The Project Gutenberg eBook of Sun-Up, and Other Poems

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Title: Sun-Up, and Other Poems

Author: Lola Ridge

Release date: August 1, 2003 [eBook #4331]
Most recently updated: August 17, 2012

Language: English


Produced by Catherine Daly

  Sun-Up and Other Poems
  By Lola Ridge

  (To my Mother)

  Let me cradle myself back
  Into the darkness
  Of the half shapes…
  Of the cauled beginnings…
  Let me stir the attar of unused air,
  Elusive… ironically fragrant
  As a dead queen's kerchief…
  Let me blow the dust from off you…
  Resurrect your breath
  Lying limp as a fan
  In a dead queen's hand.

  OTHERS for permission to reprint some of these poems.


  (Shadows over a cradle…
  fire-light craning….
  A hand
  throws something in the fire
  and a smaller hand
  runs into the flame and out again,
  singed and empty….
  settling over a cradle…
  two hands
  and a fire.)


Cherry, cherry, glowing on the hearth, bright red cherry…. When you try to pick up cherry Celia's shriek sticks in you like a pin.

: :

When God throws hailstones you cuddle in Celia's shawl and press your feet on her belly high up like a stool. When Celia makes umbrella of her hand. Rain falls through big pink spokes of her fingers. When wind blows Celia's gown up off her legs she runs under pillars of the bank— great round pillars of the bank have on white stockings too.

: :

Celia says my father will bring me a golden bowl. When I think of my father I cannot see him for the big yellow bowl like the moon with two handles he carries in front of him.

: :

  Grandpa, grandpa…
  (Light all about you…
  ginger… pouring out of green jars…)
  You don't believe he has gone away and left his great coat…
  so you pretend… you see his face up in the ceiling.
  When you clap your hands and cry, grandpa, grandpa, grandpa,
  Celia crosses herself.

: :

It isn't a dream…. It comes again and again…. You hear ivy crying on steeples the flames haven't caught yet and images screaming when they see red light on the lilies on the stained glass window of St. Joseph. The girl with the black eyes holds you tight, and you run… and run past the wild, wild towers… and trees in the gardens tugging at their feet and little frightened dolls shut up in the shops crying… and crying… because no one stops… you spin like a penny thrown out in the street. Then the man clutches her by the hair…. He always clutches her by the hair…. His eyes stick out like spears. You see her pulled-back face and her black, black eyes lit up by the glare…. Then everything goes out. Please God, don't let me dream any more of the girl with the black, black eyes.

: :

Celia's shadow rocks and rocks… and mama's eyes stare out of the pillow as though she had gone away and the night had come in her place as it comes in empty rooms… you can't bear it— the night threshing about and lashing its tail on its sides as bold as a wolf that isn't afraid— and you scream at her face, that is white as a stone on a grave and pull it around to the light, till the night draws backward… the night that walks alone and goes away without end. Mama says, I am cold, Betty, and shivers. Celia tucks the quilt about her feet, but I run for my little red cloak because red is hot like fire.

: :

  I wish Celia
  could see the sea climb up on the sky
  and slide off again…
  …Celia saying
  I'd beg the world with you….
  Celia… holding on to the cab…
  hands wrenched away…
  wind in the masts… like Celia crying….
  Celia never minded if you slapped her
  when the comb made your hairs ache,
  but though you rub your cheek against mama's hand
  she has not said darling since….
  Now I will slap her again….
  I will bite her hand till it bleeds.

  It is cool by the port hole.
  The wet rags of the wind
  flap in your face.


  Because you are four years old
  the candle is all dressed up in a new frill.
  And stars nod to you through the hole in the curtain,
  (except the big stiff planets
  too fat to move about much,)
  and you curtsey back to the stars
  when no one is looking.
  You feel sorry for the poor wooden chair
  that knows it isn't nice to sit on,
  and no one is sad but mama.
  You don't like mama to be sad
  when you are four years old,
  so you pretend
  you like the bitter gold-pale tea—
  you pretend
  if you don't drink it up pretty quick
  a little gold-fish
  will think it is a pond
  and come and get born in it.

: :

It's hot in our street and the breeze is a dirty little broom that sweeps dust into our room and bits of paper out of the alley. You are not let to play with the children in the alley But you must be very polite— so you pass them and say good day and when they fling banana skins you fling them back again.

: :

There is no one to play with and the flies on the window buzz and buzz… …you can pull out their legs and stick pins in their bodies but still they buzz… and mama says: When Nero was a little boy he caught flies on his mama's window and pulled out their legs and stuck pins in their bodies and nobody loved him. Buzz, blue-bellied flies— buzz, nasty black wheel of mama's machine— you are the biggest fly of all— you have the loudest buzz. I hear you at dawn before the locusts. But I like the picture of the Flood and the little babies getting drowned…. If I were there I would save them, but as I can't save them I like to watch them getting drowned.

: :

When mama buys of Ling Ho, he smiles very wide and picks her the largest loquots. The greens-man gave her a cabbage and she held it against her black bodice and said what a beautiful green it was and put it on the table as though it had been a flower. But next day we boiled and ate it with salt. It was our dinner.

