1. Call me Sebastian, arrows sticking all over The map of my battlefields. Marathon. Wounded Knee. Vicksburg. Jericho. Battle of the Overpass. Victories turned inside out But no surrender
Cemeteries of remorse The beaten champion sobbing Ghosts move in to shield his tears
2. No one writes lyric on a battlefield On a map stuck with arrows But I think I can do it if I just lurk In my tent pretending to Refeather my arrows
I'll be right there! I yell When they come with their crossbows and white phosphorus To recruit me Crouching over my drafts lest they find me out and shoot me
3. Press your cheek against my medals, listen through them to my heart Doctor, can you see me if I'm naked?
Spent longer in this place than in the war No one comes but rarely and I don't know what for
Went to that desert as many did before Farewell and believing and hope not to die
Hope not to die and what was the life Did we think was awaiting after
Lay down your stethoscope back off on your skills Doctor can you see me when I'm naked?
4. I'll tell you about the mermaid Sheds swimmable tail Gets legs for dancing Sings like the sea with a choked throat Knives straight up her spine Lancing every step There is a price There is a price For every gift And all advice
I was in danger of verbalizing my moral impulses out of existence.
– Fr Daniel Berrigan, on trial in Baltimore
My neighbor, a scientist and art-collector, telephones me in a state of violent emotion. He tells me that my son and his, aged eleven and twelve, have on the last day of school burned a mathematics textbook in the backyard. He has forbidden my son to come to his house for a week, and has forbidden his own son to leave the house during that time. "The burning of a book," he says, "arouses terrible sensations in me, memories of Hitler; there are few things that upset me so much as the idea of burning a book."
Back there: the library, walled with green Britannicas Looking again in Dürer's Complete Works for MELENCOLIA, the baffled woman
the crocodiles in Herodotus the Book of the Dead the Trial of Jeanne d'Arc, so blue I think, It is her color
and they take the book away because I dream of her too often
love and fear in a house knowledge of the oppressor
I know it hurts to burn
To imagine a time of silence or few words a time of chemistry and music
the hollows above your buttocks traced by my hand or, hair is like flesh, you said
an age of long silence
from this tongue this slab of limestone or reinforced concrete fanatics and traders dumped on this coast wildgreen clayred that breathed once in signals of smoke sweep of the wind
knowledge of the oppressor this is the oppressor's language
yet I need it to talk to you
“People suffer highly in poverty and it takes dignity and intelligence to overcome this suffering. Some of the suffering are: a child did not had dinner last night: a child steal because he did not have money to buy it: to hear a mother say she do not have money to buy food for her children and to see a child without cloth it will make tears in your eyes.”
(the fracture of order the repair of speech to overcome this suffering)
We lie under the sheet after making love, speaking of loneliness relieved in a book relived in a book so on that page the clot and fissure of it appears words of a man in pain a naked word entering the clot a hand grasping through bars:
What happens between us has happened for centuries we know it from literature
still it happens
sexual jealousy outflung hand beating bed
dryness of mouth after panting
there are books that describe all this and they are useless
You walk into the woods behind a house there in that country you find a temple built eighteen hundred years ago you enter without knowing what it is you enter
so it is with us
no one knows what may happen though the books tell everything
burn the texts said Artaud
I am composing on the typewriter late at night, thinking of today. How well we all spoke. A language is a map of our failures. Frederick Douglass wrote an English purer than Milton's. People suffer highly in poverty. There are methods but we do not use them. Joan, who could not read, spoke some peasant form of French. Some of the suffering are: it is hard to tell the truth; this is America; I cannot touch you now. In America we have only the present tense. I am in danger. You are in danger. The burning of a book arouses no sensation in me. I know it hurts to burn. There are flames of napalm in Catonsville, Maryland. I know it hurts to burn. The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor's language.
There's a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted who disappeared into those shadows.
I've walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don't be fooled this isn't a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here, our country moving closer to its own truth and dread, its own ways of making people disappear.
I won't tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods meeting the unmarked strip of light— ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise: I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won't tell you where it is, so why do I tell you anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these to have you listen at all, it's necessary to talk about trees.
Whatever happens with us, your body will haunt mine—tender, delicate your lovemaking, like the half-curled frond of the fiddlehead fern in forests just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs between which my whole face has come and come— the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there— the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth— your touch on me, firm, protective, searching me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers reaching where I had been waiting years for you in my rose-wet cave—whatever happens, this is.
it will not be simple, it will not be long it will take little time, it will take all your thought it will take all your heart, it will take all your breath it will be short, it will not be simple
it will touch through your ribs, it will take all your heart it will not be long, it will occupy your thought as a city is occupied, as a bed is occupied it will take all your flesh, it will not be simple
You are coming into us who cannot withstand you you are coming into us who never wanted to withstand you you are taking parts of us into places never planned you are going far away with pieces of our lives
it will be short, it will take all your breath it will not be simple, it will become your will
I know you are reading this poem late, before leaving your office of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven across the plains' enormous spaces around you. I know you are reading this poem in a room where too much has happened for you to bear where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed and the open valise speaks of flight but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem as the underground train loses momentum and before running up the stairs toward a new kind of love your life has never allowed. I know you are reading this poem by the light of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide while you wait for the newscast from the intifada. I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers. I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out, count themselves out, at too early an age. I know you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on because even the alphabet is precious. I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand because life is short and you too are thirsty. I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language guessing at some words while others keep you reading and I want to know which words they are. I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn between bitterness and hope turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse. I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read there where you have landed, stripped as you are.