I am the last Napoleonic soldier. It’s almost two hundred years later and I am still retreating from Moscow. The road is lined with white birch trees and the mud comes up to my knees. The one-eyed woman wants to sell me a chicken, and I don’t even have any clothes on. The Germans are going one way; I am going the other. The Russians are going still another way and waving good-by. I have a ceremonial saber. I use it to cut my hair, which is four feet long.
Your friend has died, with whom You roamed the streets, At all hours, talking philosophy. So, today you went alone, Stopping often to change places With your imaginary companion, And argue back against yourself On the subject of appearances: The world we see in our heads And the world we see daily, So difficult to tell apart When grief and sorrow bow us over.
You two often got so carried away You found yourselves in strange neighborhoods Lost among unfriendly folk, Having to ask for directions While on the verge of a supreme insight, Repeating your question To an old woman or a child Both of whom may have been deaf and dumb.
What was that fragment of Heraclitus You were trying to remember As you stepped on the butcher’s cat? Meantime, you yourself were lost Between someone’s new black shoe Left on the sidewalk And the sudden terror and exhilaration At the sight of a girl Dressed up for a night of dancing Speeding by on roller skates.
That was the year the Nazis marched into Vienna, Superman made his debut in Action Comics, Stalin was killing off his fellow revolutionaries, The first Dairy Queen opened in Kankakee, Ill., As I lay in my crib peeing in my diapers.
“You must have been a beautiful baby,” Bing Crosby sang. A pilot the newspapers called Wrong Way Corrigan Took off from New York heading for California And landed instead in Ireland, as I watched my mother Take a breast out of her blue robe and come closer.
There was a hurricane that September causing a movie theater At Westhampton Beach to be lifted out to sea. People worried the world was about to end. A fish believed to have been extinct for seventy million years Came up in a fishing net off the coast of South Africa.
I lay in my crib as the days got shorter and colder, And the first heavy snow fell in the night. Making everything very quiet in my room. I believe I heard myself cry for a long, long time.