poetry’s three levels? air, fire, water . . . and what of earth?
The slaver on his journey
struck down by conscience
he calls God. Where do I go now?
he asks the light in his eyes.
Are we not all ruthless? Why not
accept we cannot do otherwise?
That voice inside his head bids him,
Get up, begin to be alive
without taking lives.
Love who comforts you in the street.
Sitting in a carrel chair
at the bottom of the library stacks,
I look down at her
looking up between my eyes
reading black words on yellow
pages that crumble when turned.
Her voice recites perfectly
following what I read. She warns,
Do your own. I look everywhere
for her in the slow rain of Seattle.
At mass the priest reads from Paul’s
letters. I am ill with Revelations.
At home I read The Iliad, or Force.
Starving herself to death, she ends
the war leaving all that she is
to her teacher, veins running white
with the weight of motion stopped short
of deliverance, bodhisattva girl,
slip of a lass in her own French village
dying, who does not go without a word.
I who have labored all my life to live
in this city of clouds and rain
know there is a way if you can map it
with your feet. How else trace the work
that rises to your fingers
to go beyond the skin over your skull,
this poetry all that is left
at the end, when our business is done,
and doors open only to lock
behind you to give you rest.
My teacher brings paper and books:
‘Write what you will, I do not believe
you. Say your life is a fraud? Show me
the fugitive you are. The ghost inside
dwells there only at your pleasure.’
He leaves, I open The Roots of Heaven
because I’ve put aside The Need for Roots
and deracine I am in Africa,
Morel hiding in the high grass
shooting back at the elephant hunters.
In my captivity I learn the three levels
of the voice of Elizabeth Schwarzkopf,
knowing nothing of her collaboration
with fascists as their darling of the ball.
When the tape ends, the lady with red hair
kisses me and goes. She leaves my portrait.
I never ask her who I am to her,
I help the stevedore to the shower,
we are both weary of working the hole,
he does not even remember his name.
My days as Samaritan are over,
I am delivered to a shallow ditch
and taken for dead. Who will stop
to listen if I breathe and take my pulse
before covering my body
by pushing down the banks with a shovel?
Why do I need the assurance of love?
Simone Weil surely asked her god.
Who then am I to be resurrected,
this miracle a farmboy’s city love.
I love the sephardi who makes menus.
She tells me her Jewish name is Leila
Shulamit. I am to keep it secret.
I do write it down the way she wrote it
and I am in the seat beside hers now
on the road home, where soon she will arrive.
There her friends are brewing coffee
to warm her body coming in from cold
that would feed on flesh like the carrion
that before me have left her on her own.
Now she calls, Juan Flores! and I arrive
where what is seen and heard is contingent
on every motion the mind makes
knowing: In heat is cold, in light is dark
night, in heaven hell.
Is dread dispelled by fear warping to map
the truth of everything under stories
masked by stories? And who will know
to render any, much less all?
Life’s underbelly all I never knew . . .
Am I a blackguard who needs crime to curl
my body lying in the dust, struck down
by your voice I may never hear
now I am all I ever was and all
I would ever be to follow this road
in search of the roots that would end my war
on earth, the fourth level of poetry,
where love’s conscience thrives to run true
and around its curve, a road two can walk
though only I know mine own Damascus.
(16 December 2010)
copyright 2010 by Floyce Alexander
[posted 19 December 2010]