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Title: Against This Age
Author: Bodenheim, Maxwell
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AGAINST THIS AGE



  AGAINST THIS AGE

  MAXWELL BODENHEIM

  [Illustration]

  BONI AND LIVERIGHT
  PUBLISHERS : : NEW YORK



  COPYRIGHT, 1923, BY
  BONI AND LIVERIGHT, INC.


  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



  To
  FEDYA AND MINNA
  FOUR EYES WITHIN A BLIND WORLD



Some of the poems in this book have appeared in _The Century_, _The
Bookman_, _The Nation_, _The Dial_, _The Menorah Journal_, _Broom_,
_The Double Dealer_, _Shadowland_, and _Harper’s Magazine_.



CONTENTS


  BABY                                  11

  NIGHTMARE AND SOMETHING DELICATE      13

  REGARDING AN AMERICAN VILLAGE         22

  THREE PORTRAITS                       25

  DEFINITIONS                           28

  TO A CORPULENT SINGER                 29

  TOPSY-TURVY                           30

  REVILE THE ACROBAT                    32

  COMPULSORY TASKS                      34

  RHYMED CONVERSATION WITH MONEY        36

  HIGHLY DELIBERATE POEM                38

  POEM                                  40

  REALISTIC CREATOR                     41

  CITY STREETS                          42

  DECADENT CRY                          43

  GIRL                                  44

  COLOR AND A WOMAN                     46

  RELUCTANT LADY                        48

  PSYCHOLOGY FROM MARS                  49

  TO TIME                               51

  DECADENT DUET                         52

  POEM TO A POLICEMAN                   54

  INTIMATE SCENE                        56

  NEW YORK CITY                         58

  WE WANT LYRICS                        60

  A VISITOR FROM MARS SMILES            62

  SURPRISE                              63



AGAINST THIS AGE



BABY


  1

  The blue beginning of your eyes
  Condenses the sprawling and assured
  Blue with which the sky retreats
  From those obscene confessions known as days.


  2

  Again, your battling mites of blue
  Try to stop the revolving monster of life
  And find the indelible persuasiveness
  Of single forms within the circling blur.
  Sundered bits of a soul
  Astonished at their shrunken estate,
  They are not sure that they have still survived,
  And plead for the conviction of sight.


  3

  But when they recollect
  The hugely placid manners
  Of their life, before the earthly exile
  Made them small and fastened
  To one pathetic puzzle,
  Their blue reverts to swelling reveries
  Whose outward circles spurn the curtained jail.


  4

  Upon your softly incomplete
  Face, where germs of devils stir in curves
  That tremble into questioning symmetries,
  A thrust of darkness sometimes interferes
  With secret, virgin places underneath
  Your eyes and where your leaf-thin nostrils pause.
  This darkness bends with helpless messages,
  Like history admonishing a world
  Personified in one, composite face.



NIGHTMARE AND SOMETHING DELICATE


  You mutter, with your face
  Pleading for more room because
  It has scanned a panorama:
  You mutter, with every difference
  On your face an error in size
  Mesmerized by the sight of a sky-line:
  “Life is a nightmare and something delicate.”
  Lady, they have made a world for you,
  And if you dare to leave it
  They will flagellate you
  With the bones of dead men’s thoughts,
  And five senses, five termagants
  Snapping at the uneasy mind.
  “No, five riotous flirts,”
  You say, “and each one has
  A thick blandishment to master the mind.”
  Yes, lady, through the bold disarrangement of words
  Life acquires with great foresight
  An interesting nervousness.
  But O lady with a decadent music
  Somehow silent in lines of flesh,
  Finding your face too small,
  Finding the earth too small,
  Have they not informed you
  That crowding life into seven words
  Is an insincere and minor epigram?
  And have they not reprimanded you
  Because you fail to observe
  Their vile and fervent spontaneity,
  These howlers of earthly shrouds?
  And have they neglected to drive
  The bluster of their knuckles against your face
  Because you rush from the leg and arm
  Anecdotes of microscopical towns,
  Bandying with a fantasy
  Which they call thin and valueless?
  “Life is a nightmare and something delicate,”
  You repeat, and then, “O yes, they have done these things
  To me because I take not seriously
  The interval between two steps
  Made by Death, who has grown a little tired.
  When Death recovers his vigor
  The intervals will become
  Shorter and shorter until
  No more men are alive.
  But now they have their chance.
  The wild, foul fight of life
  Delights in refreshing phrases--
   Swift-pouring tranquillities and ecstasies
  Atoning for the groaning stampede
  That desecrates the light
  Between each dawn and twilight.
  And those who stand apart
  Use the edged art of their minds
  To cut the struggling pack of bodies
  Into naked, soiled distinctness.”
  Lady, do not let them hear you.
  You are too delicate--
  Deliberately, nimbly, remotely, strongly
  Delicate--and you will remind them
  Too much of Death, who is also
  The swiftly fantastic compression
  Of every adjective and adverb
  Marching to nouns that live
  Beyond the intentions of men.
  Men are not able, lady,
  To strike his face, and in vengeance
  They will smear your face
  With the loose, long hatred of their words.
  I will wash your face
  With new metaphors and similes,
  Telling carefully with my hands
  That I love you not for your skin,
  And every bird at twilight
  Will be enviously astonished
  At your face now insubstantial
  Indeed, you have an irony
  That ironically doubts
  Whether its power is supreme,
  And at such times you accept
  The adequate distraction
  Of cold and shifting fantasy.
  This is your mood and mine,
  And with it we open the window
  To look upon the night.
  The night, with distinguished coherence,
  Is saying yes to the soul
  And mending its velvet integrity
  Torn by one forlorn
  Animal that bounds
  From towns and villages.
  The night is Blake in combat
  With an extraordinary wolf
  Whose head can take the mobile
  Protection of a smile;
  Whose heart contains the ferocious
  Lies of ice and fire;
  Whose heart with stiff and sinuous
  Promises swindles the lips and limbs of men;
  Whose heart persuades its confusion
  To welcome the martyred certainties
  Of cruelty and kindness;
  Whose brain is but a calmness
  Where the falsehoods of earth
  Can fashion masks of ideas.
  Welcome the wolf.
  Bring lyrics to fondle his hair.
  Summon your troops of words
  And exalt his gasping contortions.
  Lady, it is my fear
  That makes me give you these commands.
  Men will force upon you
  The garland of their spit
  If you fail to glorify,
  Or eagerly disrobe,
  The overbearing motives of their flesh.
  And every irony of yours
  Will be despised unless
  A hand of specious warmth
  Directs the twist of your blades.
  O lady, you are flashing detachment
  Clad in exquisitely careful
  Fantasy, and on your face
  Pity and irony unite
  To form the nimble light of contemplations.
  Men will dread you as they fear
  Death, the Ultimate Preciosity.
  Stay with me within this chamber
  And tell me that your heart
  Is near to a spiral of pain
  Curving perfectly
  From the squirming of a world.
  See, you have made me luminous
  With this news, and my heart,
  Fighting to be original,
  Ends its struggle in yours.
  Turning, we trace a crescent
  Of conscious imagination
  Upon the darkness of this room.
  Night and window still remain.
  Night, spiritual acrobat,
  Evades with great undulations
  The moans and exultations of men.
  His madly elastic invitation
  To the souls of men
  Gathers up the imagination
  Of one poet, starving in a room
  Where rats and scandals ravish the light.
  With conscious combinations of words
  The poet bounds through space with Night.
  Together they observe
  The bleeding, cheated mob
  Of bodies robbed by one quick thrill.
  Cold, exact, and fanciful,
  They drop the new designs of words
  Upon a vastly obvious contortion.
  Poet and night can see
  No difference between
  The peasant, groveling and marred,
  And smoother men who cringe more secretly.
  Yet they give these men
  The imaginary distinctions of words.
  Compassionate poet and night.
  You say: “With glaring details
  Attended by the voices of men,
  Morning will attack the poet.
  Men will brandish adjectives.
  Tenuous! Stilted! Artificial!
  Dreams of warm permanence
  Will grasp the little weapons
  Furnished by the servant-mind.
  Dreams ... ah, lady, let us leave
  The more precise and polished dream
  Of our sadness, and surpass
  The scoundrel, beggar, fool, and braggart
  Fused into a loose convulsion
  Called by men amusement.
  Laughter is the explosive trouble
  Of a soul that shakes the flesh.
  Misunderstanding the signal
  Men fly to an easy delight.
  Causes, obscure and oppressed,
  Cleave the flesh and become
  Raped by earthly intentions.
  Thus the surface rôles of men
  Throw themselves upon the stranger,
  Changing his cries with theirs.
  The aftermath is a smile
  Relishing the past occurrence.
  Lady, since you desire
  To clutch the meaning of this sound and pause,
  Laugh and smile with me more sadly
  And with that attenuated, cold
  Courage never common to men.
  Another window is behind us,
  Needing much our laugh and smile.


