclaim and the friendship of a number of older poets and some of his own generation. William Carlos Williams praised him in a letter (published in his Selected Letters), Thomas Mann and Herman Hesse corresponded with him, and his friend and near contemporary, Robert Lowell said of his poetry that it "brings together the richness of European philosophical poetry.with the muscularity of the American idion more successfully than any poet of his generation." He began to receive prizes and his work attracted translators such as Juan Liscano in Venezuela, and major poets in France and Germany. He enjoyed the friendship of the finest poets of his time, men like James Dickey, Karl Shapiro, De Witt Snodgrass, Louis Simpson and Thomas Merton. His poems were anthologized (Best poems of 1962) and he was invited to give readings in many universities. In 1963, he published a scholarly work, (Shakespeare in Europe) which established his reputation as a serious Shakespeare scholar. A devoted admirer of the life and work of the soldier-poet, Sir Philip Sidney, he left the academic world in 1965 desiring to be an actor in the history of his time rather than a spectator. He entered one of the intelligence services of his country, was activated by the Army and served 20 years with both, rising to a high rank, and playing a major role in some of the most dramatic events of the second half of this century. In 1985, he was forced to resign from both for having been part of Iran-Contra and was jailed for two years. He had stopped publishing in 1965. His last poem had appeared in the American quarterly, The Sewanee Review and had earned him a letter of praise from T.S. Eliot together with an invitation to submit a book manuscript to Faber and Faber. Le Winter never responded to this invitation. His silence deepened, felt himself deeply wronged by the country he had served with such dedication and which had criminalized him and he slowly became a forgotten man and one despised by former friends who took his acceptance of a position with an intelligence agency as a sign that he had developed what one of them wrote in a letter "faschistoid" tendencies. His silence continued but he never stopped writing. He began to write poems in his mother tongue as well as in English in 1988. In 1994 he published a book of poems in German (Qualverwandtschaften, 'Tormenting Relations"), stunning, awesome in its breadth and power dealing chiefly with the unique relationship between Germans and German Jews. These poems are not accusatory. They are subtly filled with the problems in that relationship, latent envy, suppressed mutual admiration and its tragic results in the Nazi era. They are wise poems, courageous poems and poems full of powerful metaphors and a directness which privileges le mot juste, the precise word to convey compactly and fluidly a multitude of levels that is the reality of the poet's life. Oswald LeWinter most assuredly deserves the prize with which we honor him today. He follows Yvan Goll, Giuseppe Ungaretti and the first recipient, Fernando Pessoa. He adds his own distinction to their august company. Karl Krolow Translated by Heidrun Boeker
THE POETRY OF OSWALD LE WINTER A MAGNASCO SEA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For Yael White caps mime a school of dolphins arching through swift water; a Magnasco sea. In memory's Cyclops eye, I see my daughter astride the spume. Her glazed eyes turn to me. Then, swift as western light, she vanishes beneath the ocean’s skin and I am left behind with a soul, robbed of joys, now full of night, aged, steadied by a cane: My future blind. Her fingers raced across the ivory keys chasing arpeggios with girlish glee. She lay beside the pool, a Nereid, sunning, or wound daisies in her hair on a rainy day. She was the sum of love the first moment she appeared, smeared with blood. I stood and watched her curled in fetal sleep, before the antiseptic glass as often as I could. These days I walk beside the ocean, slow, laced with pain. Can I accept the mystery of the sea, that I won't see or listen to her again, and learn that loss remains loss, finally?
TRIBAL WARS ~~~~~~~~~~~ My father and his Mandel cousin Fired epithets at each other For two decades. Deadlier Than mortars or mere bullets, The verbal mambas killed The spirit, and left the body A husk of crushed memories. They had been born hours apart And slept in the same bed Before steerage took Max to America While father, glued to Vienna, Needed the threat of extinction To move his ass, and my mother, To the new world's ghetto. Cousin Max, moneyed from bread He baked each morning at four, Took me to the shelter for refugees Where he told my father to expect Nothing from him except old coats. "In America," he said with his Yankee- Yiddish, "a real man finds his own way." 2. In 1967, Thirty-six years old, I was Ordered to Nigeria where the mambas Had become bullets. A tribal war, Between secessionist Biafra And the legal dictator was piling Corpses up and down the roads. The savannahs had turned red and wet. Taxiing the 25 kilometers into Lagos From the sandbagged airport, I dissected my assignment: To discern The side America should embrace. Who held the kings and aces that would End in the annihilation of opponents? Who was ready to embrace America? The hotel was worse than substandard And the mosquitoes hummed louder Than the yawing fans in my room. Moving between the combatants Without making my shaved white face A target was an exercise in craftiness I perfected with the sweating speed of fear. Ojukwu and Gowon, the two opposing Generals, glowered at me from walls Scarred by bullets in Kano and in Lagos. I was to recommend which of them Should die, an accident of assassination. Induced suicide was an alternative. I had been schooled in how Lumumba died. I was reprieved when events overtook My waffling and the shooting stopped. History forced the two Generals to accept Its own preconceived design. The war came And the war went. The tribes lost no love For each other after mortar shells And bullets stopped parceling out the air. 3. Max and my father both died Without having taken one another's hand Or traded one forgiving word. Their tribal war created its own history That found heirs in my cousin Joe and me. We never even speak to one another. Ours is no war of attrition, only a dumb conflict Disguised by strict silence and the pretense That neither of us, the two survivors, Cares that we continue to betray The common childhood when each pressed His bloody wrist against the other's as a bond.