: :

Christmas day I found Janie on my pillow. Janie is made of rubber. Her red and blue jacket won't come off. Christmas dinner was green and white chicken and lettuce and peas and drops of oil on the salad smiley and full of light like the gold on the lady's teeth.

But mama said politely Thank you, we are dining out. She wouldn't let you take one pea to put in the hole where the whistle was at the back of Janie's head, so Janie should have some dinner So you went to the park with biscuits and black tea in a bottle.

: :

  You feel very sad
  when you climb on the fence
  to watch mama out of sight.
  The women in the alley
  poke their heads out of doorways
  and watch her too.
  You know her
  by the way she holds her shoulders
  till she is only a speck
  in a chain of specks—
  till she is swallowed up.
  But suppose
  that day after day
  you were to watch for her face
  and it didn't come back?
  it were to drop out of the string of white faces
  like the pearl out of my chain
  I never found again?

: :

  Mabel minds you while mama is out,
  she washes while she sings
  Three blind mice!
  they all run away from the farmer's wife
  who cut off their tails
  with a carving knife—
  Wind blows out Mabel's sheets,
  way you blow in a bag before you burst it.
  Wind has a soapy smell.
  It's heavier'n sun
  that lies all over you without any weight
  and makes you feel happy
  and crinkly like bubbling water.
  There's no sun on the empty house—
  sly-looking house—
  you can't see in its windows
  that watch you out of their corners.
  Perhaps there's a big spider there
  spinning gray threads over the windows
  till they look like dead people's faces….
  Jimmie says:
  Jimmie's hair is white as a white mouse.
  His lashes are gold as mama's wedding ring
  and his mouth feels cool and smooth
  like a flower wet with rain.
  You wouldn't believe Jimmie was different…
       till he showed you….

: :

Blind wet sheets flapping on the lines… sun in your eyes, dark gold sun full of little black spots, you have to blink and blink… round eyes of Jimmie…. Jimmie's blue jumper… blue shadow of wall… all the world holding still as when a clock stops… streets still… people still… no streets… no people… only sky and wall… sun glaring bright as God down at you and Jimmie… shadow like a purple cloth trailing off the wall…

Wild wet sheets flapping in the wind… big slippered feet flapping too… big-balloon-face rushing up the alley… houses closing up again… windows looking round… … Mabel pulls you in the gate and shakes you and tells you not to tell your mama… And you wonder if God has spoiled Jimmie.


  Mama's face
  is smooth and pale as tea-rose leaves.
  That ivory oval of aunt Gem
  you sucked the miniature off
  had black black hair like mama.

: :

Pit-it-ty-pat, Mama walks so fast, street lamps jig without bending a leg… lights in the windows play twinkling tunes on crimson and blue bottles like bubbles big as balloons… Faster and faster… and pink light spurts over cakes doing polkas in little white shirts, with cake-princesses in flounced white skirts.

  mama walks slower…
  slower and… slower…
  Eyes… lamps… stars…
  acres and acres of stars…
  bells… and sleepily
  flapping feet….
  You're glad mama walks slow.
  It's nice to be carried along
  up high near the stars
  that look at you with a grave, great look.

: :

  Every night
  mama sings you to sleep.
  When she sings, O for the light of thine eyes Dolores,
  there's a castle on a cliff
  and the sea roars like lions.
  It leaps at the castle
  and the cliff knocks it down
  but always the sea
  shakes its flattened head
  and gets up again.
  The castle has no roof
  so the rain spins silvery webs in it,
  and Dolores' face
  floats dim and beautiful
  the way flowers do when they are drowned.
  Step by white step
  she goes up the castle stairs,
  but the stair goes up into the sky
  and the sky keeps going up too,
  and none of them ever get there.

When mama sings Ba ba black sheep, the stars seem to shine through her voice so everything has to be still, and when she has finished singing her song goes up off the earth, higher and higher… till it is only as big as a tiny silver bird with nothing but moonlight around it.


  You can see the sandhills from our new room.
  live in the sandhills
  and lizards
  and centipedes.
  If you keep very still
  lizards will think you a stone
  and run over your lap.
  Butterflies' liveries
  are scarlet and black.
  They drive chariots in air.
  People in the chariots
  are pale as dew—
  you can see right through them—
  but the chariots
  are made of gold of the sun.
  They go up to heaven
  and never catch fire.
  There are green centipedes
  and brown centipedes
  and black centipedes,
  because green and brown and black
  are the colors in hell's flag.
  have hundreds of feet
  because it is so far from hell
  to come up for air.
  do not hurry.
  They are waiting for the last day
  when they will creep over the false prophets
  who will have their hands tied.

: :

Night calls to the sandhills and gathers them under her. she pushes away cities because their sharp lights hurt her soft breast. Even candles make a sore place when they stick in the night.

There are things in the sandhills that no one knows about… they come out at dark when the young snakes play and tell each other secrets in the deaf logs.

Sometimes… before rain… when the stars have gone inside… the night comes close to your window and sniffs at the light…. But you must not run away— you must keep your face to the night and walk backward.