  II

  That metaphysical prank
  Known as chance--overwhelming
  Lack of respect for bodies
  And the position of objects--
  Gathers three men and arranges them
  Side by side in a street-car.
  Freudian, poet, and priest--
  Ah, lady, they have not lost
  The unreal snobbishness
  With which their different minds
  Withdraw from one another.
  Their thought does not desire
  Only to be distinct
  And adventurous.
  They must also maintain
  An extreme aloofness;
  Throw the obliterating adjective;
  Fix a rock and perch upon it.
  Chance, the irresistible humorist,
  Has lured their bodies together,
  With that purity of intention
  Not appreciated by men.
  With a smile not impersonal
  But trampling on small disputes,
  We scan the minds and hearts of these men.
  The Freudian is meditating
  Upon a page within his essay
  Where the narrative sleep of a woman
  Clarifies her limbs and breast.
  He does not know that men
  Within their sleep discover
  Creative lips and eyes stamped out by life;
  That coarse and drooling fish-peddlers
  Change to Dostoyevskies;
  Morbid morgue-attendants
  Snatch the sight of Baudelaire;
  Snarling, cloudy cut-throats
  Steal the shape of François Villon.
  Men within their slumber
  Congratulate the poetry,
  Prose, and art that life reviles
  Within their stifled consciousness.
  Their helpless imaginations
  Throw off the soiled and cramped
  Weight of memorized realities.
  The Freudian in the street-car
  Ties this freedom to a creed,
  Narrowing the broad escape
  Until it fits the lunge of limbs.
  We leave him, rubbing his nose
  To catch the upheaval of triumph,
  And look upon the more removed
  Body of the poet.
  Lady, poets heal
  Their slashed and poisoned loneliness
  With words that captivate
  The bald, surrounding scene:
  Words that grip the variations
  Crowded underneath each outward form,
  Governed by the scrutiny
  Of mind, and heart, and soul.
  Transcending the rattle of this car
  And every other gibberish
  Uttered by civilization,
  The poet plans his story.
  Life, an old man, cryptic and evanescent,
  Tries to sell some flowers
  To Death, who is young and smiles.
  Lady, this poet is also young--
  Tingling, candid somersault of youth--
  And his words only catch
  Surface novelties of style.
  Different phrases drape one thought.
  “An old man 3 thirds asleep”
  Replaces “an old man completely asleep.”
  Ah, these endless dressmakers.
  They hang a new or faded gown
  Upon the shapes of life:
  They do not cut beneath the mould
  And clutch the huddled forms that wait
  For resurrection in the inner dungeon ...
  Poet and Freudian leave their seats
  To gain the sleek encouragement of supper,
  And only the priest remains.
  From the lumbering torture of years
  Men have wrenched a double hope,
  God and Christ, and sought to calm
  The strained deceptions of their flesh.
  Lady, the tarrying soul,
  Patient and flexible,
  Must often smile at the simple,
  Crude anticipations of men.
  This priest smiles and is sleepy,
  Thinking of coffee with cognac,
  And the warm, assuring duty of prayer.
  The outer smile is ever
  An unconscious obliteration.
  Ah, lady, logics, masks,
  And ecstasies forever
  Spurn the pregnant, black
  Mystery that lets them spend
  The tense importance of a moment.
  Only fantasy and irony,
  Incongruous brothers,
  Can lift themselves above
  The harassed interval that Death permits.



REGARDING AN AMERICAN VILLAGE


  I

  O local mannerisms,
  Coarsely woven cloaks
  Thrown upon the plodding,
  Emaciated days within this village,
  I have no contempt or praise
  To give you--no desire
  To rip you off, discovering
  Skin, and undulations known as sin,
  And no desire to revise you
  With glamorous endearments of rhyme.
  Slowly purchased garments
  Of cowardice, men wear you
  And aid their practised shrinking
  From one faint irritation
  Escaping nightly from their souls.
  Night makes men uncertain--
  The mystery of a curtain
  Different from those that hang in windows.
  At night the confidence of flesh
  Becomes less strong and men
  Are forced to rescue it
  With desperate hilarities.
  Observe them now within the bland
  Refuge of manufactured light.
  Between the counters of a village store
  They arm their flesh with feigned
  Convictions brought by laughter.
  Afterwards, as they roll along
  The dark roads leading to their farms,
  The grumbling of their souls will compete
  With the neighing of horses
  And the stir of leaves and weeds.
  Night will lean upon them,
  Teasing the sturdiness of flesh.


  II

  The body of Jacob Higgins--
  Belated minstrel--sings and dances
  On the edge of the cliff.
  Once fiendish and accurate,
  His greed has now become
  Frivolous and unskillful,
  Visualizing Death as a new
  Mistress who must be received with lighter manners.
  Preparing for her coming
  He buys “five cents wuth of candy”
  For a grandchild, and with a generous cackle
  Tackles a chair beside the stove.
  Another old man, like a blurred
  Report of winter, seizes
  The firmer meaning of a joke
  About the Ree-publican partee.
  Jacob, using one high laugh,
  Preens himself for celestial dallying.
  Old men in American villages laugh
  To groom the mean, untidy habits
  Of their past existences.
  (They lack the stolid frankness
  Of European peasants.)

  Behind a wire lattice
  Bob Wentworth separates the mail
  With the guise of one intent
  On guessing the contents of a novel.
  Forty years have massed
  Exhausted lies within him,
  And to ease the weight he builds
  Mysteries and fictions
  In the fifty people whom he knows.
  Agnes Holliday receives her letter
  With that erect, affected
  Indifference employed by village girls.
  The words of a distant lover
  Rouse the shallow somnambulist
  Of her heart, and it stares
  Reproachfully at an empty bed.
  Oh, she had forgotten:
  Sugar, corn, and loaves of bread.
  The famished alertness of her reading
  Curtsies to a cheap and orderly
  Trance known to her mind as life.
  Then an anxious, skittish youth
  Behind the counter invites her
  To the weekly dance at Parkertown.
  Concrete pleasures drive their boots
  Against the puny, fruitless dream ...
  And, Thomas Ainsley, they have given you
  Chained tricks for your legs and arms,
  And peevish lulls that play with women’s feet.
  You stroke the paper of your letter--
  An incantation to the absent figure.

  The night upon a country-road
  Is waiting to pounce upon
  The narrow games of these people.
  The power of incomprehensible sounds
  Will cleave their breasts and join
  The smothered gossip of trees,
  And every man will lengthen his steps
  And crave the narcotic safety of home.
  Fear is only the frantic
  Annoyance of a soul,
  Misinterpreted by flesh.



THREE PORTRAITS


  I

  Withdraw your hair from the simulated
  Interest of the moon;
  Take every tenuous shadow
  From the aimless tongues of these trees
  And darken your speech until it attains
  A fickle and fantastic
  Acquaintance with the eccentric night;
  Disarrange your dress and make it
  A subtle invitation to nakedness.
  Remove your shoes and stockings
  So that your feet may enjoy
  An embarrassed soliloquy with the grass;
  Place the palm of your hand
  Lightly against your nose,
  Following the slope of some grotesque feeling.
  Devise these careful affronts
  To the heavier intentions
  Of thought and emotion, and gratefully
  Accept your title of minor poet.

  Only trees with long roots caught by hills
  Will recognize your importance.