LEDA ~~~~ For Jill Johnston Of such a madder music he was made, That swan, Leda gasped beneath the billowing Of his uncommon wing. Silent, resigned To glories which she knew no more of yet Than instinct's random summoning, she seized The trumpeting breast and cowered under Arrogance until, transported to a calm Beyond fear, she succumbed and sank to rest Beside what seemed once more merely fowl.
WHAT OF THE QUARRY? ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ What of the quarry The hunters abandon? What shall be done With the furtive doe? When shout and shot No longer resound, When flagging leaves Fall free of their boughs, How shall the hunted live, Freed from the chase That circled their hours And muscled their feet, That taught them the lore Of shadow and woods And widened their world With staggering paths?
MRS. TAYLOR'S LIFE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ She lives in a porcelain ghetto, Among Wedgwood, Sevres, Meissen, Noritake and Limoges; her skin With its fine lines, needle-thin fingers And feet, pale as the dancer's that adorns The mantel above the still virgin fireplace, From the hand of some master artisan. Looking at her one might suppose We treasure most what is nearest Our own image in the soul: Or That what's beyond nature finds us Mysteriously and joins with us in a new skin To perfect all that the impure world Perceives as wrought perfection. For us, nature and art are split like a tree Through which lightning raced leaving a veneer Of carbon on its path. Art imitates art, and only art. The Chelsea dancer is eternal. Even if she broke In a thousand shards, a life like mine or Mrs. Taylor's While achieving at the final breath a wholeness, Passes like storms, but not like inspiration.
THE DANCER AT VERSAILLES II ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ She danced on ice So tissue-thin Yet never spied The Sea god's grin, But waltzed along, Grew so expert That when it thawed She stayed unhurt, And over water Skated on, Nor ever guessed The grin was gone.
HISTORY ~~~~~~~ My fathers sat in sooty rooms Where candles wept Until their eyes burned shut, Until the universe With all its angels Moved in the hollows Of their hands. They earned the Law They lived by, And lived on bloodless meat And shunned air, Until crowded Into showers in Poland To become the Germans' Ovens' favorite fare.
AN AMERICAN REQUIEM ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For Bayard Rustin (Quamquam animus) meminisse horet (luctuque refugit, incipiam) Virgil I Why was the bus growling, Disgorging passengers At crumbling corners? Why were the black streets Holding the white at bay, While furious eyes Knifed passing cars? Bricks, knives and black despair! Blue helmets over faces cooked with rage While light blue arms and dark blue legs Race to outrace the waves Of boiling rage and the smashed impotence Of windows: tongueless Glass where mourners pass. II Rats, and children's screams That answer parent's calls. Blue hands like blazing trees; Cinders and cobblestones fall like a storm, Like spears of fire loosened Against trembling rooftops and dark blood Crawling past children aged to numbness. Hands, feet streak Across the caterwaul of sirens Conceived in some Euclidian orbit of the state. Some Cyclops of justice, red with fear and hate, Driven sandbagged into the breech, Directed by electric mouths, crackles Instructions to a nightscape gone berserk. III The streets lie unwashed and rich In garbage; feverish tar, soft under foot, In glistening furrows, as if a thousand shards Lay planted in its mass. The wind Is cooling the green suburbs. Young and old clot doorways And, after dark ooze onto corners Toward a dance of neon signs. The mob suffers from its size. For the despised, history is no flight Of anecdotes returning like plump geese From pleasant winters To the graciousness of spring in Doric fields. Here there is only the present, Pale as a TV screen fading off To gray snow, leaving the cat, Tissue thin, to prowl from hall to hall. A man, half awake Amid furtive lice, forgets the honest axe In the cherry grove, or the bearded boy Running from grave books To find the owner of some pennies. Myths have no calories. He feels The miserly wind through torn windows. The grandfather, rotting in the back room, Breathing like a far-off train, Hears the close gaggle of a phonograph And the child coughing in the coffin of his bed, And remembers nothing, not the legends Nor the scars. He hardly even sees The stripe of morning when it comes. IV But morning comes! A last Incendiary wake arches from some dark hole Across the almost empty street. The helmeted patrol in double pairs. The dream of freedom leaves a fine debris. But go into the park nearby Where all is paradise as in another country. The ducks are gliding on the polished pond. They live off visitors, Off children who come laughing, To throw crumbs of extra bread and cluck. Sometimes the ducks tear suddenly at one another For bread, to taste strange blood, From mere immortal whim. They do not dream of freedom or of trying To find blind woodland streams. They have no history that tortures pride, And have no future they cannot keep from lying. (written after the Harlem riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King.)
