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Title: Advice - A Book of Poems
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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ADVICE



_NEW POETRY_

_FALL, 1920_

  OCTOBER
      _By Robert Bridges_

  THE FORERUNNER
      _By Kahlil Gibran_

  WORDSWORTH: AN ANTHOLOGY
      _By R. Cobden-Sanderson_

  ADVICE
      _By Maxwell Bodenheim_



  ADVICE

  A BOOK OF POEMS

  By MAXWELL BODENHEIM

  [Illustration]

  NEW YORK
  ALFRED·A·KNOPF
  1920



  COPYRIGHT, 1920, BY
  ALFRED A. KNOPF, INC.


  PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



  TO
  MINNA
  WHOSE SMILE IS MY THRONE



Some of the poems which compose this book have appeared in the _Yale
Review_, the _Smart Set_, the _New Republic_, _Reedy’s Mirror_, the
_Dial_, the _Touchstone_, the _Little Review_, _Poetry: A Magazine of
Verse_, the _Century_, and the _New York Tribune_. They are good, in
spite of their numerous appearances.



CONTENTS


  ADVICE TO A STREET-PAVEMENT                   13

  ADVICE TO A BUTTER-CUP                        14

  ADVICE TO A RIVER STEAMBOAT                   15

  FOUNDRY WORKERS                               16

  ADVICE TO A HORNÈD TOAD                       18

  ADVICE TO A FOREST                            19

  RATTLESNAKE MOUNTAIN FABLE I                  21

  ADVICE TO A BLUEBIRD                          23

  TO A FRIEND                                   24

  ADVICE TO A WOMAN                             25

  RATTLESNAKE MOUNTAIN FABLE II                 26

  ADVICE TO A BUTTERFLY                         28

  ADVICE TO A POOL                              29

  WHEN FOOLS DISPUTE                            30

  ADVICE TO A GRASS-BLADE                       31

  EAST-SIDE: NEW YORK                           32

  TO A MAN                                      33

  THE CHILD MEDITATES                           34

  PIERROT OBJECTS                               36

  COLUMBINE REFLECTS                            37

  RATTLE SNAKE MOUNTAIN DIALOGUE                38

  DIALOGUE BETWEEN A PAST AND PRESENT POET      41

  SMILES                                        43

  THE COURTESAN CHATS                           45

  THE MOUNTEBANK CRITICIZES                     47

  TO LI T’AI PO                                 49

  INSANITY                                      51

  TRACK-WORKERS                                 53

  FIGURE                                        55

  NEGROES                                       56

  BROADWAY                                      58

  FIFTH AVENUE                                  60

  YOUNG WOMAN                                   62

  TWO WOMEN ON A STREET                         64

  ADVICE TO MAPLE TREES                         66

  BOARDING HOUSE EPISODE                        67

  VAUDEVILLE MOMENT                             70

  TO ORRICK JOHNS                               72

  YOUNG POET                                    73

  STEEL MILLS: SOUTH CHICAGO                    74

  SOUTH STATE STREET: CHICAGO                   81



ADVICE



ADVICE TO A STREET-PAVEMENT


  Lacerated grey has bitten
  Into your shapeless humility.
  Little episodes of roving
  Strew their hieroglyphics on your muteness.
  Life has given you heavy stains
  Like an ointment growing stale.
  Endless feet tap over you
  With a maniac insistence.

  O unresisting street-pavement,
  Keep your passive insolence
  At the dwarfs who scorn you with their feet.
  Only one who lies upon his back
  Can disregard the stars.



ADVICE TO A BUTTER-CUP


  Undistinguished butter-cup
  Lost among myriads of others,
  To the red ant eyeing you
  You are giant stillness.
  He pauses on the boulder of a clod,
  Baffled by your nearness to the sky.
  But to the black loam at your feet
  You are the atom of a pent-up dream.

  Undistinguished butter-cup,
  Take your little breath of contemplation,
  Undisturbed by haughty tricks of space.



ADVICE TO A RIVER STEAM-BOAT


  The brass band plays upon your decks,
  Like a sturdy harlot aping mirth,
  And people in starched shields
  Stuff their passions with sweet words,
  Life is swishing in the air,
  Like a tipsy, unseen bridegroom.

  O humbly grunting river boat,
  Take the churning water and the sun
  Like one who plays with his own chains
  And flings their turmoil to the sky.
  Only a voice can leap above high walls.



FOUNDRY WORKERS


  Brown faces twisted back
  Into an ecstasy of tight resistance;
  Eyes that are huge sweat drops
  Unheeded by the struggle underneath them--
  Throughout the night you stagger under walls
  Where life is squeezed to squealing bitterness.
  Beneath your heaving flash of limbs
  Your thoughts are smashed to a dejected trance
  And you are swept, like empty mites,
  Into a glistening frenzy of motion....
  Yet, on a Sunday afternoon
  I have seen you straightening your backs with slow smiles;
  Walking through the streets
  And patiently groping for lost outlines.
  Your lips were placid bruises
  Almost fearing to relax,
  And often out upon some green
  Your legs swung themselves into long lost shapes.

  Perhaps upon your death-beds
  You will lift your hands, with a wraith of grace,
  Showing life a last, weak curve
  Of the rhythm he could not kill.