: :

When it rains and you are pulling off flies' legs… mama lets you play houses with Lizzie and Clara. Because you are the Only One— and because Only Ones have to live alone while sisters stay together, Lizzie and Clara give you the dry house and take the one with the leaking roof.

  Rain like curly hairpins
  blows on Lizzie and Clara's two heads
  turned like one head—
  two mouths
  spread into one laugh.
  Lizzie is saying:
  why don't you want to play—
  when you feel you'd like to braid
  the crinkled-silver rain
  into a shining rope
  to climb up… and up… and up… into the wet sky
  and never see any one again.

Our gate doesn't hang right. It must have pawed at the wind and gotten a kick as the wind passed over. The sitting sky puffs out a gray smoke and the wind makes a red-striped sound blowing out straight, but our gate drags its foot and whines to itself on one hinge.

: :

  What do you think I've found—
  two wee knickers of fairy brass,
  or two gold sovereigns folded up
  in a bit of green silk,
  or two gold bugs
  in little green shirts?
  If you want to know,
  you must walk tip-toe
  so your feet just whisper in the grass—
  you must carry them careful
  and very proud,
  for their stems bleed drops of milk—
  but Lizzie and Clara shout in glee:
  Pee-a-bed, pee-a-bed—
  You look in the eyes of grown-up people
  to see if they feel
  the way you feel…
  but they hide inside of themselves,
  and so you do not find out.
  Grown-up people say:
  The stars are bright to-night,
  but they do not say
  what you are thinking about stars—
  not even mama says what you are thinking about stars.
  This makes you feel very lonely.

: :

It's strange about stars…. You have to be still when they look at you. They push your song inside of you with their song. Their long silvery rays sink into you and do not hurt. It is good to feel them resting on you like great white birds… and their shining whiteness doesn't burn like the sun— it washes all over you and makes you feel cleaner'n water.

: :

My doll Janie has no waist and her body is like a tub with feet on it. Sometimes I beat her but I always kiss her afterwards. When I have kissed all the paint off her body I shall tie a ribbon about it so she shan't look shabby. But it must be blue— it mustn't be pink— pink shows the dirt on her face that won't wash off.

: :

  I beat Janie
  and beat her…
  but still she smiled…
  so I scratched her between the eyes with a pin.
  Now she doesn't love me anymore…
  she scowls… and scowls…
  though I've begged her to forgive me
  and poured sugar in the hole at the back of her head.

: :

  Mama says Janie is a fairy doll
  and she has forgiven me—
  that she's gone to the market
  to buy me some sweets.
  —Now she's at the door
  and a little bag tied to her neck—
  I run to Janie
  and kiss her all over….
  Ah… she is still frowning.
  I let the sweets drop on the floor—
  has told you a lie.

: :

  singing in street:
  gleen ledd-ish-es, gleen ledd-ish-es—
  hot sun
  shining on your face—
  it must be a new day.
  But why aren't you happy
  if it's a new day?
  Because something has happened…
  something sad and terrible….
  Now I remember… it's Janie.
  I took Janie out
  and tied my handkerchief over her face
  and put sand in it
  and threw her into the ditch
  down in the black water
  under the dock leaves…
  and when mama asked me where Janie was
  I said I had lost her.

: :

  I'm glad it is night-time
  so I'll be able to go to sleep
  and forget all about it….
  But mama looks at my tongue
  and says she will give me senna tea.
  When you smell the tea
  you shut your eyes tight
  and pretend not to hear
  the soft, cool voice of mama
  that goes over your forehead
  like a little wind.
  And then you lie in the dark
  and stare… and stare…
  till the faces come…
  yellow faces with leering eyes
  drifting in a greeny mist….
  I wonder
  if Janie sees faces
  out there… alone in the dark….
  I wonder
  if she has got the handkerchief off
  or if the water has gone in the hole
  where the whistle was
  at the back of her head
  and drowned her…
  or if the stars
  can see her under the dock leaves?

: :

It's smoky-blue and still over the red road. Wind must be lying down with its tail under it— doesn't even flick off the flies. And you can hear the silence buzzing in the gum trees, the way the angels buzzed when they flew through the cedars of Lebanon with thin gauze wings you could see through. Nice to hear the silence buzzing— till it comes too close and booms in your ears and presses all over you till you scream…. When you scream at the silence it goes to jingling pieces like a silver mirror broken into tiny bits. Perhaps its wings are made of glass— perhaps it lives down in a dark, dark cave and only comes up to warm its wings in the sun…. It's cold in the cave— no matter how you cover yourself up. Little girls sit there dressed in white and the dolls in their arms all have white handkerchiefs over their faces. Their shadows cannot play with them… their shadows lie down at their feet… for the little girls sit stiff as stones with their backs to the mouth of the cave where a little light falls off the wings of the silence when it comes down out of the sun.

: :

  Moon catches the flying fish
  as they dive in the bay.
  Flying fish
  spin over and over
  into the water.
  Mom bends over jungles
  and touches the foreheads of tigers
  as they pass under openings made by dropped leaves.
  Tigers stop on the trail of the deer
  while the moon is on their foreheads—
  they let the stags go by.