A TINY MIRACLE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The rose in the vase on the table Trembles in the breeze. I notice it and sense A sudden movement in the heart. I deed it words, but tell you now This tiny miracle will be brief Like the breeze that stroked the rose, Tender as a breath, Because your speech is strange to me Although the feelings that rouse my voice Are familiar to me as my skin And like a rose, as real and blossoming.
TRUE SCALE ~~~~~~~~~~ How frequently we wake to dirty light, Lie shaken, knuckling grit out of one eye, Recalling how, the slow ticking night Pressed us against the bed, cold, knobby As a wall of brick, our shoulders clenched, While all the day's words and events Formed in a firing squad, the stench Of execution seeping into every sense. One moment, if we cease remembering, Is all we need to know that we alone Judge, we pilot the pencils summoning The hulking bullies, we invent each fingerbone That trains a candled barrel on our eye. But no! A corner turned, a word, a look Remain the night's qualms. And instead we lie Under our heaped anxieties, swindled of luck, Certain the night’s alarms were real, Certain we are heroic to bestride another day. We tremble up, victorious, but not enough to feel Our lives were never black, not even gray.
EQUINE LOVE ~~~~~~~~~~~ You were the mare I rode to sleep, Saddled with my ripening hopes, That held me firmly on steep slopes; Where grease lurked, urging me to slip. How many nights did I caress your mane Before you ran to be another rider's prize? I never set my brand on you, hugely unwise. Now I will never mount your like again.
ADAM ANSWERS EVE ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ How can I be my own destroyer When the teat that suckled me with bile Became the chilling, rouged smile of a wife I kicked out of my bitter life into the blind Streets, where old Falsehood trolls for men? I slept a decade with Derision in a bed Bought by diluted lust and puzzled over By the crow of shame. Words that had learned My name and knew where in my memories To rummage for dismay, had come to stay. To say I lost all rights to rail against the way My days were minced like meat To make a pie no starving dog would crave, Because I bit into the offered apple willingly, Is to deny that all that followed was a lie. There never was an Eden, never sapient fruit. The sanguine gate, breached well before I came, was daubed with chicken blood. A Joke? The angel With ignited sword groomed his smirk, and swelled paternally as I turned into air, where I stood.
ADRIFT ON THE ICEBERG OF TIME ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Most of my life is no longer visible, what's left above the waters' skin is a tip wrinkled from experience and infirm as weather. I've outlived my strength. A horde of years has grazed my scalp, leaving bare areas amid graying turf. Brigades of pain invade stiff joints, colonize my brain, and move me with a cane. Who shall I blame for the catastrophe of growing old? Young, no one warned me Time might wreck my sturdy skiff, leaving me to drift on freezing floes that would keep moving south inexorably until a tropical wind melts them to waves and surrenders me to mysteries. Who do I curse for the donation of this finite life?
SOLDIER'S FAREWELL ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ If I should not return, Let my brothers sow The fields next Spring. Their plows will fold My spoiled bones Into the soil they churn. One morning, while dew Hovers on ripe fields, Go, take some rye, Some heavy sheaves. Hold them in your arms As once you held me. Then kiss me, without pain. Crush me to your breast And slowly let me fall. I will forever reappear There, where I drop, In each new grain. I will forever reappear There where I grip The waiting plain, Year after year.
THE STORM BEFORE THE CALM ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Downpours reign in Portugal in November, winds wind ropes of water hawser-like, clouds, dark and sluggish, crowd the sky. Night comes so soon it seems never to have left. None savor the sad spectacle of men and women bent into curtains of wet air, trying to keep umbrellas tasked, keep them from being seized and flown into trees or twisted into metal pretzels. The leaden sky leads my heart to old sadness. Torrents of grief overflow the sluiceway of my feelings. I wear regret next to my nakedness like a hair shirt. Guilt inundates my thoughts. This state of being me is as old as inclement weather. It comes and goes like seasons, hardly warning. One day sun clears the cerulean air, the next, the sky falls on felsic mountain peaks. I have forgotten what I mourn or why, denied guilty verdicts but admitted crimes to punish days I cannot help but live. No matter how I heft I can't heave love into my blood or enter the storm's eye.
IN TENEBRIS ~~~~~~~~~~~ The days were trees struck by lightning and the nights granite rising from the sea. Love was a volcano once, its fire frightening. Its lava flood no longer scorches me. Bodies entwined, are meant to be consumed like kindling against winter's chill. But seasons change and every fire is doomed, when passions yield to habit's will. And so we age, partakers of life's jests all the while sad or gay, busily believing we are more than actors, more than guests, saved, by having been aflame, from grieving.