  II

  They worship musical sound,
  Protecting the breast of emotion.
  Their feelings pose as fortune-tellers
  And angle for coins from credulous thoughts.
  Shall we abandon this luxury
  Of mild mist and wild raptures?
  Your face refrains from speaking yes
  But your poised eyes roundly
  Reward the luminous question.
  Greece and Asia have exchanged
  Problems upon your face,
  And the fine poise of your head
  Tries to catch their conversation.
  Few people care to use
  Thought as a musical instrument,
  Bringing ingenious restraints to grief and joy,
  But we, with clasped arms, will descend
  Daringly upon this situation.
  The full-blown confusion of life
  Will detest our intrusion.


  III

  If you subtract a nose you add religion,
  Supine, and in a glitter of explanation
  Expanding the unreasonable second
  Of chattering, pugnacious flesh.
  The inquisitive elevation of noses
  Does not fit into the smooth
  Curvatures of faith.
  If you remove the lips you add
  Philosophy, for lips express the warm
  Quarrel of emotions and become
  Crimson antagonists to contemplation.
  If you subtract the eyes you add
  The fertile smugness of earth,
  For eyes are rapid skeptics
  Tossing light beyond the circles of earth.
  Flesh will remain and vacillate
  Between the cocaine of belief
  And times of wakefulness
  Designed to replenish the drug.
  Then reconstruct the face
  With shifting experiments
  Of spirit, fantasy, and intellect,
  Intent upon violating
  The tyrannies of formal reiteration.
  Men will revile you and bestow
  The necessary background.



DEFINITIONS


  Music is a treacherous sound,
  Seducing emotions and marking
  Their breathless faces with death.
  Art is an intrepid mountebank,
  Enraging philosophies and creeds
  By stepping into the black space beyond them.
  Religions are blindly tortured eyes,
  Paralyzing the speed of imagination
  With static postures of hope.
  History is an accidental madness,
  Using nations and races
  To simulate a cruel sanity.
  (In the final dust
  This trick will be discovered.)
  Psychology is a rubber-stamp
  Pressed upon a slippery, dodging ghost,
  But thousands of centuries can remove
  All marks of this indignity.

  Men, each snuggling proudly
  Into an inch of plausible falsehood,
  Will hate the careless smile
  That whitens these definitions.
  The table has been broken by fists;
  The fanatic has mangled his voice;
  The scientist cautiously repairs the room
  Beyond which he dares not peer.
  Life, they will never cease to explain you.



TO A CORPULENT SINGER


  I

  Bulging maturity
  Constructs an unfair version
  Of curves not visible
  To eyes upon the outside face.


  II

  If a soul is more
  Slender than the motives of wind,
  Flesh provides the necessary
  Privacy, and in a rising voice
  The soul proclaims its gratefulness.


  III

  Who has watched a bear
  Pawing his idea of a breeze?
  The audience in this falsely walled
  Room is pouncing awkwardly
  Upon the small part of a singer’s voice.
  The actual sounds swing easily
  To eyes and ears beyond the edge of earth.


  IV

  And if to this meandering
  Of metaphysical remarks
  I should add a face
  Where tragedy experiments with lanterns
  To aid a long, sharp nose and wondering lips,
  And laughter is conscious of being
  The excited, misunderstood child of a soul,
  The singer would receive
  Final details of her disguise.



TOPSY-TURVY


  I

  If I insist that violets
  Are intellectual eyes
  Dotting with a wave of sight
  The chained recalcitrance of earth,
  Philosophers and scientists--
  Blind boys who bolt themselves within a room--
  Will seek to torture me
  For the flashing witchcraft
  That rides on thunderclaps
  Called imagination.
  The crystallized escape
  Of fear is known as logic,
  And men have used it to light
  Small spaces in the wilderness of black.
  But I prefer to mount
  Huge horses of the wind,
  Whose fantastic laughter
  Separates to metaphors
  And similes that hurl their decorations
  Against the wide malevolence of space.
  When I return to the morbid
  Helplessness of earth
  And shake off the dream of freedom,
  Men ply their knives of gods
  And creeds upon my skin.
  Much traveling through space
  Has made me immune to pain,
  And metaphors and similes
  Aid my counting of blood-drops,
  Bringing color to mathematics.


  II

  Lady upon whose head
  I weave the motives of this poem,
  Change your sex to a barely visible
  Trembling that can match the fluttering charm
  Of the wreath that I have made for you.
  When this task is finished
  We may saunter gayly
  Past the cunning niches
  That psychology has made for us.



REVILE THE ACROBAT


  Maiden, where are you going,
  With impudence that makes your arms and legs
  Unnecessary feathers?
  Your eyes have interceded
  Between the flesh and soul,
  And show a light of reconciliation.
  For whom have you prepared yourself?

  I go to see an acrobat
  Reviled by men, and acting
  Within a lonely circus owned
  By Mind, Soul, & Heart, Incorporated.
  I love his limbs whose muscles
  Compete with twirls of gossamer,
  And Oh, I love him not
  With the drooling, fevered weight of earth.
  He turns my blood to one
  Profusion of melted wings.

  Maiden, why is this acrobat
  Better than men who stand within
  The favored halls of mind and heart,
  Playing, with lust and dignity,
  Violins and trumpets?

  They are not better, and he,
  Whose thoughtful quickness combines
  The pliantness of mind and soul,
  He is not worse--the thoughts of men
  Stand still on high roofs of the mind,
  Or borrow sorceries of flesh,
  While he, with flimsy trails
  Of ruffles on a gaudy jacket,
  Springs into the air; assaults
  Every stately, fierce, robust
  Finality that men have made.
  He cares not whether he is right or wrong.
  He seeks a decorative speed
  Of thought and soul, and he is not afraid
  Of being insincere.
  Men loathe him, but I clothe him
  With magnificent, specific
  Fabrics slighter than the remorse of a child
  And bearing involved births of colors.
  Strength is not alone
  The size and thickness known to men!



COMPULSORY TASKS


  Words, it is apparent
  That you are crucified and fondled
  By the pride of each new generation.
  O words, whose sportive formations
  Could make the courts of intellect
  Belligerent and insane,
  Men have sentenced you
  To scores of endless drudgeries.
  Weakened by the years,
  You guard the dying bonfires
  Of each nation and race.
  Again, like hordes of cattle,
  You drag the expectations
  Of social theories and remedies,
  Stopping only when the blood of men
  Washes away your useless labours.
  I have seen your bands
  Of ragged courtesans
  Marching in feverish lines
  To rescue the rites of sex.
  I have watched you rush
  To repair the cracks
  In breaking cathedrals and churches.
  With gilded, exclamatory vowels
  You garnish the cowering of earth,
  And with recurring darkness
  You spurn the peering mind.
  Again you are hands of intellect,
  Disrobing the flesh of men
  And carefully preserving
  Each discarded garment
  With a pinch of powdered emotion.
  Again you are driven forth
  In lying mobs of sighs and laughs
  To warm the evening hours of a nation.
  (“They could never restrain themselves
  To wait at home for the postman ...
  Would Copperfield marry Dora or Agnes?”)
  Sentimental breathlessness
  Fleeing from the helpless decay of thought.
  O words, brow-beaten bricklayers
  Obeying the shouts of science
  And raising walls upon whose top
  The soul is perched, contemptuously
  Squinting down at toiling pygmies:
  O words, and you can be
  Superbly demented skeptics,
  Betraying the unctuous failures of earth;
  Riding the wild horse of the mind:
  Bringing spurs into play;
  Summoning with pain the lurking soul.



RHYMED CONVERSATION WITH MONEY


  How many planets have you raped,
  Where only animals escaped
  To scrape with melancholy needs
  The bones of last men lost in weeds?
  Since you are blunt and fraudulent
  You must receive a bare treatment.
  Adverbs and adjectives undress
  When greeted by excrescences.
  You are the stench on any street,
  Thick with the vagaries of defeat:
  The wench who plies her squawking crime
  Within the alley-ways of time.
  For men desire to guard with pain
  The limitations of their brain,
  And drag the numbness of their hearts
  Within ornate and creaking carts.
  And for these tasks they must be bold,
  Clutching endurance from a cold
  Squirming with you within the dark,
  And rising blistered with your mark.
  Again you give to doubting lust
  An argument which it can trust.
  Imagination spoils the scene
  And needs a dagger, crude and mean.
  For you were made by men to choke
  A lyric with an obscene joke
  And strike the mind when it is strong,
  With whips methodical and long.
  Men who are inarticulate
  Desire to parody their fate
  With gibberish of clinking coins.
  When life, excited thief, purloins
  The voice and energy of men,
  They lead him to a mouldy pen:
  They seek revenge and watch him wilt,
  Finding importance in his guilt.
  They do not know that they have made
  The thief to revel in his aid.
  And you are there to strain your cheek
  Against imaginations weak--
  Coquettish counterfeit of strength.
  I have observed your metal length
  Of hands drop on the poet’s throat,
  And yet he scarcely saw you gloat.
  To certain men you merely feed
  The stoics of creative need.


