Brooklyn, 1929. Of course Crane’s been drinking and has no idea who this curious Andalusian is, unable even to speak the language of poetry. The young man who brought them together knows both Spanish and English, but he has a headache from jumping back and forth from one language to another. For a moment’s relief he goes to the window to look down on the East River, darkening below as the early night comes on. Something flashes across his sight, a double vision of such horror he has to slap both his hands across his mouth to keep from screaming. Let’s not be frivolous, let’s not pretend the two poets gave each other wisdom or love or even a good time, let’s not invent a dialogue of such eloquence that even the ants in your own house won’t forget it. The two greatest poetic geniuses alive meet, and what happens? A vision comes to an ordinary man staring at a filthy river. Have you ever had a vision? Have you ever shaken your head to pieces and jerked back at the image of your young son falling through open space, not from the stern of a ship bound from Vera Cruz to New York but from the roof of the building he works on? Have you risen from bed to pace until dawn to beg a merciless God to take these pictures away? Oh, yes, let’s bless the imagination. It gives us the myths we live by. Let’s bless the visionary power of the human— the only animal that’s got it—, bless the exact image of your father dead and mine dead, bless the images that stalk the corners of our sights and will not let go. The young man was my cousin, Arthur Lierberman, then a language student at Columbia, who told me all this before he died quietly in his sleep in 1983 in a hotel in Perugia. A good man, Arthur, he survived graduate school, later came home to Detroit and sold pianos right through the Depression. He loaned my brother a used one to compose hideous songs on, which Arthur thought were genius. What an imagination Arthur had!
Insistently through sleep — a tide of voices — They meet you listening midway in your dream, The long, tired sounds, fog-insulated noises: Gongs in white surplices, beshrouded wails, Far strum of fog horns ... signals dispersed in veils.
And then a truck will lumber past the wharves As winch engines begin throbbing on some deck; Or a drunken stevedore's howl and thud below Comes echoing alley-upward through dim snow.
And if they take your sleep away sometimes They give it back again. Soft sleeves of sound Attend the darkling harbor, the pillowed bay; Somewhere out there in blankness steam
Spills into steam, and wanders, washed away — Flurried by keen fifings, eddied Among distant chiming buoys — adrift. The sky,
Cool feathery fold, suspends, distills This wavering slumber. ... Slowly — Immemorially the window, the half-covered chair Ask nothing but this sheath of pallid air.
And you beside me, blessed now while sirens Sing to us, stealthily weave us into day — Serenely now, before day claims our eyes Your cool arms murmurously about me lay.
While myriad snowy hands are clustering at the panes — your hands within my hands are deeds; my tongue upon your throat — singing arms close; eyes wide, undoubtful dark drink the dawn — a forest shudders in your hair!
The window goes blond slowly. Frostily clears. From Cyclopean towers across Manhattan waters — Two — three bright window-eyes aglitter, disk The sun, released — aloft with cold gulls hither.
The fog leans one last moment on the sill. Under the mistletoe of dreams, a star — As though to join us at some distant hill — Turns in the waking west and goes to sleep.