Moon is shining strangely on the white palings of the fence. Fence keeps very still… most times it moves a little… everything moves a little though you mayn't know it… but now the little fence wouldn't change places with the great cross that stands so stiff and high with its back to the moon. Moon shining strangely on the white palings of the fence, I am shining too but my light is shut inside of me and can't get out.

: :

Old house with black windows— blind house begging moonlight to put out the shadows— why do you want so much light? You creak when the wind steps on you— you cough up dust and your beams ache— you know you will soon fall, the moon just pities you! Don't waste yourself moon— come on my bed and play with me. Wrap me up in blue light, you who are cool. I am too hot, I am all alive and the shadows are outside of me.

: :

  There are different kinds of shadows.
  The blind ones
  are the shadows of things.
  These are the tame shadows—
  they love to play on the wall with you
  and follow you about like cats and dogs.
  they hiss at you softly
  like snakes that do not bite,
  or swish like women's dresses,
  but if you poke a candle at them
  they pull in their heads and disappear.

  But there is a shadow
  that is not the shadow of a thing…
  it is a thing itself.
  When you meet this shadow
  you must not look at it too long…
  it grows with your looking at it…
  till you are all alone
  with nothing around you…
  nothing… nothing… nothing…
  but a shadow
  with its eyes full of black light.

: :

There's a shadow in the corner of the shed, crouching, lying in wait… a black coiled shadow, watching… ready to strike… but I mustn't be afraid of it— I mustn't be afraid of anything. Poor evil shadow, the candle would chase it away only she can't get at it. Do you think that every one hates you, shadow with your back to the wall, afraid to lie down and sleep? But I don't hate you. Even the moon means to be kind. She just treads on you as I'd tread on a worm that I didn't see. Don't be afraid of me, shadow. See—I've no light in my hand— nothing to save myself with— yet I walk right up to you— if you'll let me I'll put my arms around you and stroke you softly. Are you surprised I'd put my arms around you? Is it your black black sorrow that nobody loves you?


When you tell mama you are going to do something great she looks at you as though you were a window she were trying to see through, and says she hopes you will be good instead of great.

: :

  When you are five years old
  you spend the day in the Gardens.
  The grass is greener than cabbages,
  and orange lilies
  stand up very straight
  and will not curtsey to the sun
  when the wind tells them.
  Only pansies bow down very low.
  Pansies make little purple cushions
  for queen bees to stand on.
  have brown silk hair on their bodies.
  If you are careful
  they will let you stroke them.

The trees over the marble man catch up all the sunbeams so the shadows have it their way— the shadows swallow him up like a blue shark. When you scoop a sunbeam up on your palm and offer it to the marble man, he does not notice… he looks into his stone beard. … When you do something great people give you a stone face, so you do not care any more when the sun throws gold on you through leaf-holes the wind makes in green bushes…. This thought makes me very sad.

: :

  Jude has eyes like tobacco
  with yellow specks on it
  and his hair is red as a red orange.
  Jude and I
  have made a garden in the field
  that no one knows about.
  We creep in and out
  through a little place
  where the barbed wire is down.
  We lie in the long grass
  and crush dandelions
  between our two cheeks
  till the milk comes out on our faces.
  We hold each other tight
  and the wind tip-toes all over us
  and pelts us with thistle-down.

: :

  Jude isn't afraid of shadows—
  not even of the ones that have eyes in them.
  And he can look in the face of the sun
  without blinking at all.
  Hush! don't say sun so loud.
  The sun gets angry when you stare at him.
  If you peek in his glory-windows
  he spreads into a great white flame
  like God out of his Burning Bush…
  till you put your hands up on your face
  and tremble like a drop of rain upon a flower
  that some one throws into the fire…
  and then
  the sun makes himself small,
  the sun swings down out of the sky—
  littler'n a star,
  little as a spark
  little as a fierce red spider
  on a burning thread…
  and then
  the light goes out…
  shivers into blackened bits….
  You hold on to a wall that whirls around
  and the gate is a black hole.
  You grope your way in like a toad
  that's blinded by a stone…
  and mama puts on cold wet rags
  that get hot soon….
  Hush! don't let's talk about the sun.

: :

When you pass by the ditch where Janie is You run very fast and look at the other side. Jude says Janie did love me only she couldn't forgive me, and that you can love people very much and never, never, never forgive them…. so we poked a stick in the bottle-green water. But only weeds came up and an old top with the paint washed off.

: :

  Jude and I
  wave to the new moon
  curled right up like one gold hair
  on the bald-head sandhill.
  Mama peeps out the window and smiles.
  She thinks
  I am playing with myself…
  Run, Jude, run with the wind—
  but hold my hand tight
  or the wind,
  looking for some one to play with,
  will take me away from you!
  Wind with no one to play with
  cooees the orange-trees—
  stay-at-home orange trees,
  have to nurse oranges,
  Wind shouts to the grass—
  tugs at its roots,
  but the earth holds tight
  and the grass falls down
  and wind boos over it.
  Wind whistles the bees—
  bees too busy
  with taking home stuff out of flowers
  won't look back—
  bees always going somewhere.
  Only Jude and I—
  heads over shoulders
  watching all roads at one time—
  run with the wind,
  going to nowhere.