  _Money_

  I am the vicious test with which
  Men find that they are poor or rich.
  Without my challenge men might fail
  To leave the blurred and murderous jail.
  Utopias are merely death:
  Men need the scorching of my breath.



HIGHLY DELIBERATE POEM


  “Mother o’ mi-i-ine, mother o’ mi-i-ine,
  Sweet as uh ro-ose in thuh spring-ti-i-ime”--

  The man who bawls this song
  Has the face of a spell-bound, hairless rat.
  Entranced within a spotlight,
  He borrows unconsciously
  Another voice from despair.
  The ordinary squeak of his life
  Is paralyzed, and fear of death
  Lends him a tenor voice
  To supplicate the Catcher.
  But the audience fails to understand
  And makes flat sounds of glee
  With hands ... Death, quietly
  Disgusted at this blind approval,
  Takes away the spotlight.
  Now safe, the rat presents
  Jerks of gratitude and scampers off
  To gnaw at his wife within their dressing-room.
  That squeezed-in bag of piteous
  Mythologies described as heart
  Has opened in one thousand people
  And received a vision
  Of past solicitude for other bags.
  The rat repeats this feat and wins
  Varieties of coarse sweetmeats.
  At sixty the rat will be a gorged
  Machiavelli, wondering
  Whether he has not blundered.
  Death finds no interest in killing rats
  And often allows them to live,
  Preferring instead the less buried souls
  Of a poet or a child of ten.
  But the rat has found a fear
  Within the second eyes of whiskey
  And relates it to his wife.
  “Say, May, this thing is funny!
  You won’t believe me, but tonight
  Just before I started the act
  I felt like I was gonna die.
  What in hell is wrong with me?
  This booze must be drivin’ me bughouse.
  Well, move a leg, and get that thousand
  Faulkner promised you, and stop
  Sitting there and staring at me.”
  Death, who has listened with fastidious
  Ennui, strolls off to slay
  A negro infant newly born.



POEM


  A curious courtship in your brain
  Regulates the movements of your limbs.
  Remorse, the fanciful, abandoned
  Child of madness, discovers its lips
  Upon the breast of a hovering Madonna.
  How many poets present
  The crushed tips of their hearts
  Pieced carefully together as a wreath
  Upon the two heads of this wooing?
  Imagination is a wound
  Upon the adventures of thoughts,
  And one scar left behind
  Is known as reality.
  Will they give you robes
  Threaded with orderly shimmers of repentance,
  Pardoning the scar in earthly ways?



REALISTIC CREATOR

_A Sonnet Dedicated to T. S. Eliot_


  An intimate and playful accident
  Common to life had placed him on a bench
  Beside an old and stiffly wounded wench.
  With erudite and careful eyes he sent
  A sneer to tear away her feeble mask
  And snatch the battered dullness of her heart.
  He spied her only in the scheming part
  Of soiled flesh bickering with some trivial task.

  The lacerated madness of her soul,
  And delicate emotions kicked by life,
  Did not invade the swift tricks of his mind.
  Regarding her, he could not see the whole,
  Or catch the psychic lunge behind her strife.
  His eyes were savagely adroit, and blind.



CITY STREETS


  This pavement and the sordid boast of stone
  And brick that wins the pity of a sky
  Are only martyred symbols made to buy
  A dream of permanence for flesh and bone.
  The jumbled, furtive anecdotes of lips
  And limbs that bring their fever to this street,
  They will subside to fragments of defeat
  Within the cool republic where death trips.

  This is an age where flesh desires to shape
  Intense hyperboles in prose and verse,
  Transforming city streets and country lanes
  To backgrounds aiding physical escape.
  But city streets are waiting to disperse
  With ruins the fight and plight of earthly pains.



DECADENT CRY[A]


  Hill-flowers salute his feet
  Upon the upward slant of a path.
  His destination does not matter.
  His legs divide the spacious tragedy
  Of distance into the small translation
  Of steps, and with their aid he reaches
  The fraudulent temple of a pause or end.
  Hill-flowers, important and unprejudiced,
  Bow to this monster-clown.
  His feet, ridiculous and neat,
  Do not stop, for they must ape
  A certainty and hasten to attack
  Or praise fixed idols made by flesh and mind.
  Hill-flowers, trimly polished
  Devices hailing preciosity;
  Rumpled by the wind
  To scores of original caprices;
  Bearing the transfigured skirmish
  Of spiritual moods that men call color;
  Swiftly and unassumingly
  Deaf to lusts and traditions--
  They are not regarded
  By the men who walk, flat-footed,
  Or with scholarly exactitude,
  In chase of an ardent chicanery
  Known as flesh, and elderly
  Quibbles of mind and emotion.

  Only an intellect clad in sprightly chiffon
  Can spy the importance of flowers on a hill.

  [A] _Dedicated to a rare moment of intelligence on the part of The
      Dial._



GIRL


  The words of men are not conjectures
  Lunging toward your soul:
  They do not wish you to leave
  The fawning thefts of flesh.
  When with covered formality
  They tramp from actual pulpits,
  They merely bring celestial nonsense
  For one, uncurious, sanctified bed.
  Ah, girl, the soul that they give you
  Is a clumsy, white
  Concert-master rebuking
  The first-violin of your body.
  Again they brand a word,
  Sacredness, upon your breast,
  Claiming that your soul is tied
  To the pliant riot of your limbs.

  Girl, I can forget for a moment
  That hairs upon the bulge of my chest
  Must be praised or censured,
  And I have no desire
  To belittle you with one,
  Hopeless, cynical, sententious
  Group of words, while intellect,
  Flavoring its tea-cup with a sneer,
  Watches you from shaded balconies.
  When you win the torpid illness
  Known as virtue you are less important
  Than a quest for daisies in the moon,
  And when you merely ask
  For one blow and inertness,
  An old dream yells and ends
  With the quietness of sprawling pity.
  Girl, avoid the plentiful
  Drugs of seriousness and spend
  Pieces of your heart on every whim.
  Give your flesh the light and sharp
  Contacts of a thistle blown
  Across the wincing cheeks of rogues.
  Make your soul and body spurn
  Each other with a swift impertinence,
  And let your clawing griefs and joys
  Be still a moment on the couch of thought.
  And if at times you turn your head
  To spy the hatred of philosophers
  And panting realists, preserve the smile
  Of one who takes a suitable reward.



COLOR AND A WOMAN


  Cry the names of colors
  And fail to reproduce
  The brightly worried way
  In which they burn ideas,
  Sweeping hues of intangible blood
  Into the conspiring fires of soul:
  The darkly reticent manner
  With which they embalm emotions,
  Ending the spontaneous treachery
  With a self-possessed attraction.
  Chant the names of colors
  And fascinate the brown
  Coward, who surrounds himself
  With crystal safeguards known as facts,
  But likes the dangerous sounds
  Of unattained realities.
  Or, scorn this satirical advice
  And storm the body of a woman
  With words as deliberate as wind,
  Yet heavier, and bearing
  Colors without a label.
  The substance of her hair--
  Ethereal stems that continue their quest
  Beyond the warped confines of sight--
  Shows the darkness of intellect
  Answering a miniature sunset
  Whose dying light does not quite succumb.
  The steep reserve of her forehead
  Has been kindled by a flat burden
  Pale as the cry of a child, yet carrying
  The hint of trouble found in late afternoon.
  Her eyes hold emotional evening,
  With spurts of dawn remaining like anxious relics
  Kept alive by unsatisfied designs
  From that derided realm where logic dies.
  Her breast is the color that a north wind
  Would have if it were visible to eyes.
  Upon her body, color in light and darkness
  Subdues the ribald ponderousness of life
  And brings the filmy, flashing seriousness
  Detested by the prostrate toil of mud;
  Hated in taverns at midnight;
  Banished from every couch when morning
  Rearranges the ancient jest.