BENNINGTON, JULY 1955 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For Marta Gautier, who brought back the memory. We barely closed our eyes at night, sleeping three or four hours, but hardly finding rest, brief, deep, troubled. For creeping hours, we spied on darkness, on winds traversing cirrus streamers flat as sheets on my divorced ironing board. There was the occasional late bird with no nest, darting from one rooftop to another in restlessness. I sat by a window open to the garden gazing at tall New England Asters, diurnal flowers, A. novae-anglia, six feet tall with silky, slender rays In purple, white and red, surrounding disks of orange filaments now invisible. In the bed, below a sampler that proclaimed "God is love" your almond-colored body stretched;a jungle cat feigning sleep, the rhythm of your gourmet passion echoed by the soft wind outside. We had made love, and I wondered if that made us lovers. I feared the dawn, when sun would open the Starflowers like a carpet on which butterflies rest to lay their eggs. I’d seen Boloria astarte with orange- brown wings that were invisible among these flaming Michaelmas Daisies, if the dark markings near the wings' bases hadn't betrayed their presence, gluing new generations to the rosettes of leaves, and feeding on treacly nectar at the flower's heart. I knew that soon you'd rise, shower, return to books and I to sour lectures, interrupted for this night, and I'd become the Aster, closed, almost sufficient in myself, waiting for sun to unlock me as you had, with your fugacious radiance and heat.
ENTOMBED NIGHT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Now the season's lost its sunny grace, its skin tanned rust and mottled gray. I wake in a tight, darkened space to a dirge invisible musicians play. I remember well when blood ran high. Salt striped my lips as if I'd kissed the sea, I left some place where seagulls cry and frowning vultures leaf a tree. Life was my shovel, Death a buried bone. I dug for love, a man wild for treasure, and found only an old, broken stone I stuck in a green heart, desiring it to grow. With every thought, I took its measure. The metamorphosis of Lapis is less slow. Show me a Phoenix in his lambent nest, reveal the field where Pegasus must go, help seek a Unicorn, and I'll forego the rest. No prize I’ve wanted, none I've claimed ranks with the flooded eyes of the one face, long vanished, that I stood before, ashamed, trapped in a crippled dream, in a strange place.
DEATH OF A BULL RHINO ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ANGOLA, 1975 A slow barge seeking a safe harbor, the Rhino moves into the water hole, sending the sludge his legs stir up in eddies to the surface. He moves, a heavy dancer; muscles visible beneath his hide, flex and relax in a rhythm so well practiced even his approaching end can’t alter it. The sign that death has entered his huge frame to do its work, is in the visible desertion of the flock of small birds that have used the broad back as an island in the muddy water. With no talent for philosophy, introspection, and intimation of its own mortality, the Rhino senses, somehow, that the end is near, that Death, in a span only I can measure with my watch, is growing larger as life evaporates from the no longer strong, young frame. I wonder why he wades into this forsaken hole? Is it to die unseen by others of his kind? I’ve heard that Elephants lumber off, sometimes, into thickets far from the herd to await the end. Old as the Rhino, and sick of hosting parasites who've fed in me, death is no fitting friend.
HOELDERLIN AT HEIDELBERG ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Fireflies skating on the night-dimmed Neckar and fat pigeons roosting finally in the crenellated eaves of the wrecked castle: Heidelberg sleeps after a day when poetry sprung the stubborn boundaries of language, and a herd of feelings ran into eternity like the wild bulls of Pamplona, between crooked houses, along narrow, winding streets, goring nothing except the checked imagination. Mad Hoelderlin is dead in Tuebingen, in the tower room above the sawdust workshop of the joiner, Zimmer, he imagined, in the Patmos of his mania, was Christ. He is buried in his words, in the syllables his Muse granted him to the end, in the sane gyres of suffering and doubt. He was never in Heidelberg, except as poems, a fate not uncommon for those who trust their lives to despair, emerge diamond hard, and live in air.
BLACK SUN ~~~~~~~~~ A season of ashes, the sun's disk turned obsidian, clouds wallowed in blood. The black flower of Brzezinka* bloomed behind the steel lace of the electric garden where fire digested morsels of expendable flesh spiced with crystals of an all-consuming salt. It blossomed on a tower with eyes, shedding its gold on boxcars rolling to a destiny conceived, by hate, for yellow-starred herds discharged to nakedness and ordained death, a short march along narrow alleys between wooden huts to chimneys that smoked like Satan's nostrils. That past gassed all our futures, stripped the visions of our sleep to one naked vision of the black flower of Brzezinka sweeping the lethal columns as they held onto a vain hope. The ashes scattered over alien fields claim love that never reached fulfillment, not even now. Only those whose memories are steeped in hemlock, whose blood stopped measuring segments of time, know the absurdity of survival, of moving through canyons of cities like shadows no light casts, never drunk on forgetfulness, or leavening the bread of shrift. --- *the spotlight in the main tower over the entrance to the unloading ramp at Birkenau. Under its glare rolled the transports bringing mostly Jews, but also Gypsies and others, to their deaths.