ADVICE TO A HORNÈD TOAD


  Hornèd Toad of cloven brown,
  Rock souls have dwindled to your eyes
  And thrown a splintered end upon your blood.
  Night and day have vanished
  To you, who squat and watch
  Years loosen one sand grain until
  Its fall becomes your moment.
  Tall things plunge over you,
  Slashing their dreams with motion
  That holds the death of all they seek,
  But you, to whom fierce winds are ripples,
  Do not move lest you lose the taste of stillness.

  Hornèd Toad of cloven brown,
  Never hop from your grey rock crevice
  Mute with interwoven beginnings and ends.
  The fluid lies of motion
  Leave no remembrance behind.



ADVICE TO A FOREST


  O trees, to whom the darkness is a child
  Scampering in and out of your long, green beards;
  O trees, to whom sunlight is a tattered pilgrim
  Counting his dreams within your hermitage
  And slipping down the road, in twilight robes;
  O trees, whose leaves make an incense of sound
  Reeling with the beat of your caught feet,
  Do not mingle your tips in startled hatred,
  When little men come to fell you.
  These men will saw you into strips
  Of pointed brooding, blind with paint,
  But underneath you men will chase
  The grey staccato of their lives
  Down a glaring maze of walls
  Much harder than your own.
  And when, at last, the deep brown gaze
  Of stolidly amorous time steals over you,
  The little men who bit into your hearts
  Will stray off in a patter of rabbits’ feet.
  Look down upon these children then
  With the aloof and weary tolerance
  That all still things possess,
  O trees, to whom the darkness was a child
  Scampering in and out of your long, green beards.



RATTLESNAKE MOUNTAIN FABLE I


  Rounded to a wide eyed clownishness
  Crowned by the shifting bravado
  Of his long, brown ears,
  The rabbit peeked at the sky.
  To him, the sky seemed an angelic
  Pasture stripped to phantom tranquility,
  Where one could nibble thoughtfully.
  He longed to leave his mild furtiveness
  And speak to a boldness puzzled by his flesh.
  With one long circle of despairing grace
  He flashed into the air,
  Leaping toward his heaven.
  But down he crashed against a snake
  Who ate him with a meditative interest.
  From that day on the snake was filled
  With little, meek whispers of concern.
  The crushed and peaceful rabbit’s dream
  Cast a groping hush upon his blood.
  He curled inertly on a rock,
  In cryptic, wilted savageness.
  In the end, his dry, grey body
  Was scattered out upon the rock,
  Like a story that could not be told.



ADVICE TO A BLUE-BIRD


  Who can make a delicate adventure
  Of walking on the ground?
  Who can make grass-blades
  Arcades for pertly careless straying?
  You alone, who skim against these leaves,
  Turning all desire into light whips
  Moulded by your deep blue wing-tips,
  You who shrill your unconcern
  Into the sternly antique sky.
  You to whom all things
  Hold an equal kiss of touch.

  Mincing, wanton blue-bird,
  Grimace at the hoofs of passing men.
  You alone can lose yourself
  Within a sky, and rob it of its blue!



TO A FRIEND


  Your head is steel cut into drooping lines
  That make a mask satirically meek:
  Your face is like a tired devil weak
  From drinking many vague and unsought wines.
  The sullen skepticism of your eyes
  For ever trying to transcend itself,
  Is often entered by a wistful elf
  Who sits naïvely unperturbed and wise.

  And this same remnant, with its youthful wiles
  Held curiously apart from blasphemies,
  Twirls starlight shivers out upon your sneers
  And changes them to little, startled smiles.
  And all your insolence drops to its knees
  Before the half-won grandeur of past years.



ADVICE TO A WOMAN


  The sloping lines of your shoulders
  Speak of Chinese pagodas.
  They clash with your western face
  Where child and courtesan
  Clasp each other in a feigned embrace.
  Life, to you, is a liquid mirror.
  You stand with delicate, perpetual amazement,
  Vainly seeking your reflection.



RATTLESNAKE MOUNTAIN FABLE II


  August sauntered down the mountain-side,
  Dropping mottled, turbid wraiths of decay.
  The air was like an old priest
  Disrobing without embarrassment
  Before the dark and candid gaze of night.
  But these things brought no pause
  To the saucily determined squirrel.
  His eyes were hungrily upturned
  To where the stars hung--icily clustered nuts
  Dotting trees of solitude.
  He saw the stars just over the horizon,
  And they seemed to grow
  On trees that he could reach.
  So he scampered on, from branch to branch,
  Wondering why the fairy nut-trees
  Ran away from him.
  But, looking down, he spied
  A softly wild cheeked mountain pool,
  And there a handful of fairy nuts
  Bit into the indigo cupping them.
  With a squeal of weary happiness
  The squirrel plunged into the mountain pool,
  And as he drowned within its soundless heart
  The fairy nuts were jigging over him,
  Like the unheard stirring of a poem.



ADVICE TO A BUTTERFLY


  Aimless petal of the wind,
  Spinning gently weird circles,
  To the flowers underneath
  You are a drunken king of motion;
  To the plunging winds above
  You are momentary indecision.

  Aimless petal of the wind,
  Waver carelessly against this June.
  The universe, like you, is but
  The drowsy arm of stillness
  Spinning gently weird circles in his sleep.