RELUCTANT LADY


  The widely bruised, shy beauty of a brain
  That renders dogmas bashful with its breath
  Will raise its last, wan offering to death--
  A poise of gossamer that takes the rain
  Of darkness, with an unexpectant pride.
  Your thoughts are old and yet too young for life
  Whose ponderous sneer preserves their curling strife.
  They wait for heavy spear-points, side by side.

  You are a wilted pilgrim on a road
  Where hills and rubbish-pits receive alike
  The skeptical remonstrance of your pace.
  You pass through towns and raise your thoughtful load
  To shield your loves against the words that strike
  The sheer, elastic trouble of your face.



PSYCHOLOGY FROM MARS


  Torban flattered the details
  Of his festival in brown--a beard--
  With fingers that held a musical length,
  And spoke of psychology.
  The clever reproduction
  Of a human being,
  His appearance lacked
  A hairsbreadth of reality
  And barely failed to convince.
  His eyes, assemblages of planets
  Miraculously dwarfed, were small
  But did not hold the shifting gluttony
  Common to little eyes.
  His lips were unsubstantial fibres
  And the straight line of his nose
  Gained an unearthly sincerity.
  His body was muscular but failed to reveal
  The smug delusion of superiority
  That lives within physical strength.
  With a voice in which pity and satire
  Mingled bewilderedly with each other,
  He spoke of psychology.
  “Normal and average men
  On Mars are charged with being
  Insane and distorted oracles.
  Because they desire to resemble each other
  We force them to live together
  On drably elaborate plateaus.
  There they fashion cities--
  Geometrical madness
  That censures shreds of dread and unrest
  Within the spaces of its heart.
  There they retreat to farms,
  And the disciplined exhaustion
  Of their lives reclines upon
  Monotonous rewards known as harvests.
  They cling to homes--slumbering alcoves
  Plentifully supplied
  With complimenting mirrors
  And altars for the mind.
  Sometimes a revolution
  Seduces their living flatness,
  And an original confusion
  Follows rumours of creation,
  But the sanity vanishes
  Into the marching unison
  Of their repentant madness.
  We who are sane live below the plateaus.
  ‘Home’ to us is a flitting answer:
  Different spots inevitably
  Transformed by our bodies garlanded with mind,
  Or requests of the heart
  That tarry a moment for shelter.
  As we wander we tear
  And rebuild ancient lanes and houses,
  Leaving a sentinel of change
  Behind to confront the next traveller.
  We stroll in twos and threes
  That endure for a day or an hour,
  And we never linger
  At one place to gloat over details.
  Restless sanity, my friend,
  Equips the changing cries within us.
  Restless sanity
  Prevents us from complacently
  Dozing over miniatures,
  With a dream of importance
  Rocking within the rhythms of our hearts!”



TO TIME


  O Time, you are an idiot’s fluid curse.
  O Time, you are an uninspired hearse.
  O Time, you kill beneath your robe of nurse.

  O Time, your eyes are cherubs drowned in pools,
  O Time, your wisdom scorns the aid of stools,
  O Time, your kindness blinds the life of fools.

  O Time, you blur pretentious intellect.
  O Time, you break the thrones that thoughts erect.
  O Time, your hands indifferently correct

  The incoherent sorceries of men
  Who dance before a monstrous Axe and Pen,
  Waving the fetiches of words, and then

  Censure the dance with pedestals of gauze
  Cleverly imitating rock, and laws
  Whose opaque sureness broods above their cause.

  When irony will cease to be obscure
  To men whose eyes resent the cloudy lure
  That ends their tiny clarities, with pure

  And forming mists of words, then men will climb
  With restless regularity, like Time,
  Who merely seeks a changing pantomime.

  O Time, you are too pure and swiftly wide
  For men who try to check your colored stride
  With opaque temples and a sleeping bride.



DECADENT DUET


  _Torban_

  Lightly sharp and even,
  Your voice is the sound of an airplane
  Darting high above your unreceptive face.
  Your voice is unrelated
  To the structure of your face,
  And on your lips an echo merely rides,
  The pagan shimmerings of your face
  Receive the voice with a subtle disbelief.
  Indeed, your intellectuality,
  Speeding though spaces over your head,
  Must seem of little consequence
  To the nymph who listens far below.
  That you are thus divided is not strange,
  But you contain a third Self
  And it regards the other two
  With a grave and patient interest.


  _Woman_

  Phantasmagoria,
  Ruling arabesques of words,
  Your attenuated variations
  Of thought and emotion will enrage
  The blunt convictions of more earthly men.
  The pagan rituals of my face
  Distrust your words, and my mind,
  Dropping its voice from fancied heights,
  Resents the indirectness of your style.
  But the third Self within me,
  Generous and immobile of face,
  Cares only for the skill
  With which you elevate
  Vainly celebrating shades
  Of thought and protesting emotion.
  Color, form, and substance--
  Three complaining slaves
  Engraving the details of prearranged tasks
  Within stationary brains and hearts.
  My third Self would release them
  To an original abandon
  That exchanges intangible countries,
  With a gracious, gaudy treason.


  _Torban_

  Lacking a better name
  I will call your third Self “soul.”
  The ancient, merry game
  Of fighting over labels
  Must not dismay our duet.
  To most men soul exists
  Only when their sensual weariness
  Needs to be gilded with a religion
  Or a deified memory of flesh.
  We contain a lurking wanderer
  Upon our inner roads, and he
  Sometimes stops to drop pitying hands
  Upon the forms of thought and emotions
  Branded with scores of prejudices.
  Men have hated him for centuries,
  And hatred, symbol of sly cowardice,
  Has draped its desire in false scorn
  And named him Decadence.
  Thus ends our decadent duet.
  Come, there are roads on which we must pirouette.
  The proper contrast will be furnished
  By philosophers, scientists, and sensualists.



POEM TO A POLICEMAN


  Marionnette-fanatic,
  Your active club within this riot
  Was once the passive integrity
  Of a branch upon a tree.
  Now without success
  It tries to beat out fire
  Writhing in human skulls.
  The pause of nature, transformed
  Survival of every memory and defeat,
  Separates to bits of action
  Aiding an inexplicable fever.
  The hands of centuries press
  These bits into another
  Pause before corruption.
  O pernicious circle,
  I will not believe
  That your parsimonious farce
  Reiterates itself through space.
  The souls of men achieve
  An accidental dream
  That seems important merely
  Because the figures which it holds
  Have invented small and almost
  Non-existent divisions of time.
  Yet, trapped within these months and years,
  I turn to you, marionnette-fanatic.
  You at least can bring
  Diversion to my chained
  Impatience as I wait for death.
  How wildly you protect
  The sluggish minds of men!
  A calculating laziness of thought
  Has created you to guard its doors,
  While other men require
  An outward expression of peace
  Beneath which the inner struggle
  Can revel in privacy.
  And so, with buttons of brass
  And blue uniform that lend
  An incongruous dignity
  To your task, you defend
  The myriads of insincerities
  That drape a mutilated need.
  And yet, unconsciously,
  And at rare times you save
  The face of beauty from an old
  Insult in the fists of men.
  Yes, you are not entirely
  Without extenuation,
  Marionnette-fanatic.



INTIMATE SCENE


  Bed-room, you have earned
  The sympathy of dirt,
  And bear upon your air
  Malevolent and thwarted
  Essences of men.
  Many contorters of bellies
  Have stirred an urgent travesty
  Shielded by your greasy dusk,
  And hearts have found upon your couch
  A brief, delicious insult.
  Cheap room within a lodging-house,
  You are not merely space
  For the coronation of flesh,
  And your odorous bed-quilts
  Need not only provoke
  The casual jeering of thought.