BOATING A SHARK ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For Olle Alsen nos cantabimus invicem Neptunum et viridis Nereidum comas Horace How to evoke in dry, fluent words the open ocean shrinking to the size of a tub, or the cupped sky's light coruscating from the enameled wings of the few insects that venture this far out? Waiting shrinks pleasure like dried fruit. Expectation is a large, baited hook no fish mouth flashes by to strike; the red and white ball doesn't bob, except in dumb obedience to waves. Marlin and Barracuda slide about the silted bottom among blind crabs, apparently too canny to be lured by curved steel buried in a dead sardine. Hunger rarely foils experience. Strapped in the fighting chair, I survey my wet range with a kingfisher's eye seeing no tail or fin that breaks the water's crinkled foil. The morning wanders on as heat expands the air. The float is sucked from the surface. The sardine has been swallowed and the hook buried in red, swimming flesh. The diesels roar. Whatever struck the bait pits instinct now against learned skill. My shoulders clench as the rod bends nearly double and I feel as if a behemoth struggles on the steel line’s other end for its gilled life. A shark parts the surface, twists, dives deep. The reel hums its unwinding. We contend for five excruciating hours until the gray, shot in the brain, is hoisted by crewmen to the deck, just another dead fish. My swollen arms won’t rise. We aim for port, the traditional broom tied to the mast. On the dock, the captain takes my picture, a stunned pigmy posturing beside nearly a dozen feet of glistening isurus oxyrinchus hanging tail up from a tackle, pulleys squealing with the weight. The head wound bleeds again. I yearn to shower and sleep, but arrangements linger; the taking of teeth for a necklace, dollars for the taxidermist to create a trophy for a long wall to awe LaQuinta neighbors and a check to the air-freight forwarder. Docksiders convince me such victories over nature require their stuffed evidence. The money goes but the shark never rolls west. Perhaps a Japanese restaurant paid more. The forwarder’s phone’s been disconnected. No trace exists anywhere of the sea's champion barely defeated by exertions that nearly tore my arms out of their sockets. I'm left with a tale worth a drink among friends, a lost Polaroid, and fifty-five lines; the only tangible reality.
JOSEPH CONRAD BEFORE THE NELSON MONUMENT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ That Stone's no steadier than a deck, your laurel heaves like breakers, crowds disperse in tides below your gaze. Each night the sun descends behind the froth of London's attics. Each day, fattened pigeons flap like headsails on their trek. Horatio, Horatio, be glad that last day sealed your memory. No matter in which rooms you might have lain your glove, or on which hook your sleeve hung; Every man meets death at some disordered moment of surprise, when blood and future are congealed. Mad England, seeing only what he's told, sits by the speaker now in slippers and suspenders, behind torn shades. I've thought it's time to lift the megaphone, spread furled sheets, tack windward and haul anchor out of this slime. Instead, I hear my voice grow old. We two have straddled our share of sudden gales. I stand beside you last command, a debonair old man whose legs are failing. At least we’ve had our brief say, framed dispatches, walked the pitching sea. Tonight my ceiling may be full of billowing, black, endless sails.
FATIMA ~~~~~~ Although I was going further than Fatima, I had to share the rattling bus with old women exuding the odor of mothballs, their matchstick legs barely protruding from faded black skirts. Higher, starched blouses the same color as the black cloth pocketbooks, pressed by prehensile fingers into clenched laps. Despite their unfeigned poverty, the pious ladies each wore a thin cross of gold hung on a thinner gold chain circling a wrinkled neck and cushioned on a bulbous udder. The tired Franciscan slumped alone at the rear and accompanied the slap of tires with his snores. The female driver listened furtively to rap. Is this what God wants from us, I asked myself; rituals free of doubt, to creep along potholed roads in tight seats whose worn springs have torn the flimsy green-checkered upholstery? Is this the service he requires us to perform to earn a place at his healed side in a heaven none has ever really seen except in films? I pivoted on disbelief long ago, in a time when I could see men brandishing his symbols, mouthing his name reverently while the brains of children, parents and the aged became pulp beneath their hobnailed boots. Was God one of that group smiling in their sunny pictures; young soldiers playing football or carousing? I found no answer, and as time aged, I forgot my questions and repeated the expedient creed that God fights with equal fervor on all sides. I became one of those laughing youths. Today I watch the women, some caressing rosaries, some soundlessly reciting prayers, and wonder if I, too, travel toward unhesitating truths?
COSTA DA CAPARICA ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ For George Santayana Beyond the farthest gusts of spray, sails pierce Gull wing and heaven simultaneously. Beyond that is the calmness of a sea No mind can rouse, or quell, and yet no nemesis. The sun has called old women out, and young men Who build tower upon tower of muscle With prehensile arms, then leap to wrestle With the surf, go under, twist, come up again. They have the genius of eternity, who hang Upon the moment like a gymnast, who Fill every inch of that unsettling blue With a Pythagorean form dumb as a boomerang. Youth is no guarantor of victory, or age of defeat. Tenacity is Time’s ally, and a kind of strength. An old Atlantic shears this coast along its length. The young, at best, are nature incomplete. Why envy them the suppleness with which they climb My limbs surrendered in a changing season long ago? Years have increased the swiftness of my passion's flow, And turned experience into wisdom in good time. I have no wish to leave my natural state, Or to become some artifact that conquers age. I seek only to write memorable words on every page, Full of my passing life, as homage to our fate.