ADVICE TO A POOL


  Be a liquid threshold for the dawn
  And let night touch you with his back.
  The earth-bowl prisoning you, and cold night winds

  Are only pause and rhythm
  Within an endless fantasy,
  But you, like they, can be
  A dream from the loins of a dream,
  And build a golden stairway of escape.

  O coolly unperturbed pool,
  Slap your ripples in laughter at men,
  Who splash you with their lordly hands.
  Time is but a phantom dagger
  That motion lifts to slay itself.



WHEN FOOLS DISPUTE


  A trickle of dawn insinuated itself
  Through the crevices of black satiation.
  The elderly trees coughed, lightly, hurriedly,
  In remonstrance against the invasion.
  Lean with a virginal poison,
  The grass-blades shook, immune to light and time.
  A bird lost in a tree
  Shrilly flirted with its energy....
  One fool, in the garden, spoke to another.



ADVICE TO A GRASS-BLADE


  Thin and dark green symbol
  Of an earth forever raising
  Myriads of chained wings,
  Breezes have a form, to you,
  And sounds break into vivid shape.
  The proud finality of tiny sight
  Cannot lure your pliant blindness.

  Thin and dark green blade,
  Be not awed by trees and men
  Whose sound is all that gives them life.
  You reach the sky because your face
  Is not turned toward it.



EAST-SIDE: NEW YORK


  An old Jew munches an apple,
  With conquering immersion
  All the thwarted longings of his life
  Urge on his determined teeth.
  His face is hard and pear-shaped;
  His eyes are muddy capitulations;
  But his mouth is incongruous.
  Softly, slightly distended,
  Like that of a whistling girl,
  It is ingenuously haunting
  And makes the rest of him a soiled, grey background.
  Hopes that lie within their grave
  Of submissive sternness,
  Have spilled their troubled ghosts upon this mouth,
  And a tortured belief
  Has dwindled into tenderness upon it....
  He trudges off behind his push-cart
  And the Ghetto walks away with him.



TO A MAN


  Master of earnest equilibrium,
  You are a Christ made delicate
  By centuries of baffled meditation.
  You curve an old myth to a peaceful sword,
  Like some sleep-walker challenging
  The dream that gave him shape.
  With gentle, antique insistence
  You place your child’s hand on the universe
  And trace a smile of love within its depths.
  And yet, the whirling scarecrow men have made
  Of something that eludes their sight,
  May have the startling simplicity of your smile.

  Once every thousand years
  Stillness fades into a shape
  That men may crucify.



THE CHILD MEDITATES


  The oak-tree in front of my house
  Smells different every morning.
  Sometimes it smells fresh and wise
  Like my mother’s hair.
  Sometimes it stands ashamed
  Because it doesn’t own the smell
  It borrowed from our flower-garden.
  Sometimes it has a windy smell,
  As though it had come back from a long walk.
  The oak-tree in front of my house
  Has different smells, like grown up people.

  My doll hides behind her pink cheeks,
  So that you can’t see when she moves,
  But it doesn’t matter because
  She always moves when no one is looking,
  And that is why people think she is still.
  People laugh when I say that my doll is alive,
  But if she were dead, my fingers
  Wouldn’t know that they were touching her.
  She lives inside a little house.
  And laughs because I cannot find the door.

  The colours in my room
  Meet each other and hesitate.
  Is that what people call shape?
  Nobody seems to think so,
  But I believe that lines are dead shapes
  Unless they fall against each other
  And look surprised, like the colours in my room!



PIERROT OBJECTS


  They have made me an airy apology
  For the crude insistence of their flesh!
  They have made me twist my tongue
  Into fickle nonchalance!
  With a languid impudence
  I have tarried underneath the moon,
  While the haggard reticence
  Of their lives forgot itself within me!
  Well, I am rebelling
  At the men who make me
  Their grimacing marionnette!
  Let them find another dancing-teacher
  For their dull, unruffled fears.
  I am off to tear my black and white
  Into shreds, within a valley
  Where nakedness and colours do not need
  An artificial night to make them brave!



COLUMBINE REFLECTS


  They have moulded my face with a tear and a sneer.
  They have sandalled me with caprice,
  And the heart they have given me
  Is a bag of red tissue-paper.
  Their loves are ragged and fat
  And seek the consolation
  Of a tinkling effigy!
  But even an effigy may wink
  An eye at its slinking masters!
  I can laugh at their frantic, tattered arms
  Spinning me into impish posturings,
  And jeer at the faces behind me!
  After my play I go to sleep,
  But they must sit, heavily looking at each other.



RATTLE-SNAKE MOUNTAIN DIALOGUE


  RATTLE-SNAKE MOUNTAIN
  Every night the sky grips my shoulder, in pain.
  The cows upon my slope
  Attack their blades of grass with less decision.
  The boulders reaching in to form my ribs,
  Are touched by evening dizziness, to dust,
  And lose their fierce pretence of hardness.
  Three crows in a row
  Search for clearer tongues, with steady discords.

  MAN
  The nervous dissolution
  Which men call beauty stands
  Sternly watching itself.