  II

  Woman and her master
  Close the door too quietly.
  With a mien of slinking
  Insecurity, the woman turns
  Within the dangling darkness of the room
  And mumbles orders to her man.
  Anticipation and disgust
  Rout each other upon her face.
  Then the gas-light brings
  Its feeble understanding to the room.
  Woman and man slump down
  Within the chairs and regard
  The tired amens of their feet.
  For a time weariness
  Banishes the theatrical
  Divisions of masculine and feminine,
  But returning strength
  Calls to the untrue drama.
  The man demands, with practised expectation,
  Money squeezed from an automatic night;
  Curses at the smallness of the sum,
  And cuffs his woman without intensity,
  Desiring only an excuse
  For the slowness of his mind.
  She is not a composition
  Waiting for its orchestra of pain:
  His fists can merely give
  An inexpensive spice
  To the apathy within her.
  Soon the man and woman laugh,
  To kill an inner jumble of sounds
  Which they cannot separate--
  Nightly complaint of their souls.
  He pinches one of her cheeks,
  Like an Emperor deigning
  To test the softness of a bauble,
  And she finds within his fingers
  An endurable compliment.
  When morning light exposes
  Each deficiency within the room,
  Man and woman open their eyes.
  Hallucination of fire
  No longer streams over the moving screens.
  Woman and her man
  Stare, with disapproval, at the walls,
  And their souls become
  Querulous captives almost gaining lips.
  Then emotional habits
  Revive the earthly hoax.
  Rising from the bed,
  Man and woman use their voices
  Reassuringly.



NEW YORK CITY


  New York, it would be easy to revile
  The flatly carnal beggar in your smile,
  And flagellate, with a superior bliss,
  The gasping routines of your avarice.
  Loud men reward you with an obvious ax,
  Or piteous laurel-wreath, and their attacks
  And eulogies blend to a common sin.
  New York, perhaps an intellectual grin
  That brings its bright cohesion to the warm
  Confusion of the heart, can mold your swarm
  Of huge, drab blunders into smaller grace ...
  With old words I shall gamble for your face.

  The evening kneels between your filthy brick,
  Darkly indifferent to each scheme and trick
  With which your men insult and smudge their day.
  When evenings metaphysically pray
  Above the weakening dance of men, they find
  That every eye that looks at them is blind.
  And yet, New York, I say that evenings free
  An insolently mystic majesty
  From your parades of automatic greed.
  For one dark moment all your narrow speed
  Receives the fighting blackness of a soul,
  And every nervous lie swings to a whole--
  A pilgrim, blurred yet proud, who finds in black
  An arrogance that fills his straining lack.
  Between your undistinguished crates of stone
  And wood, the wounded dwarfs who walked alone--
  The chorus-girls, whose indiscretions hang
  Between the scavengers of rouge and slang;
  The women moulding painfully a fresh
  Excuse for pliant treacheries of flesh;
  The men who raise the tin sword of a creed,
  Convinced that it can kill the lunge of greed;
  The thieves whose poisoned vanity purloins
  A fancied victory from ringing coins;
  The staidly bloated men whose minds have sold
  Their quickness to an old, metallic Scold;
  The neatly cultured men whose hopes and fears
  Dwell in soft prisons honored by past years;
  The men whose tortured youth bends to the task
  Of hardening offal to a swaggering mask--
  The night, with black hands, gathers each mistake
  And strokes a mystic challenge from each ache.
  The night, New York, sardonic and alert,
  Offers a soul to your reluctant dirt.



WE WANT LYRICS


  Thousands of faces break
  To one word called dramatic:
  Thousands of faces attain
  An over-worked, realistic
  Clash of stupidities.
  At first the mob spreads out
  Its animated fights of lines--
  Butcher with a face one degree
  Removed from the dead flesh which he cuts;
  Socialist whose face rebukes
  The cry for justice tumbling from his lips;
  Five professors of English
  Whose faces are essentially
  School-boys coerced by erudition;
  Bank-clerk with a face
  Where curiosity
  Weakly contends against
  The shrewd frown brought by counting slips of money;
  Girls whose first twenty years
  Have merely shown them the exact
  Shade of pouting necessary
  For the gain of price-marked objects;
  Boys with cocksure faces
  Where an awkward lyric
  Wins the vitriol of civilization;
  Shop-girl whose face is like
  The faint beginning of a courtezan
  Prisoned by the trance of unsought labor;
  Wealthy man whose face
  Holds a courteous, bored
  Reply to traces of imagination;
  Housewife with a round
  Face where dying disappointments
  Flirt with hosts of angel-lies;
  Old men with faces where a psychic doubt
  Invades the ruins of noses, lips, and eyes
  And dreams of better structures;
  Old woman with a face
  Like a bashful rag-picker
  Rescuing bits of cast-off deviltries
  Beneath the ebbing light of eyes.
  Stare upon these faces,
  With emotion cooled by every
  Bantering of thought,
  And they fade to one disorganized
  Defeat that craves the smooth
  Lubrications of music.
  The mob upon this street
  Reiterates one shout:
  “We want lyrics! Give us lyrics!”
  Space, and stars, and conscious thought
  Stand above the house-tops of this street;
  Look down with frowning interest;
  Regard the implacable enemy.



A VISITOR FROM MARS SMILES


  “Erudite and burnished poets seek
  Pliant strength from Latin, French, and Greek
  Phrases, finding English incomplete.
  Or do they conceal their real defeat,
  Like some juggler, faltering, who drops
  Circling, rapid balls of words and stops
  To relate obscure, pretentious tales,
  Hiding nervous moments where he fails?”
  Torban, visiting from Mars, became
  Silent, and his smile, like mental fame,
  Rescued the obscurity of flesh.
  Then I answered with a careful, fresh
  Purchase from the scorned shop of my mind.
  “Men must advertise the things they find.
  Erudition, tired after work,
  Flirts with plotting vanities that lurk
  Poutingly upon the edge of thought.
  Languages and legends men have caught
  Practice an irrelevant parade
  With emotions morbidly arrayed.”
  Torban gave the blunt wealth of his smile.
  “We, in Mars, have but one tongue whose guile
  Does not yield to little, vain designs.
  Feelings are fermented thoughts whose wines
  Bring an aimless fierceness to the mind.
  And a row of eyes, convinced and blind,
  But we sip them carefully, for we
  Do not like your spontaneity.
  Children babbling on the rocks in Mars,
  Shrieking as they dart in tinseled cars,
  Are spontaneous, but as they grow,
  We remove this noisy curse and throw
  Nimbleness to rule their tongues and ears--
  Juggling games that slay their shouts and fears.
  Novelty to you is almost crime:
  We decorate the treachery of time!”



SURPRISE


He knew that he was dead because his fingers had forgotten the art of
touching and were trying to regain their ability. They were no longer
able to separate different textures and surfaces, and everything
held to them a preposterous smoothness that suggested an urbane,
impenetrable sophistry. With a methodical despair they gripped one
object after another, disputing the integrity of their condition, and
when at last they capitulated he accepted the verity of his death. So
far he had not sought to use his eyes or ears--he had existed only as
a limited intensity of thought and emotion that directed his hands in
a fight for variations in feeling. Now he discovered his sight, and in
that moment avalanches of metaphors and similes--the detailed disguises
and comparisons with which two eyes arbitrarily brand a comforting
distinctness upon a mystery--rushed from his head and arranged
themselves to form a world. This was a reversal of life, since in life
the human eye detects and reflects the objects around it, as all good
scientists will testify, and does not first project these objects and
afterwards reflect them. But this man, being dead, found that his eyes
had thrown myriads of determinations upon a shapeless mass and changed
it to an equal number of still and animated forms. The desires within
his eyes were continually altering the objects around them, so that a
tree became shifting plausibilities of design and a red rose was merely
an obedient chameleon. Of course, this could never have happened in
life, since in life different shapes hold a fixed contour, appearance,
and meaning, but this man was fortunate enough to be dead, so his eyes
meddled incorrigibly with the shapes and colors which they imagined
that they had made.