PORTUGUESE FLIES ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ "All Portuguese dogs are crazy," Says Luisa, my neighbor. Her runt, Black, brown and white spotted, One-fourth Terrier, one-eighth Spaniel And assorted fractions of other breeds That roam the streets of Lisbon after Dark, sniffing at bitches whose tails Stiff as a finger, probing the sky, signal Mating fever, is called Cao, which Is Dog in Portuguese; simple and Undistinguished as his whelping In some cellar among stone washtubs. Cao chases flies. Thinking he is a crocodile, He snaps at them, but never manages To bag one, which is not surprising. Sometimes, in the cool rose dusk Of Alcantara, my borough, I stroll Into the pocket park on Alto Santo Amaro, near my old house and take A bench. Cao is usually there, running Like a halfback, broken field style, Trying to maul flies that keep evading. It's easy for them. Portuguese flies are Small, like fruit flies elsewhere. Portugal itself is small. It fits easily Into the trouser pocket of a Texan, or so A clerk at the American Embassy said, The day I came. He was from Amarillo. Luisa, her husband, or her son Paulo Are usually in the park. Cao barks In shrill bursts, more like yelping than Like threats. The flies stay high enough To entice, but also to escape, his teeth. But Cao never tires of the chase. It is His mutt nature he obeys doing it. Just As the flies express theirs by escaping.
LIKE A RIDDLE-POTENT KNOT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ for Italo Calvino, dear friend Like a riddle-potent knot, the sheet I thought would cover me When I began to cool with sweat During the heat of this midsummer night, Lies tightly wound around my knees, Playing its minute part, gaoler In the drama of imaginings and sounds Conspiring to prevent my sleep By tugging with ominous persistence at my heart. The chant of crickets in the massive dark, The battering of insect wings Against the window screen, the grate of autos On the road below the house, the brunt Of jasmine which invades my room, All bring my mind no ease, all Metamorphose into complexities. I am possessed By an unrest so rigid it defies the pleasure I might have from the flashing of some fireflies. Nothing will give me peace this night Though I have labored all day as best I could: Begun a letter owed for weeks, Climbed the hill from which the bay had spread Before me like a blue fan, bit my axe Deep into three dead maples in Paine's wood. Now, past the crest of night, I see the skimming Blade, the splintered bark, the hill; Each scene precisely incomplete as in a dream. What seeks solution now? I ask myself Knowing too well that some immense necessity Sleeps in me while I cannot sleep. Foreboding Over world-crumbling bombs no longer cowers me, Nor do I suffer for the fate of poetry. The prime events that rob us of our lives Our sole insomnias will not deter. Dread is a waste before the inevitable. Flight Won't flee the doer as the flier can the deed. If only I imagined fear as in my youth When I would huddle in a squeezing room And conjure up the worst; a giant pillow Stifling me, or being swallowed in the jaws Of some whale-bowelled calamity, all The most terrible to trick me into courage Which would never come before exhaustion And childish trust carried me to sleep As perfect as the danger which inspired me. But pillows have diminished and my jaws Are tight. The terrors that in childhood Yielded looming fright have lost their grandeur, Their ability to make infinitudes of courage Still attainable. Complexities return each night. What taunts me now will not be caught By galloping on Alexander's horse in dreams. Its hooves once roused my skin; its mane That flying mane, beckoned, and not in vain. Over the east the sky grows pearl as the night Defers. Who but the child of that dark world Summoned by less alterable terrors, sat here And stared at ghosts of dreams that lied? Who shivered, hearing the first sparrow's tweet, And twisted in his sheet, wishing an ancient saber In his hand, still moist from heat, a blade Such as the Macedonian could flourish, when Hindered by a riddle only slicing could defeat?
COSSACKS ~~~~~~~~ Where are the Cossacks, The horse raiders with sabers Sharp enough to cut God's beard, Who would have whipped my father All the way from Kiev to the Czar's war, Had he not chopped off his trigger finger At the knuckle, in one stroke. Better to be maimed than a murderer, He had whispered to the Rabbi Who had been stunned to unbelief By the cleaver still bleeding furiously. What has death to do with a Jew? I would ask him that now Seeing his dead face Return in this repose to a clear happiness I had not seen in it for years, Eyes lidded in contemplation Of absolutes his life had moved Too swiftly from, as wind Will sometimes chase Smoke from a moist fire. Here lies the man, expensively, In one of his ten Sabbath suits, His right hand holding down His talked-out heart as in some final oath, The four remaining digits So fleshed with the gold moments Of the gold country he espoused The severed one is not missed, seems Merely to be bent at the healed knuckle Pointing inward at the heart Long since delivered from its terror. I would ask him now, Was it a Gentile angel Who tumbled him into black nets Like the short of breath fish he had become? I would ask him. But he would laugh and lift both chins Saying: Forget this foolishness. Go make a dollar. Why are you boring Into my ribs with your questions? Who remembers Russia after all these years? Cossacks were Cossacks, a cholera take them. But he is dead, and in those last years His memory turned fat, and choked his understanding. The finger he would rather lose Than curl around the trigger of a gun Is missed by no one. But I Wish I could ask him now Where are the Cossacks, Do they never ride? Without the devils we give fingers for Can the Messiah come? Well fed in death He lies patriarchally composed, As if to say: What Cossacks? Go make a dollar. Be something.