: :

  Jude and I
  were weeding our garden
  when we heard his whip—
  must have been a new whip
  to cut off dandelion-heads at one swing….
  He was the kind of boy you knew when you had Celia….
  with nice clothes on and curls
  crawling about his collar
  like little golden slugs,
  and his man was leading his horse.
  I wish I hadn't run to meet him….
  If you hadn't run to meet him
  he mightn't have trod on your garden and said:
  Get out of my field you dirty little beggar…
  he mightn't have struck you with his whip….
  How the daisies stared….
  I hate daisies—
  stupid white faces—
  skinny necks
  craning over the grass!
  I said It is not your field,
  and he struck me again.
  But he didn't make me run.
  His hand
  smelled of sweet soap…
  he couldn't shake me off,
  but his man did….
  Funny—how the sky fell down
  and turned over and over
  like a blue carpet rolling you up,
  and the grass caught at your face—
  it couldn't have been spiteful—
  it must have been saving itself.
  Hot road… silly wind playing with your hair….
  The road smelled of horses.
  I only got up
  when I heard a dray.

: :

  Mama has sung ba ba black sheep,
  and put a chair with a cloth on it
  between me and the light.
  But the clock keeps saying:
  Dirty little beggar,
  dirty little beggar….
  Some day
  I will get that boy.
  I will pull off his arms and legs
  and put him in a box
  and hide the box
  under the bed….
  I wonder
  will he buzz
  when I take him out to look at his body
  that will have no arms to whip me?

  Mama drew my cot to the window
  so I can look at the stars.
  I will not look at the stars.
  There is a black chimney
  throwing up sparks
  and one tall flame
  like gold hair in a blaze….
  I know now
  what I shall do….
  I will set fire to him
  and he will burn up into a tall flame—
  he will scream into the sky
  and sparks will fly out of him—
  he will burn and burn…
  and his blazing hair
  shall light up the world.

: :

Before he hit me— I knew he was going to— I thought about Jude…. I thought if he'd fight… but he shriveled all up… he lay down like a fear.

Mama never knew about Jude. You always wanted to tell her, but somehow you never did. You were afraid she'd smile and say he wasn't real— that he was only a little dream-boy, because the grass didn't fall down under his feet…. He is fading now…. He is just lines… like a drawing…. You can see mama in between. When she moves she rubs some of him out.



Nasal intonations of light and clicking tongues… publicity of windows stoning me with pent-up cries… smells of abattoirs… smells of long-dead meat.

Some day-end— while the sand is yet cozy as a blanket off the warm body of a squaw, and the jaguars are out to kill… with a blue-black night coming on and a painted cloud stalking the first star— I shall go alone into the Silence… the coiled Silence… where a cry can run only a little way and waver and dwindle and be lost.

  And there…
  where tiny antlers clinch and strain
  as life grapples in a million avid points,
  and threshing things
  strike and die,
  letting their hate live on
  in the spreading purple of a wound…
  I too
  will make covert of a crevice in the night,
  and turn and watch…
  nose at the cleft's edge.


  That was a great night we spied upon
  See-sawing home,
  Singing a hot sweet song to the super-stars
  Shuffling off behind the smoke-haze…
  Fog-horns sentimentalizing on the river…
  Lights dwindling to shining slits
  In the wet asphalt…
  Purring lights… red and green and golden-whiskered…
  Digging daintily pointed claws in the soft mud…
  … But you did not know…
  As the trains made golden augers
  Boring in the darkness…
  How my heart kept racing out along the rails,
  As a spider runs along a thread
  And hauls him in again
  To some drawing point…
  You did not know
  How wild ducks' wings
  Itch at dawn…
  How at dawn the necks of wild ducks
  Arch to the sun
  And new-mown air
  Trickles sweet in their gullets.


  As water, cleared of the reflection of a bird
  That has lately flown across it,
  Yet trembles with the beating of its wings,
  So my soul… emptied of the known you… utterly…
  Is yet vibrant with the cadence of the song
  You might have been….
  'Twas a great night…
  With never a waste look over a shoulder
  Curved to the crook of the wind…
  And a great word we threw
  For memory to play knuckles with…
  A word the waters of the world have washed,
  Leaving it stark and without smell…
  A world that rattles well in emptiness: Good-by.


  I have a dream
  to fill the golden sheath
  of a remembered day….
  heavy and massed and blue
  as the vapor of opium…
  fired in sulphurous mist…
  quiescent as a gray seal…
  and the emerging sun
  spurting up gold
  over Sydney, smoke-pale, rising out of the bay….)
  But the day is an up-turned cup
  and its sun a junk of red iron
  guttering in sluggish-green water—
  where shall I pour my dream?


  I wonder
  how it would be here with you,
  where the wind
  that has shaken off its dust in low valleys
  touches one cleanly,
  as with a new-washed hand,
  and pain
  is as the remote hunger of droning things,
  and anger
  but a little silence
  sinking into the great silence.


  You have been good to me….
  You have not made yourself too dear
  to juggle with.