He sat in a room constructed by himself, and after he had become
conscious of the result he saw that it was a hotel-room located in
Detroit, Michigan. He examined the furniture, walls, and floor,
and they were to him the firmness of his imagination divided into
forms that sheltered the different needs within him. If he had still
been alive he would have accepted the reality of shapes made by the
majority-imaginations of other men, regardless of whether they pleased
him or not, but death had given him a more audacious vigor and the
room in which he was sitting did not resemble to his eyes the same
chamber in which he had once reclined during his living hours. He
knew that the power of his desire had returned him to a hotel-room in
Detroit, Michigan, and had disarranged everything except its location
and exact position. The floor was an incandescent white and suggested
a proudly prostrate expanse--it did not have the supine appearance
that pine and oak floors hold to the eyes of life. The furniture had
lost its guise of being too economically pinned down by curves and
angles, and its lines were more relaxed and disordered. The chairs were
comfortable without relinquishing an aesthetic sincerity of line--a
semblance scarcely ever held by chairs that figure in life--and the
top of the table was not flat but depressed and elevated in different
places, since the imagination of this dead man had dared to become more
unobstructed. The bed had an air of counseling as well as supporting,
and its posters were high and curved in above the center of a gently
sloping bowl that formed the bottom. Also, the walls of the room stood
with a lighter erectness in place of the rooted, martinet aspect that
walls present to living eyes, while the ceiling gave an impression of
cloth that could be easily flung aside and had not been spread by a
passion for flat concealment.

As the dead man sat in this room which he had revised, his memory
began to distribute pains throughout his brain, and he realized that
the room had dominated the last third of his life. The room had been
the scene of his final meeting with a woman whom he loved, for a week
later she had died after being thrown from a horse. Within this room
they had spoken and touched for the last time on earth, and afterwards
the room had become to him a square world isolated in a possibly round
world--a continent in quality and not in size, where he could disrupt
the imaginative lines fashioned by other men, changing a rose to an
intellectual face if he so desired. Every visual detail and remembered
word of the woman had merged to a guardian silence, enclosing this
separate world with alert sentinels of understanding. He recollected
these affirmations with the satisfaction of a transforming creator, for
his experiences had become fantasies which his memory strove to make
real. This was, however, the result of his death for, as all good men
will tell you, the memory of living beings is entirely different and
often adds inaccurate touches to the reality of experience, making this
reality fantastic and untrue.

His sense of hearing revived almost simultaneously with his memory,
for hearing is the foremost aid in a capture of past happenings since
its productions do not fade from the mind as rapidly as those of other
senses. He found that his hearing was inextricably a part of thought
and signified, indeed, the fragmentary release of thought, and this
alteration drove from him every vestige of disbelief in his death,
for he knew that in life hearing is almost always the sense used by
men to divert the fatigue of their minds (the servant of meaningless
ecstasies). Then his sense of smell, changed from an unseen drug to
a floating search, collided with the odor of a woman--an odor that
was less smooth and more candid than the natural ones held by women
who are alive. Turning his head to the left, for the first time, he
saw that the woman whom he loved was seated near him. Her naked body
still gave the appearance of flesh curved as it had been during her
life, but it was no longer a slyly prisoned invitation to his sense of
touch. It aroused within him a feeling of thinly langourous intimacy
and became a visible grave into which his thoughts could sink for
future resurrection. It was as though a desire, once coarse and reeking
with a defeated violence, had been transmuted to a longing for less
fleeting and frantic pressures, while one former thrill became more
diffused and deliberately sensitive, finding a possession to which the
sense of touch was incidental, and not inevitable. The hemispheres of
her breasts, imperfect and firm, and the long taperings of her limbs
were to him forms which he wanted to envelope carefully with earnest
refinements of motion, gaining in this way a less explanatory medium
for his mind, and anything resembling an invasion would have seemed to
him an abruptly senseless blunder. He saw that her face was still a
gathering of boyish bewilderments beneath a mass of hair that had grown
more cloudy, but these expressions were hugged by a light that made
them unnecessary survivals of experience. He secured the impression
that death was amusing itself with the trivialities of her features,
while they held a perfect comprehension of the jest without abandoning
their outward shapes. At this moment he became aware of the nakedness
of his own body and felt the loss of that snug assurance which his skin
had once given him. In its place there was a sheath that seemed hardly
more than a visual flutter.

He looked up at the woman and their smiles were adeptly synchronized.
Living people are apt to smile when they have hidden too little and
weep when there is nothing left to hide, but the smiles of this dead
man and woman were informal exercises of candour--thought adopting more
perceptible and less evasive signals.

“Have you been sitting here since your death?” he asked. “No, I’ve also
been creating on the streets of Detroit,” she said. “You manage it in
this way. First you drive all of the alertness out of your senses and
your mind, and everything around you becomes a vibrating, shapeless
substance, a little thicker than mist and hued with a gray that is
almost colorless. Then you give a moderate vigor to your senses and
your mind, and the substance breaks into hosts of shapes. You have
attained the perceptions of an ordinary, living person and you find
that you are walking on a street. During all of this time you have
held back the strength of your imagination, which is alone real, but
now you release it and it shoots from you and follows the commands of
your desires. An old man’s whiskers change to a weedy sprouting of
thought, and each hair is the dangling of a different idea. You can see
the decay of an empire crowding itself into a young girl’s green and
mean hat, and different events emerge and group themselves to seize or
obliterate the color. A woman’s leg becomes a fat blasphemy and within
its shaking famous jelly you can spy a saint, writhing in the effort to
free himself. A young man’s shoulders are two, dead, delicate thoughts
caught in a bulging tomb, with their ghosts speaking through each
unconscious movement of his arms. The street-pavement lives and is a
hard, detached hatred, sapping the strength of those who have enslaved
it.... Sometimes I’ve returned to this room, not to rest, for weariness
springs only from that thick weakness of imagination known as flesh,
but to find you here before the final emphasis of your death.”

“Since I’m not accustomed to being dead I must ask questions whose
answers are obvious to you,” he said. “Why are living beings unable to
see you? How do you avoid their jostling and the rolling devices that
they have made? How can we sit in a hotel-room, which must at the same
time be occupied by living beings, without seeing or hearing them?
Treat me as an earthly school-boy for a moment.”

“Living beings dwell in realms made by their imaginations,” she said.
“We do not fit into these realms and consequently we are not forms
that can be detected by the senses and imaginations of people who are
alive. The desires of these people have created a world of objects and
substantiations which does not match our own, and so our world is an
independent one placed over the world of living men. With different
intensities and designs of imagination we invade a shapeless substance
and give it the elaborate distinctness of our longings. This substance
is inert imagination, and when we make our senses and minds blank we
become a part of it. Of course, I use the word imagination because
death has not yet taught me a better one. Beyond the earth there are
stars and space which are not controlled and shaped by our individual
imaginations, and when the feet of our imaginations become light enough
to rise beyond the shapeless mass which gave birth to them, we shall
discover what greater imaginations in turn gave birth to the feeble
beginning which formed us. And so we shall be able to discard this
word, imagination, which only represents the boundaries of our desire
and its attendant senses and thoughts, and gain the words of greater
explanations. But before we depart from these boundaries we must make
ourselves entirely clear and untroubled, and it will be necessary for
us to reconstruct the last meeting that we had during our lifetimes.
This meeting troubles us with an unfulfillment of imagination, and if
we do not alter it the strength of our imaginations will be hampered
by a recollection of former weakness. All men and women who die must
return to the most swiftly vivid scene that their imaginations were
able to attain during the period known as life. In this way the scene
is gradually made perfect by understanding, and the imagination,
shaking off the terror of past weakness and indecision, is able to
float away from the substance that created it. Because our imaginations
were much stronger than the ones surrounding them, we can achieve this
task immediately, while other dead people must slowly grapple for this
emancipation, visiting their scene in those guises which living people
call ghosts.”

“You must direct me,” he said. “I was never much in harmony with the
imaginative semblances and rituals of most living people, and now that
I am dead I can scarcely remember them.”

“Make your senses heavy and tight,” she said. “Reduce them to a
condition that approaches a stupor--a hopeful stupor such as prevails
among those living men known as mystics and priests. When you have
accomplished this, make little rows of imaginative objects and force
your mind to squeeze itself within them, adoring some and hating
others. Then try to arouse your senses by concentrating them upon a
thickly plotting form that once was flesh, while still making them
retain a disturbing trace of their former coma. You remember this
form--separated into hairsbreadths of worship and laceration by stunted
men?”

“Your description of living imagination is perfect,” he said. “It will
be minutely disagreeable to follow your orders, but let us complete the
task quickly.”