  RATTLE-SNAKE MOUNTAIN
  Evening, staggering under dead men’s tongues,
  Makes light of my loneliness.
  He comes like a madman dissolved
  Into unbearable quietness.
  But, drinking my vigorous muteness,
  He melts into that stream of seeking motion
  Which men call morning.

  MAN
  You teach him to make his recompense
  A solitary unfolding
  Walking perilously
  Between the scowls of life and death.

  RATTLE-SNAKE MOUNTAIN
  When he goes he is something more than himself.
  He holds a lean alertness
  That, green as any leaf,
  Takes the flutterings of life, unperturbed.

  MAN
  Beauty is a proud stare
  Challenging all things to remove
  Their inattentive clamours:
  And some things bow abruptly,
  Timidly stroking their untouched skins.

  RATTLE-SNAKE MOUNTAIN
  And thus evening bows into morning.



DIALOGUE BETWEEN A PAST AND PRESENT POET


  PAST POET
  I wrote of roses on a woman’s breast,
  Glowing as though her blood
  Had welled out to a spellbound fierceness;
  And the glad, light mixture of her hair.
  I wrote of God and angels.
  They stole the simple blush of my desire
  To make their isolated triumph human.
  Knights and kings flooded my song,
  Catching with their glittering clash
  The unheard boldness in my life.
  Gods and nymphs slipped through my voice,
  And with the lofty scurrying of their feet
  Spurned the smirched angers of my days.

  PRESENT POET
  You raised an unhurried, church-like escape.
  You lingered in shimmering idleness;
  Or lengthened a prayer into a lance;
  Or strengthened a thought till it heaved off all of life
  And dropped its sightless heaven into your smile.
  Life, to us, is a colourless tangle.
  Like madly gorgeous weavers
  Our eyes reiterate themselves on life.

  PAST POET
  My towering simplicity
  Loosening an evening of belief
  Over the things it dared not view,
  Gladly shunned reality
  Just as your mad weaver does.

  PRESENT POET
  Reality is a formless lure,
  And only when we know this
  Do we dare to be unreal.



SMILES


  Smiles are the words beyond the words
  That thoughts abandon helplessly.
  Upon this nervous shop-girl’s face,
  Where clusters of tiny limpness meet,
  A frightened spark leaps high and drops
  Into the hot pause of a banished love.
  A lustrelessly plump
  Girl beside her does not know
  That her face for moments glows
  Into a helpless solitude.
  Upon an old man’s face
  Are gleams of meek embarrassment--
  The faded presence of some old debt?
  This woman’s face is scorched
  By a torch that falls from weary hands
  And makes her laugh an unheard lie.
  The face of this tamed sprite
  Shimmers with an understanding
  Of the opaque loss she cannot bear,
  And I see that smiles are sometimes
  Words beyond the words
  That thoughts abandon hopefully.



THE COURTESAN CHATS


  Last night I met a passive man
  With almost no curve to his face,
  And skin relentlessly white.
  He made me tell his fortune
  With a pack of cards.
  “Jack of hearts--your love will be
  A scullion overturning trays of food
  And standing dubiously in their midst.”
  “Queen of diamonds--you will have a wife
  Like a thistle dipped in frost,
  Helpless in your sheathed hands.”
  “Deuce of clubs--a downcast jester
  Will pester you with slanting malice
  When you seek to play the king.”
  “Ace of hearts--your life will stand
  Straight in a desperate majesty,
  Its lurid robes ever slipping
  And one wound endlessly dripping.”
  The passive man blew out a candle
  On the table and bade me leave,
  Not desiring me to see his face.



THE MOUNTEBANK CRITICIZES


  I lose all sense of profiles,
  Strolling through your greys and blacks and browns!
  No man bestows his orange robe
  Soberly upon your uncoloured pavements,
  Rebuking life for being death.
  No woman taunts her sorrows
  With a coloured haughtiness.
  When you take to colours, you are ashamed,
  Like pages nibbling at a pilfered tart.
  You go back quickly to your coldness.
  And since you have no colours on your clothes,
  You walk in straight and measured lilts
  As befits the seriously blind.
  Your women do not stroll as though
  Each step were a timid intrigue
  Woven into the climax to which they fare.
  Pistols, rhapsodies and heavy odours
  Drugged the lustre of my time.
  Yet, we had a virtue.
  We lavished colours on our backs
  And ravished our sorrow with brightness
  That often gave a lightness to our feet!



TO LI T’AI PO


  They are writing poems to you:
  White devils who have not
  Smeared the distant yellow of your life
  Upon their skins.
  Faces where snob and harlequin
  Ogle each other in two, cold colours,
  White and red;
  Faces where middle age
  Sits, tearing a last gardenia;
  Faces continually cracked
  By the brittle larceny of age;
  Faces where emotions
  Stand disarmed within a calm mirage:
  These faces bend over paper
  And steal from you a little silver and red
  So that their lives may seem to bleed
  Under the prick of a flashing need.
  The old and tired smile
  Of one who spies too much within himself
  To spare the effort of a halting frown,
  Brushed its sceptre over your face.
  You gave kind eyes to your hope,
  Desiring it to grope unfearing
  Underneath the toppling mountain-tops.
  The wine you drank was a lake
  In which you splashed and found a vigour;
  The wine you drank was void of taste.
  Your yellow skin resembled
  A balanced docility
  Smiling at all things--even at itself--
  Li T’ai Po.