  Indigo bulb of darkness
  Punctured by needle lights
  Through a fissure of brick canyon shutting out stars,
  And a sliver of moon
  Spigoting two high windows over the West river….

  Boy, I met to-night,
  Your eyes are two red-glowing arcs shifting with my vision….
  They reflect as in a fading proof
  The deadened eyes of a woman,
  And your shed virginity,
  Light as the withered pod of a sweet pea,
  Moist and fragrant
  Blows against my soul.
  What are you to me, boy,
  That I, who have passed so many lights,
  Should carry your eyes
  Like swinging lanterns?


Radiant notes piercing my narrow-chested room, beating down through my ceiling— smeared with unshapen belly-prints of dreams drifted out of old smokes— trillions of icily peltering notes out of just one canary, all grown to song as a plant to its stalk, from too long craning at a sky-light and a square of second-hand blue.

Silvery-strident throat— so assiduously serenading my brain, flinching under the glittering hail of your notes— were you not safe behind… rats know what thickness of… plastered wall… I might fathom your golden delirium with throttle of finger and thumb shutting valve of bright song.


  But if… away off… on a fork of grassed earth
  socketing an inlet reach of blue water…
  if canaries (do they sing out of cages?)
  flung such luminous notes,
  they would sink in the spirit…
  lie germinal…
  housed in the soul as a seed in the earth…
  to break forth at spring with the crocuses into young smiles
       on the mouth.
  Or glancing off buoyantly,
  radiate notes in one key
  with the sparkle of rain-drops
  on the petal of a cactus flower
  focusing the just-out sun.

Cactus… why cactus? God… God… somewhere… away off… cactus flowers, star-yellow ray out of spiked green, and empties of sky roll you over and over like a mother her baby in long grass. And only the wind scandal-mongers with gum trees, pricking multiple leaves at his amazing story.



  Hallo, Metropolitan—
  Ubiquitous windows staring all ways,
  Red eye notching the darkness.
  No use to ogle that slip of a moon.
  This midnight the moon,
  Playing virgin after all her encounters,
  Will break another date with you.
  You fuss an awful lot,
  You flight of ledger books,
  Overrun with multiple ant-black figures
  Dancing on spindle legs
  An interminable can-can.
  But I'd rather… like the cats in the alley… count time
  By the silver whistle of a moonbeam
  Falling between my stoop-shouldered walls,
  Than all your tally of the sunsets,
  Metropolitan, ticking among stars.


  Small towns
  Crawling out of their green shirts…
  Tubercular towns
  Coughing a little in the dawn…
  And the church…
  There is always a church
  With its natty spire
  And the vestibule—
  That's where they whisper:
  Tzz-tzz… tzz-tzz… tzz-tzz…
  How many codes for a wireless whisper—
  And corn flatter than it should be
  And those chits of leaves
  Gadding with every wind?
  Small towns
  From Connecticut to Maine:
  Tzz-tzz… tzz-tzz…tzz-tzz…


  Aren't there bigger things to talk about
  Than a window in Greenwich Village
  And hyacinths sprouting
  Like little puce poems out of a sick soul?
  Some cosmic hearsay—
  As to whom—it can't be Mars! put the moon—that way….
  Or what winds do to canyons
  Under the tall stars…
  Or even
  How that old roué, Neptune,
  Cranes over his bald-head moons
  At the twinkling heel of a sky-scraper.


  Out of fiery contacts…
  Rushing auras of steel
  Touching and whirled apart…
  Out of the charged phallases
  Of iron leaping
  Female and male,
  Complete, indivisible, one,
  Fused into light.


  Skyscrapers… remote, unpartisan…
  Turning neither to the right nor left
  Your imperturbable fronts….
  Austerely greeting the sun
  With one chilly finger of stone….
  I know your secrets… better than all the policemen
       like fat blue mullet along the avenues.


  Long vast shapes… cooled and flushed through with darkness….
  Lidless windows
  Glazed with a flashy luster
  From some little pert cafe chirping up like a sparrow.
  And down among iron guts
  Piled silver
  Throwing gray spatter of light… pale without heat…
  Like the pallor of dead bodies.


  Dour river
  Jaded with monotony of lights
  Diving off mast heads….
  Lights mad with creating in a river… turning its sullen back…
  Heave up, river…
  Vomit back into the darkness your spawn of light….
  The night will gut what you give her.



  The earth is motionless
  And poised in space…
  A great bird resting in its flight
  Between the alleys of the stars.
  It is the wind's hour off….
  The wind has nestled down among the corn….
  The two speak privately together,
  Awaiting the whirr of wings.


Was there a wind? Tap… tap… Night pads upon the snow with moccasined feet… and it is still… so still… an eagle's feather might fall like a stone. Could there have been a storm… mad-tossing golden mane on the neck of the wind… tearing up the sky… loose-flapping like a tent about the ice-capped stars?