BEACHSIDE CEMETERY ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ When the August rains had died leaving no trace on the eroded stones, no dark stain where names had been, no sign but pockmarked soil below whose borderless rows cadavers lay, consigned to memory, now feeding legions of blind worms, I came to sit. I had been trapped inside an old house with a sofa that regurgitated springs, torn from their moorings on the frame like hawsers that have lost their dock, while storms gnawed at houses groping coastal sands giddily in winds that tore clouds unabatedly. I came to sit and wonder, steeped in awe at the unforgiving force of disaster; a storm diving like a swarthy vulture inward from the lumbering ocean to depose the houses and disturb the conjugal sleep of the long dead. Nothing surprised me more than my calm. The one-armed Postman, resident for more than sixty years since birth, had told me these half-vanished graves held the first settlers, even a few Kiawahs that some charitable and rebellious Jesuit had baptized and buried here in ground hallowed by ignoring trivial differences. I sat all afternoon, while the sun pursued the weakened downpour slowly westward toward the Appalachians, where it would hide all night; a story an old Seminole woman had told me once near Table Rock. I found her explanation more congenial than the scientific legend taught in school. The following day, the wind clothed itself in waving blades of Fescue grass, to say goodbye to remnants of the storm. Parts of damaged cottages littered the beach, flotsam of rural culture, but the limestone cemetery tablets stood undisturbed, stubborn witnesses to pious ritual and ageing doubt.
IN THE HOSPITAL BEHIND THE FRONT ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Soldiers are citizens of death's grey land. Siegfried Sassoon No one can knead mud and puddled blood into a replacement arm, or mold shreds of flesh and crumbs of bone dripping with marrow, thick as a veloute, into a leg. The hovering Doctor only thinks he's God, but God has been discharged, unfit for war. His angels pasted, stiff as the ground, on stretchers at a door, big toes tagged, "unidentified". Death, dressed in ice, recruits at Chosin reservoir. Water meant life before the sky froze and the stars, brittle from anti-aircraft fire, turned the firmament to flakes. None dream of heaven anymore, none feel that hell’s merely a lie like lists of casualties. The songs extolling bravery reach our ears off-key and weird, as if sung by a choir of Vampires who suck hope out of the loud air. The air’s a pudding, blood thickened by cordite. Breathing it feels like death. In the tent where many wounded wait on cots for surgeons’ expert hands to save enough Marine to send to Iowa, Brooklyn, San Francisco, or Duluth, screams so intense none listen anymore. All hope for specks of pity reeling nurses parcel out among the few far enough from being bagged to use them well; a sign that tells us who’ll be living in another hour. The dead are history, pearls cast into standard texts for telegrams.
BREAKFAST IN HELL ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The yolks are jungle green or bloody, depending on which blasted tree you squat against to try and hoist the greasy, lukewarm chow in your tin canteen cup to your leathery mouth. A colony of spores thrives on humidified bread And fried insects pepper blackened bacon. Breakfast in hell, three days soaked-loping from Firebase X where Charlie waits along the trail, black mosquito with a stinger, copper-jacketed, that ruptures trained brains or a fresh chest. Nothing reminds us of a Diner in Indiana or New York. This is a kitchen where disease drips from trees. We're happy for a moment's peace to swill dry mouths out with a brew the hue of coffee but the taste of burnt tires our guts have learned to tolerate along with shrapnel crumbs. Too tired to ask ourselves why we're here we light joints to avoid being besieged by answers. Patriots all, we huddle, ready to salute death, the general who's drafted tens of thousands on all sides. The heat is stifling and makes us wish we could pull on Charlie's thin black pajamas and still serve our violent mission as good grunts who keep metaphoric dominoes from tumbling. There’s Tex from Arizona who rode a bus through a Panhandle night to Benning and swears he'll move to Amarillo if he outlives 'Nam. Wash, from Harlem, paid a seamstress, who sits near Saigon’s Paris brothel, to create a pair of boxer shorts for him from a nylon Old Glory. In lying joy we swear to hide a pessimistic truth these months have buried in stoned memories: we’ll reunite ten years from now. Many will be long dead, and the rest will live in furnished nightmares and forget the wish to elbow to the bar in Denver's Brown's Hotel. Some will go home to beat their wives again, others to pump gas near flying Turnpikes or deliver milk in Boston suburbs before dawn. We have learned to commit crimes like murder, without facing trial. Some will try that. I'll wake from night-sweats to write poems, still breakfasting in hell.