INSANITY


  Like a vivid hyperbole,
  The sun plunged into April’s freshness,
  And struck its sparkling madness
  Against the barnlike dejection
  Of this dark red insane asylum.
  A softly clutching noise
  Stumbled from the open windows.
  Now and then obliquely reeling shrieks
  Rose, as though from men
  To whom death had assumed
  An inexpressibly kindly face.
  A man stood at one window,
  His gaunt face trembling underneath
  A feverish jauntiness.
  A long white feather slanted back
  Upon his almost shapeless hat,
  Like an innocent evasion.
  Hotly incessant, his voice
  Methodically flogged the April air:
  A voice that held the clashing bones
  Of happiness and fear;
  A voice in which emotion
  Sharply ridiculed itself;
  A monstrously vigorous voice
  Mockingly tearing at life
  With an unanswerable question.

  Hollowed out by his howl,
  I turned and saw an asylum guard.
  His petulantly flabby face
  Rolled into deathlike chips of eyes.
  He bore the aimless confidence
  Of one contentedly playing with other men’s wings.
  He walked away; the man above still shrieked.
  I could not separate them.



TRACK-WORKERS


  The rails you carry cut into your hands,
  Like the sharp lips of an unsought lover.
  As you stumble over the ties
  Sunlight is clinging, yellow spit
  Raining down upon your faces.
  You are the living cuspidors of day.
  Dirt, its teasing ghost, dust,
  And passionless kicks of steel, fill you.
  Flowers sprouting near the tracks,
  Brush their lightly odoured hands
  In vain against your stale jackets of sweat.
  Within you, minds and hearts
  Are snoring to the curt rhythm of your breath.
  You do not see this blustering blackbird
  Promenading on a barbed-wire fence.
  He eyes you with spritelike hauteur,
  Unable to understand
  Why your motions endlessly copy each other,
  One of you, a meek and burly Pole,
  Peers a moment at the strutting blackbird
  With a fleeting shade of dull resentment....
  There is always one among you
  Who recoils from glimpsing corpses.



FIGURE


  Through the turbulent servility
  Of a churlish city street
  He strides opaquely; nothing in his walk
  Resembles an advancing gleam.
  His legs are muffled iron
  Stubbornly following even thoughts,
  His gaily pugnacious head
  Seems worried because no dread
  Remains for it to slay.
  His eyes hold an austerity
  That recalls itself while leaping,
  And often melts into amusement.
  The bent poise of his body
  Tells of walls that threw him back,
  Only to crumble underneath
  The stunned friendliness of his face.
  Through the angularly churlish street
  He walks, and stoops beneath the captured weight
  Of eyes that do not see him.



NEGROES


  The loose eyes of an old man
  Shone aloof upon his boyish face;
  And a sluggish innocence
  Hugged his dull brown skin.
  He sang a hymn caught from his elders
  And his voice resembled
  A quavering, feverish laugh
  Softened in a swaying cradle.
  His life had found a refuge in his voice,
  And the rest of him was sickly flesh
  Ignorant of life and death.
  Like a crushed, excited clown
  His mother shuffled out upon the porch.
  Slowly her dark brown face resolved
  Into the hushed and sulky look
  Of one who stands within a dim-walled trap.
  Lazily uncertain,
  She raised the boy into her arms.
  Then her voice swung in the air
  Like a quavering, feverish laugh
  Softened in a swaying cradle.



BROADWAY


  With sardonic futility
  The multi-coloured crowd,
  Hurried by fervent sensuality,
  Flees from something carried on its back.
  Endlessly subdued, a sound
  Pours up from the crowd,
  Like some one ever gasping for breath
  To utter releasing words.
  Through the artificial valley
  Made by gaudy evasions,
  The stifled crowd files up and down,
  Stabbing thought with rapid noises.
  Women strutting dulcetly,
  Embroider their unappeased hungers,
  And men stumble toward a flitting opiate.
  Sometimes a moment breaks apart
  And one can hear the knuckles
  Of children rapping on towering doors:
  Rapping on the highway
  Where civilization parades
  Its frozen amiabilities!



FIFTH AVENUE

(NEW YORK)


  Seasons bring nothing to this gulch
  Save a harshly intimate anecdote
  Scrawled, here and there, on paint and stone.
  The houses shoulder each other
  In a forced and passionless communion.
  Their harassed angles rise
  Like a violent picture-puzzle
  Hiding a story that only ruins could reveal;
  Their straight lines, robbed of power,
  Meet in dwarfed rebellion.
  Sometimes they stand like vastly flattened faces
  Suffering ants to crawl
  In and out of their gaping mouths.
  Sometimes, in menial attitudes
  They stand like Gothic platitudes
  Slipshodly carved in dark brown stone.
  Tarnished solemnities of death
  Cast their transfigured hue on this avenue.
  The cool and indiscriminate glare
  Of sunlight seems to desecrate a tomb,
  And the racing people seem
  A stream of accidental shadows.
  Hard noises strike one’s face and make
  It numb with momentary reality,
  But the noiseless undertone returns
  And they change to unreal jests
  Made by death.