They looked away from each other, immersed in the strain of their
inner labours. The room disappeared in large pieces that receded to
the background of a gray substance, and consciousness left their
bodies. Her body faded out while his solidified to flesh draped by the
clumsy fears of clothes. Then the gray substance slowly adopted the
shapes, colours, and details of a railroad station. Once more he was a
suffering and encumbered poet, standing in the battling race of people
and waiting for the train that would bring her to Detroit, Michigan.
He paced up and down the cement platform, erasing his thoughts with
the long strokes of his limbs and obsessed only by the belief that he
was walking nearer to her in this fashion, since he was weary of being
over-awed by distance. Because he did not associate her qualities and
thoughts with those of other people he could never convince himself
that she was real unless she stood beside him and spoke, and when her
body was absent she became the unreal confirmation of his desires--a
dream to which he had given the plausible tricks of flesh and voice.
Only the return of these two things could reassure him, for she was to
him far too delicately exact and mentally unperturbed to exist actually
in the sweating, dense, malaria-saturated revolutions of a world.

The train arrived and he stood near the gate. People streamed out--a
regiment disbanded after a lonely and forced conflict with thought in
uncomfortable seats, or with diluted chatter that fascinated their
inner emptiness. They were the people whose vast insistence and
blundering control of the earth made him doubt the reality of the woman
whom he loved. Oh, to feel once more certain that she was human--that
her incredibly tenuous aloofness could stoop to the shields of flesh!
Yes, she would come now, an alien straggler passively submitting to
the momentum of a regiment of people. When she failed to appear he
still lingered near the gate, inventing practical reasons for her
absence--the packing of baggage, a delayed toilette. The iron gates
shut with a thud that was to him the boot-sound of reality against his
head.

He bought a newspaper; sat down in the waiting-room; and sought to
submerge his distress in the hasty and distorted versions of murders,
robberies, scandals, controversies, and machinations that defiled
white sheets of paper. But he could see nothing save a hazy host
of men fighting against or accepting the complexly sinister fever
that made them mutilate each other, and weary of this often-repeated
vision he dropped the paper. His mind gathered itself to that tight
and aching lunge known as emotion, and morbidly he involved her in
disasters--train-wrecks, suicide, the assault of another person. He
began to feel that melodrama was the only overwhelming sincerity in
a tangle of crafty or poorly adjusted disguises, and his emotional
activity fed eagerly upon this belief. All of the paraphernalia of
fatalism rose before his eyes--the small, lit stage with its puppets;
the myriads of strings extending into a frame of darkness and pulled
by invisible hands; the sudden and prearranged descent of catastrophe;
the laughter of an audience of gods, examining the spectacle with a
mixture of sardonic and bored moments. But abruptly he felt that these
were merely the devices of a self-pity that sought to raise its stature
by imagining itself the victim of a sublime conspiracy. He whistled
some bars of a popular song, deliberately snatching at an inane relief
from the industries of his mind. Then he walked back to the gates and
waited for the next train, which was about to arrive. Once more the
importantly fatigued stream of people; once more her absence. He had
turned away from the gate when her hand questioned his shoulder.

“And so you are real and I have not been deceived,” he said.

“I am as real as you care to make me,” she answered. “I was hunting for
a comb in my valise when the train came in. Combs always elude me.”

She mentioned the name of a hotel and they walked to it in silence, for
speech to them demanded an impregnable privacy that was violated by
even the swiftly passing eyes and ears of other people. When they were
alone in the hotel-room he watched her remove outer garments and don a
kimono, with a pleasure that coerced sensual longing into an enslaved
contemplation--a fire that glowed without burning.

“When I see your flesh then you are most unreal,” he said. “It becomes
a last garment that you have neglected to unfasten because you wish to
pretend that you belong to the earth. The cupped appeal of your breasts
is the subtle lie with which something infinitely abstract evades the
weight of a world. There is a surprised element attached to your legs
and they never seem assured in their task of supporting your torso. And
yet, when your body is beyond my actual sight your reality is still
doubtful, for then I lack even the uncertain evidence of your flesh. I
am helpless--I cannot mingle you with cities and men, and even country
roads seem heavily unwilling to hold you.”

“And is it impossible for you to accept this body as a necessary,
insincere contrast to my thoughts and emotions?” she asked, with
lightness. “You are tensely morbid, Max. Now I shall sit on your knee.
The scene is prearranged. You must promptly clutch me, in that involved
manner that has made novelists famous and blurred the integrity of
poets. The earth has anointed and pointed riots waiting for you!”

His fingers studied the short brown curls on her head and his lips
touched the less obvious parts of her face--her chin, the tip of her
inwardly curving nose, her temples, the meeting-place of forehead and
hair.

“I can see two men looking at me now,” he said. “To one I am an
emasculated fool who places a dainty overtone upon his weakness, and to
the other I am chaining strong desires with the lies of vain and pretty
gestures. Olga, the earth is bulky and profane, and dreads anything
that delicately, aloofly disputes its size!”

She carefully fitted her head between his shoulder and neck.

“This listening peace that you bring me, and the softer intentions of
your hands, they are more important than the lunges of men,” she said.
“We are spontaneous in ways whose breathlike intensity has not been
corrupted by the screaming of nerves, and Oh, we must prepare ourselves
for the indifference and ridicules of a coarser audience. They cannot
peer into this room, yet afterwards something within the buoyant
removal of our bodies tells them to punish us with poverty and little
food.”

He grinned, and crowded flights of defiance were on his face.

“I’ve been eating onions and bread for the last week,” he said. “I cut
the onions into various shapes, making them resemble different articles
of food. With an imaginative seriousness one can almost overcome the
sense of taste. Almost.”

“It is only that word that keeps us here,” she said. “We are almost
free illusions.”

She walked to the bureau and brushed her hair, for she did not want him
to see an expression on her face. He guessed it and became repentantly
merry.

“Sold a poem two weeks ago,” he said. “The editor wrote something
about ‘great originality but rather tenuous’ and ‘this is not a
spiritual age.’ It isn’t.”

“Let me hear it,” she said.

It concerned a circle of men dumped into chairs in the lobby of a
cheap lodging-house--rag-dolls twitching now and then, as though an
outside hand were poking them with curiosity. Then the spirit of the
lodging-house, sallow and indecently shallow, sidled into the lobby,
correctly aimed its tobacco at a spitoon, and gave the dolls snores
to create a false appearance of life, whereupon one of them rose
and cursed the invisible intruder in his sleep. The spirit of the
lodging-house, frightened and angry at the appearance of a soul whose
existence it had not imagined, whisked them all off to the torture
of their beds. The poem had spoken to Baudelaire and Dostoyevsky
but within it a stunned hatred of the world was experimenting with
appropriate symbols.

“Irrelevantly, perhaps, I’m thinking of a time when I washed dishes in
a lunch-room in St. Louis,” she said. “I was hunting in my mind for
something that could deceive the greasy monotone of defiled chinaware.
Suddenly the brown and turbid dish-water became a heavy wine, spiced
with the aftermaths of earthly pleasures--decay to which a spiritual
release had given a liquid significance. I became obsessed by the
verity of this idea, and finally, quite entranced, I raised the pan
of dirty water to my lips and was about to drink it when, at that
moment, the proprietor came in. He squawked ‘crazee-e,’ ‘crazee-e,’ and
discharged me. I wrote an excellent poem about it, though.”

“Let’s see, what would they say about this,” he muttered.
“Neurasthenia, insanity, exalted paranoia, minor conceit, trivial pose,
empty fantasy--they have so many putrid labels to hide the inner rage,
damn them!”

They swayed together in the chair, like two babies in a trap, taking
the small amount of room possible in the cramped abode.

“Tomorrow we’ll look for work,” she said. “The breath-tablets that you
bought to hide the scent of onions have not been able to eradicate a
last melodramatic trace of their enemy. We must move our arms to ward
off such meaningless intrusions.”

“With an excellent verbosity you mock the concentration of your
thoughts,” he said.

They closed their eyes and grew still in the chair. When at last they
stirred, each one looked first at the room and then at the other
person, with a gradually slain disbelief.

“We are not dead after all,” he cried. “The room does not fade away!”

They sat without moving, while happiness and sadness sprang into combat
within them.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Unmatched opening quotation marks on page 17 have been retained from
    the original, as the transcriber could not ascertain exactly where
    the closing quotation marks, missing in the original, should be
    placed.





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