NOCTES IRAE ~~~~~~~~~~~ The night is made for love and night patrols. Army Field Manual Curled like sausage in a shallow hole, gouged out of Play Cu dirt under fire, head tucked between my shaking knees, I think neither of love nor the patrol. Why think of Novalis and his verse, in cratered landscapes, colored pus, where night inspires no hymns, and serves as talisman against a bullet's curse? Old letters, smudged and greasy, keep breast-pocket Camels nearly dry; mortars diminishing their clich‚ news, this night in which only the bagged find sleep. Arms and lips that write they've strayed and will not find their way to me again are dwarfed by bursts of terror that usurp the time to feel I have been twice betrayed. This nail of land where benumbed men strive to annihilate each other, has no time for love, only for five dollar minutes to forget the thud of mortars, whose landing few survive. I want no cross for dying well, no jug of wine to drown the moans of silenced friends. Can medals compensate maimed grunts? Woes vanished when I cradled minced Billy Cline. That war is boredom, none of us was ever told. We pass our days waiting to die, our nights in clinging to the hope darkness will change us to a mound of dirt, or to a corpse already cold. But new cadavers, black from swarming flies, pile up like trash. We know the hero myths we heard from fathers or were told in school, are lies that mock our concealed relief, when a friend dies.
BORDER TRADE ~~~~~~~~~~~~ You start by snowing salt behind the index knuckle to prepare the tongue for the Tequila's bite. Then, head tilted back, you gulp the golden shot, ending with tartness teeth squeeze from a lemon quarter-moon. One, two, then to the inspection of the ochre-skinned wares, none older than fourteen, who assault the fumes of the pomaded hall with homemade Chanel and watered vinegar. The file moves on, and on: Long fuchsia nails and a thin, arch of legs, unsteady in nailed heels. Screened bouquets glare on nylon skirts slit to the talced navel, to provide minute glimpses of pubes prickling from congested heat. The Gringos, some gray, sit on splintered chairs, cracking arthritic knuckles. Some laugh-- Masons on a lewd holiday. Marines nearly as green as their prey wait passively to ban zits of late puberty. Rubbers and a mild carbolic rinse free tricks of fleas and worries of disease from the hurried conjugation, keep the unwelcome yellow drip of venery also, south of the sifting border and sleepy midnight eyes. For sworn love, you get amateurs who wait in San Diego. In Tia Juana, you buy thirty minutes for two Georges on a hollow mattress, under nicotine stained sheets, with a professional who moans as if you'd hit the bell.
YOU CAN'T MAKE POETRY FROM A FART ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ (Delmore Schwartz) Kennedy listened or pretended to. Both from Boston, one patrician, the speaker, partisan. Frost, an icon, hung in one corner, half encircled by a fence of adoring cabinet wives whose chiffon afternoon ensembles betrayed thick grapefruit thighs and waistlines leaning over pantyhose. Black waiters snaked among poets with trays of drinks and canapes. Cal abstained, Berryman imbibed for both. It's 1962! A National Poetry Festival, with peacocks of iambics herded to readings, asked to preen, to prove Camelot loves culture, perhaps more than a swinish bay in Cuba, or the sly insinuation of advisors armed like condottieri into Cochin China. Masques are diversions whose purpose mimes the covering of wood with veneer, History will have to buy, astonished by waxed surfaces, while termites keep digesting grain and substance. A nervous time was had by all. Poetry and acknowledged legislators mix like oil and alcohol. Frost, doddered on thrombotic legs in a wind that tweaked the nostrils of assembled solons, recited "The Gift Outright" hatless, from memory, his cap and papers winged down the mall like butterflies, from Lincoln's steps. At 1600, in the garden, rose petals had begun to fall, and cherry trees, near the yacht basin, sagged with clouds of blooms that never became fruit. All Poems Copyright (c) 2003 Oswald Le Winter
Oswald Le Winter Credits: A number of these poems first appeared in The Sewanee Review, The Hudson Review, The Paris Review, Chelsea, Shenandoah, the noble savage, Contact, Epoch, The Prairie Schooner, New Mexico Quarterly, Adelphy Quarterly, Occident, Argonaut, Best Poems of 1962, Beloit Poetry Journal, Botteghe Oscure, Tarpaulin Sky, Ygdrasil, The Richmond Review (U.K.), Poets Against the War.
Welcome to Newsgroup alt.centipede. Established just for writers, poets, artists, and anyone who is creative. A place for anyone to participate in, to share their poems, and learn from all. A place to share *your* dreams, and philosophies. Even a chance to be published in a magazine. The original Centipede Network was created on May 16, 1993. Created because there were no other networks dedicated to such an audience, and with the help of Klaus Gerken, Centipede soon started to grow, and become active on many world-wide Bulletin Board Systems. We consider Centipede to be a Public Network; however, its a specialized network, dealing with any type of creative thinking. Therefore, that makes us something quite exotic, since most nets are very general and have various topics, not of interest to a writer--which is where Centipede steps in! No more fuss. A writer can now access, without phasing out any more conferences, since the whole net pertains to the writer's interests. This means that Centipede has all the active topics that any creative user seeks. And if we don't, then one shall be created. Feel free to drop by and take a look at newsgroup alt.centipede
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