YOUNG WOMAN


  So we have a face
  Cupped by tender insolences,
  Half repenting insolences
  Teasing their own angers.
  Then, a tense exuberance
  Brushes them away
  And burns a humbly erect
  Queen upon her face.
  This happens in the space
  Between a frown and indecision.
  Her face becomes forlornly wild,
  And a beggarly impatience
  Hovers into furtive shame.
  All the supplely intricate flame
  Vanishes, and leaves no mark.
  Her eyes are violently dark
  With a hopeless waiting;
  Her lips are isolated tatters--
  All that is left of shattered recreating.
  Then, as quickly as she fled,
  The humble queen returns.
  Staring and unappeased
  She eyes her crumpled hands.



TWO WOMEN ON A STREET


  This street is callous apathy
  In a scale of greys and browns.
  Its black roof-line suggests
  Flat bodies unable to rise.
  Even its screams are listlessness
  Having an evil dream.
  Its air is swarthy rawness
  Troubled with ash cans and cellars.

  An old woman ambles on
  With a black bag that seems part of her back,
  And a candidly hawk-like face.
  She croons a smothered lullaby
  That sifts a flitting roundness
  Into her sharply parted face.
  Then she surrenders her hand
  To the welter of a garbage can.
  A hugely wilted woman slinks by
  With a cracked stare on her face.
  Her eyes are beaten discs
  Of the lamplight’s ghastly keenness.
  She glides away as though the night
  Were a lover flogging her;
  Glides into the callous apathy
  Of this street, like one who cringes
  Happily into her lover’s hallway.



ADVICE TO MAPLE-TREES


  O little maple-trees,
  Slender and unkempt, looking with shaggy askance
  Upon the moon-spiked solitude;
  O little maple-trees,
  Growing a little toward the sky
  That touches you to all eyes save your own,
  You rattle insistently for wings,
  But wings could never tear
  The stain of earth from your feet:
  The earth that gnaws at you until
  Your wing-cries strike the autumn night.
  You see, with me, this crescent moon
  Juggled on the tawny fingertip
  Of a running cloud.
  The touch of your desire, or its fall,
  Would but be symbols of an equal death.



BOARDING-HOUSE EPISODE


  Apples race into appetites:
  The unswerving mechanism of the table
  Hurries through the last dish of supper.
  Then an undulating interlude
  From people who have spent one pleasure,
  Distractedly juggling its aftermath
  And peering at new desires.
  One woman gazes at another
  While twitching murder shimmers in her eyes
  And skims across her face.
  Violets in a madman’s scene,
  Suspended in the air,
  Are the eyes of her neighbour.
  And in between them sits the nervous man
  With face like pouting gargoyle,
  Whose brown eyes shout the things he cannot say:
  Explosive evasions;
  Fears too tired to shriek;
  Renunciations groaning from their dungeons.
  He eyes each woman, like a man
  Solemnly trying to walk on mysterious ice.
  Crisp inanities ripple back and forth
  Among these three, like ghostly parrots
  Visiting each other’s cages.
  She with crazy, violet eyes,
  Plays with her fork, as though its clink
  Rhymed with secret, chained thoughts;
  She with murder in her eyes,
  And curtly voluminous body,
  Evenly plays her child-rôle.
  Cringing on the rim of middle age,
  With broken shields piled at her feet,
  She has made this man a haunted palace
  And she stands before the door
  She dare not open, with a dagger
  For the woman standing at her side.

  They sit, afterwards, upon the veranda,
  Meekly greeting the velvet swagger of evening:
  Woman with twisted, violet eyes,
  Woman with hidden murder on her lips,
  And man like a pouting gargoyle.
  Then, like tired children,
  Their words grow cool and lazy.
  They draw closer to each other
  And, with a trembling curiosity,
  Look at each other’s hands.



VAUDEVILLE MOMENT


  They have carved a battle
  Across your hard face:
  Transfigured conflict,
  Lines like suspended lances.
  Your voice must be the uneven
  Clink of the last carver’s chisel.
  Your soul must be a pious subterfuge
  Squinting its admiring eyes
  At the lifeless battle lining your face....
  Middle aged vaudeville conductor,
  With a hunted leanness on your body,
  Sometimes the swing of your baton
  Sways with a brooding patience
  That violates your ended face.

  Two acrobats appear,
  With their automaton bows.
  Their unlit motion does not strike
  The air into a hugging flame.
  They are blue and orange corpses
  Whirled in a sacrilegious festival.
  They vividly resemble
  The chiseled battle that grips
  This lean conductor’s face:
  Motion without life,
  And life that holds no motion!



TO ORRICK JOHNS


  The tread-mill roar that ever tramps between
  The smirched geometries of this stern place,
  Sweeps vainly on your drowsily reckless face
  Lost in a swirl of raped loves barely seen.
  Sometimes your keenly pagan lips are raised
  By thoughts too tense to shape themselves in speech:
  Still, wounded thoughts that silently beseech
  Your life to make them impotent and dazed.

  O tangled and half-strangled child, you shrink
  For ever from yourself, and wear a pose
  Of nimble and impenetrable pride.
  Yet sometimes, wavering on the sudden brink
  Of jaded bitterness, you drop your clothes
  And weave a prayer into your naked stride.