  Cool, sheer and motionless
  the frosted pines
  are jeweled with a million flaming points
  that fling their beauty up in long white sheaves
  till they catch hands with stars.
  Could there have been a wind
  that haled them by the hair….
  and blinding
  flowers of the lightning
  in their leaves?
  Tap… tap…
  slow-ticking centuries…
  Soft as bare feet upon the snow…
  faint… lulling as heard rain
  upon heaped leaves….
  builds her wall
  about a dream impaled.


  infesting my half-sleep…
  did you enter my wound from another wound
  brushing mine in a crowd…
  or did I snare you on my sharper edges
  as a bird flying through cobwebbed trees at sun-up
  carries off spiders on its wings?

  running over my soul without sound,
  only when dawn comes tip-toeing
  ushered by a suave wind,
  and dreams disintegrate
  like breath shapes in frosty air,
  I shall overhear you, bare-foot,
  scatting off into the darkness….
  I shall know you, secrets
  by the litter you have left
  and by your bloody foot-prints.


  Do you remember
  Honey-melon moon
  Dripping thick sweet light
  Where Canal Street saunters off by herself among quiet trees?
  And the faint decayed patchouli—
  Fragrance of New Orleans
  Like a dead tube rose
  Upheld in the warm air…
  Miraculously whole.


  Blow through me wind
  As you blow through apple blossoms….
  Scatter me in shining petals over the passers-by….
  Joyously I reunite… sway and gather to myself….
  Sedately I walk by the dancing feet of children—
  Not knowing I too dance over the cobbled spring.
  O, but they laugh back at me,
  (Eyes like daisies smiling wide open),
  And we both look askance at the snowed-in people
  Thinking me one of them.



Your love was like moonlight turning harsh things to beauty, so that little wry souls reflecting each other obliquely as in cracked mirrors… beheld in your luminous spirit their own reflection, transfigured as in a shining stream, and loved you for what they are not.

  You are less an image in my mind
  than a luster
  I see you in gleams
  pale as star-light on a gray wall…
  evanescent as the reflection of a white swan
  shimmering in broken water.


(To E. S.)

  You inevitable,
  Unwieldy with enormous births,
  Lying on your back, eyes open, sucking down stars,
  Or you kissing and picking over fresh deaths…
  Filth… worms… flowers…
  Green and succulent pods…
  Tremulous gestation
  Of dark water germinal with lilies…
  All in you from the beginning…
  Nothing buried or thrown away…
  Only the moon like a white sheet
  Spread over the dead you carry.


(To H.)

  Speeding gull
  Passing under a cloud
  Caught on his white back
  You… drop of crystal rain.
  Now you gleam softly triumphant
  Folding immensities of light.


(To O. F. T.)

  You have always gotten up after blows
  And smiled… and shaken off the dust…
  Only you could not shake the darkness
  From off the bruised brown of your eyes.


(To E. A. R.)

Centuries shall not deflect nor many suns absorb your stream, flowing immune and cold between the banks of snow. Nor any wind carry the dust of cities to your high waters that arise out of the peaks and return again into the mountain and never descend.


  We are old,
  Old as song.
  Before Rome was
  Or Cyrene.
  Mad nights knew us
  And old men's wives.
  We knew who spilled the sacred oil
  For young-gold harlots of the town….
  We knew where the peacocks went
  And the white doe for sacrifice.


  We were the Sons of Belial.
  One black night
  Centuries ago
  We beat at a door
  In Gilead….
  We took the Levite's concubine
  We plucked her hands from off the door….
  We choked the cry into her throat
  And stuck the stars among her hair….
  We glimpsed the madly swaying stars
  Between the rhythms of her hair
  And all our mute and separate strings
  Swelled in a raging symphony….
  Our blood sang paeans
  All that night
  Till dawn fell like a wounded swan
  Upon the fields of Gilead.


  We are old….
  Old as song….
  We are dumb song.
  (Epics tingled
  In our blood
  When we haled Hypatia
  Over the stones
  In Alexandria.)

  Could we loose
  The wild rhythms clinched in us….
  March in bands of troubadours….
  We would be of gentle mood.
  When Christ healed us
  Who were dumb—
  When he freed our shut-in song—
  We strewed green palms
  At his pale feet…
  We sang hosannas
  In Jerusalem.
  And all our fumbling voices blent
  In a brief white harmony.
  (But a mightier song
  Was in us pent
  When we nailed Christ
  To a four-armed tree.)


  We are young.
  When we rise up with singing roots,
  (Warm rains washing
  Gutters of Berlin
  Where we stamped Rosa… Luxemburg
  On a night in spring.)
  Rhythms skurry in our blood.
  Little nimble rats of song
  In our feet run crazily
  And all is dust… we trample… on.

  Mad nights when we make ritual
  (Feet running before the sleuth-light…
  And the smell of burnt flesh
  By a flame-ringed hut
  In Missouri,
  Sweet as on Rome's pyre….)
  We make ropes do rigadoons
  With copper feet that jig on air….
  We are the Mob….
  Old as song.
  Tyre knew us
  And Israel.



  The foreman's head
  slowly circling…
  White rims
  under yellow disks of eyes….
  Gold hairs
  starting out of a blond scowl…
  Hovering… disappearing… recurring…
  the foreman's head.