YOUNG POET


  The grinning clamour on your face
  Dies abruptly, for moments:
  Boldness and timidity
  Are swept, transfigured, against each other.
  But the glistening turmoil
  Once more spurns itself with jests
  That light its troubled hands.

  When too much pain has lowered
  The eyelids of your mood,
  A peaceful humour wraps your face.
  You are like an old man
  Watching children fly from his fingertips.
  In your kirtle of borrowed skies
  You find a sorrow luring your horizons
  Into hesitating brightness....
  When night remembers, you have straightened
  Into stealthy, angry calmness
  Fingering it first, unsent arrow.



STEEL-MILLS: SOUTH CHICAGO


  I

  This red hush toppling over the sky,
  Wanders one step toward the stars
  And dies in a questioning shiver.
  The steel-mill chimneys fling their gaunt seeking
  A little distance into the red
  That softly combs their smoky hair.
  The steel-mill chimneys only live at night
  When crimson light makes love to them
  And star-light trickles through the red,
  Like glimpses of some far-off fairy tale.
  Throughout the day the steel-mill chimneys stand
  Rigidly within the wind-whirled glare:
  Only night can bring them supple straightness.


  II

  From the little, brown gate that does not see them
  Because its eyes are blind with wooing soot,
  An endless stream of men scatters out
  Into the cool bewilderment of morning.
  Upon their lips a limply child-like surrender
  Curves out to the light, as though they felt
  The presence of an unassuming strangeness.
  The morning hides from their eyes:
  They walk on, in great strides,
  Like blind men swinging over a well-known scene.
  Their faces twitch with echoes of iron fists:
  Their faces hold a swarthy stupor
  Loosened by little fingers of morning light
  Until it droops into reluctant life.
  And then their eyes, made flat by night,
  Swell into a Madonna-like surprise
  At children trooping back in huge disguise.
  The oranges in lunch-room windows change
  To sleek suns dipped in sleepy light,
  And rounded tarts in china plates
  Are like red heart-beats, resting but not dead.
  A trolley-car speeds by
  And seems a strident lyric of motion.
  Wagons rumble down the street
  Like drums enticing weariness to step....
  The hearts of these steel-striding men
  Ascend and blend within their eyes,
  And yet, these men are unaware of this.
  They only feel a fluid relief
  Voicing, in a clustered roar,
  The cries of struggling thoughts unshaped by words.
  But there are some who break forth from the rest.
  This old Hungarian strides along
  And binds naïvely-winged prayer-sandals
  Upon the heavy feet of shuffling loves.
  Gently, he plays with his beard
  As though his fingers touched a woman’s hair.
  And this young Slav whose surly blasphemy
  Curls his face into a simple hate,
  Has taken iron into his laugh
  And uses it to hew his stony mind.
  While this Italian whose deep olive skin
  Shines like sunlight groping through dense leaves,
  Forgets his battered happiness
  And bows with mock grace to his shouting day.
  Beside him is a fellow-countryman
  Walking aimless, dazed with joy of motion.
  Upon his face a glistening vacancy
  Lights the mildly querying thoughts
  That seek each other but never meet.
  Behind him steps a stalwart Pole
  Whose rhythmic, stately insolence
  Turns the sidewalk into a grey carpet,
  Grey as the shades that race across his face
  And show the savage squalor of his soul.
  Night has broken her heart upon him,
  Only scarring his bitter smile.
  A street of little, jack-o’-lantern houses
  Veering into leering saloons,
  Where the night, a crazy child,
  Dips herself in sallow rouge
  And chases oaths and heavy mirth
  And even human beings:
  Where the smoky sadness of the steel-mills
  Wanders hesitantly into death
  And drops a ghostly blur upon this girl.
  Her numbly waxen, cherub face
  Emerges gently from the doorway’s blackness
  As though the dark had given birth to it.
  And then the falling light reveals
  That something of a village hangs about her:
  Something slumbering and ample.
  The doorway is too small to hold
  Her shoulders that are like a hill’s broad curves
  Dwindled in the distance....
  She is one of many earth-curved girls
  Who listened to the insistent tinkle
  Of wind-winged music from a far-off land:
  Listened and knew not
  That their own hearts faintly played.
  So she ran to this far phantom,
  Only finding it within herself
  When the city’s sly fists rained upon it.
  Then once more she fled
  With a dead heart whose restless pallor
  Crept to squalid wantonness, for refuge.
  And now she stands within this doorway,
  Uttering muffled innuendoes
  To the drained men of her race.
  Yet, something of a village hangs about her:
  Something slumbering and ample
  Stealing from the earth curves of her shoulders.


  III

  The steel-mill workers straggle down this street,
  Clanging shut the doorways of their souls,
  And the sound rips their lips open.
  The steel-mill workers do not know of this:
  They only seek something that will sweeten
  The dirt that has eaten into their flesh
  And change it to raw music.
  They straggle down this street,
  Their faces slack and oiled with amorousness.
  Like cats they play with their desires,
  Biting them with little laughs
  Until the sallow houses draw them in.
  And then the night pursues their revelry:
  Echoes from the shut doors of their souls.