Droning of power-machines… droning of girl with adenoids… Arms flapping with a fin-like motion under sun burning down through a sky-light like a glass lid. Light skating on the rims of wheels… boring in gimlet points. Needles flickering fierce white threads of light fine as a wasp's sting. Light in sweat-drops brighter than eyes and calico-pallid faces and bodies throwing off smells— and the air a bloated presence pressing on the walls and the silence a compressed scream.

Allons enfants de la patrie— Electric… piercing… shrill as a fife the voice of a little Russian breaks out of the shivered circle. Another voice rises… another and another leaps like flame to flame. And life—surging, clamorous, swarming like a rabble crazily fluttering ragged petticoats— comes rushing back into torpid eyes like suddenly yielded gates.

The girl with adenoids rocks on her hams. A torrent of song strains at her throat, gurgles, rushes, gouges her blocked pipes. Her feet beat a wild tattoo— head flung back and pelvis lifting to the white body of the sun. Mates now, these two— goddess and god…. Marchons!

Only the power machines drone with metallic docility under the flaxen head of the foreman poised like an amazed gull.


  little French merchant men
  with pointed beards
  and fat American merchant men
  without any beards
  drive to a feast of buttered squabs.
  The band… accoutered and neatly caparisoned…
       plays the Marseillaise….
  And I think of a wild stallion… newly caught…
  flanks yet taut and nostrils spread
  to the smell of a racing mare,
  hitched to a grocer's cart.


  Come forth, you workers!
  Let the fires go cold—
  Let the iron spill out, out of the troughs—
  Let the iron run wild
  Like a red bramble on the floors—
  Leave the mill and the foundry and the mine
  And the shrapnel lying on the wharves—
  Leave the desk and the shuttle and the loom—
  With your ashen lives,
  Your lives like dust in your hands.

  I call upon you, workers.
  It is not yet light
  But I beat upon your doors.
  You say you await the Dawn
  But I say you are the Dawn.
  Come, in your irresistible unspent force
  And make new light upon the mountains.

  You have turned deaf ears to others—
  Me you shall hear.
  Out of the mouths of turbines,
  Out of the turgid throats of engines,
  Over the whistling steam,
  You shall hear me shrilly piping.
  Your mills I shall enter like the wind,
  And blow upon your hearts,
  Kindling the slow fire.

  They think they have tamed you, workers—
  Beaten you to a tool
  To scoop up hot honor
  Till it be cool—
  But out of the passion of the red frontiers
  A great flower trembles and burns and glows
  And each of its petals is a people.

  Come forth, you workers—
  Clinging to your stable
  And your wisp of warm straw—
  Let the fires grow cold,
  Let the iron spill out of the troughs,
  Let the iron run wild
  Like a red bramble on the floors….

  As our forefathers stood on the prairies
  So let us stand in a ring,
  Let us tear up their prisons like grass
  And beat them to barricades—
  Let us meet the fire of their guns
  With a greater fire,
  Till the birds shall fly to the mountains
  For one safe bough.


  Can you see me, Sasha?
  I can see you….
  A tentacle of the vast dawn is resting on your face
  that floats as though detached
  in a sultry and greenish vapor.
  I cannot reach my hands to you…
  would not if I could,
  though I know how warmly yours would close about them.
  I do not know…
  I have a sense of shame.
  Your eyes hurt me… mysterious openings in the gray stone of your face
  through which your spirit streams out taut as a flag
  bearing strange symbols to the new dawn.

If I stay… projected, trembling against these bars filtering emaciated light… will your eyes… that bore their lonely way through mine… stop as at a friendly gate… grow warm… and luminous? … but I cannot stay… for the smell… I know… how the days pass… The prison squats with granite haunches on the young spring, battened under with its twisting green… and you… socket for every bolt piercing like a driven nail. Eyes stare you through the bars… eyes blank as a graveled yard… and the silence shuffles heavy dice of feet in iron corridors… until the day… that has soiled herself in this black hole to caress the pale mask of your face… withdraws the last wizened ray to wash in the infinite her discolored hands. Can you hear me, Sasha, in your surrounded darkness?


How should they appraise you, who walk up close to you as to a mountain, each proclaiming his own eyeful against the other's eyeful.

Only time standing well off shall measure your circumference and height.


  Warped… gland-dry…
  With spine askew
  And body shrunken into half its space…
  Well-used as some cracked paving-stone…
  Bearing on his grimed and pitted front
  A stamp… as of innumerable feet.


  Is it you I see go by the window, Jim Larkin—you not looking
       at me nor any one,
  And your shadow swaying from East to West?
  Strange that you should be walking free—you shut down without light,
  And your legs tied up with a knot of iron.

  One hundred million men and women go inevitably about their affairs,
  In the somnolent way
  Of men before a great drunkenness….
  They do not see you go by their windows, Jim Larkin,
  With your eyes bloody as the sunset
  And your shadow gaunt upon the sky…
  You, and the like of you, that life
  Is crushing for their frantic wines.


  Wind rising in the alleys
  My spirit lifts in you like a banner streaming free of hot walls.
  You are full of unspent dreams….
  You are laden with beginnings….
  There is hope in you… not sweet… acrid as blood in the mouth.
  Come into my tossing dust
  Scattering the peace of old deaths,
  Wind rising in the alleys,
  Carrying stuff of flame.