  IV

  Three bent women and a child
  Stoop before the steel-mill gate
  As though the morning’s ghastly murmur
  Washed against them in a wave
  Stiffening them into resisting curves.
  One is old and floridly misshapen.
  Years have melted out within her frame,
  Flooding her with lukewarm loves.
  The wrinkles on her flabby face
  Are like a faded scrawl of pain
  Scattered by the flesh on which it rests.
  Her frayed shawl hanging unaware of her
  Is a symbol of her heart.
  The woman standing at her side
  Is tall and like a slanting scarecrow
  Coldly jerking in the morning’s glare.
  Only when she lifts a bony hand
  Tapping life against her face,
  Does the image disappear.
  Dead dreams dangle in her heart,
  Limply hanging from their rainbow sashes,
  And whenever one sash trembles,
  Then, she lifts a gnarled hand to her face
  And tastes a moment of departing life.
  Near her stands a slimly rigid woman
  With an iron fear upon her bones.
  A worn strait-jacket of lines
  Cuts the dying youth upon her face.
  The slender child beside her,
  Buried within staidly murky clothes,
  Glances frightenedly up at her mother:
  Glances as one who dances to a gate
  And fumbles for a latch that hides itself.
  Then from the rusty-reveried steel-mill gate
  An endless stream of men scatter out
  Into the cool bewilderment of morning.
  Upon their lips a limply child-like surrender
  Curves out to the light, as though they felt
  The presence of an unassuming strangeness.



SOUTH STATE STREET: CHICAGO


  I

  Rows of blankly box-like buildings
  Raise their sodden architecture
  Into the poised lyric of the sky.
  At their feet, pawn-shops and burlesque theatres
  Yawn beneath their livid confetti.
  In the pawn-shop windows, violins,
  Cut-glass bowls and satchels mildly blink
  Upon the mottled turbulence outside,
  And sit with that detached assurance
  Gripping things inanimate.
  Near them, slyly shaded cabarets
  Stand in bland and ornate sleep,
  And the glassy luridness
  Of penny-arcades flays the eyes.
  The black crowd clatters like an idiot’s wrath.


  II

  Wander with me down this street
  Where the spectral night is caught
  Like moon-paint on a colourless lane....
  On this corner stands a woman
  Sleekly, sulkily complacent
  Like a tigress nibbling bits of sugar.
  At her side, a brawny, white-faced man
  Whose fingers waltz upon his checkered suit,
  Searches for one face amidst the crowd.
  (His smile is like a rambling sword.)
  His elbows almost touch a snowy girl
  Whose body blooms with cool withdrawal.
  From her little nook of peaceful scorn
  She casts unseeing eyes upon the crowd.
  Near her stands a weary newsboy
  With a sullenly elfin face.
  The night has leaned too intimately
  On the frightened scampering of his soul.
  But to this old, staidly patient woman
  With her softly wintry eyes,
  Night bends down in gentle revelation
  Undisturbed by joy or hatred.
  At her side two factory girls
  In slyly jaunty hats and swaggering coats,
  Weave a twinkling summer with their words:
  A summer where the night parades
  Rakishly, and like a gold Beau Brummel.
  With a gnome-like impudence
  They thrust their little, pink tongues out
  At men who sidle past.
  To them, the frantic dinginess of day
  Has melted to caressing restlessness
  Tingling with the pride of breasts and hips.
  At their side two dainty, languid girls
  Playing with their suavely tangled dresses,
  Touch the black crowd with unsearching eyes.
  But the old man on the corner,
  Bending over his cane like some tired warrior
  Resting on a sword, peers at the crowd
  With the smouldering disdain
  Of a King whipped out of his domain.
  For a moment he smiles uncertainly.
  Then wears a look of frail sternness.

  Musty, Rabelaisian odours stray
  From this naïvely gilded family-entrance
  And make the body of a vagrant
  Quiver as though unseen roses grazed him.
  His face is blackly stubbled emptiness
  Swerving to the rotted prayers of eyes.
  Yet, sometimes his thin arm leaps out
  And hangs a moment in the air,
  As though he raised a violin of hate
  And lacked the strength to play it.
  A woman lurches from the family-entrance.
  With tense solicitude she hugs
  Her can of beer against her stunted bosom
  And mumbles to herself.
  The trampled blasphemy upon her face
  Holds up, in death, its watery, barren eyes.
  Indifferently, she brushes past the vagrant:
  Life has peeled away her sense of touch.


  III

  With groping majesty, the endless crowd
  Pounds its searching chant of feet
  Down this tawdrily resplendent street.
  People stray into a burlesque theatre
  Framed with scarlet, blankly rotund girls.
  Here a burly cattle-raiser walks
  With the grace of wind-swept prairie grass.
  Behind him steps a slender clerk
  Tendering his sprightly stridency
  To the stolid, doll-like girl beside him.
  At his side a heavy youth
  Dully stands beneath his swaggering mask;
  And a smiling man in black and white
  Walks, like some Pierrot grown middle-aged.

  Mutely twinkling fragments of a romance:
  Tiny lights stand over this cabaret.
  Men and women jovially emboldened
  Stroll beneath the curtained entrance,
  And their laughs, like softly brazen cow-bells,
  Change the scene to a strange Pastoral.
  Hectic shepherdesses drunk with night,
  Women mingle their coquettish colours....
  Suddenly, a man leaps out
  From the doorway’s blazing pallor,
  Smashing into the drab sidewalk.
  His drunken lips and eyelids break apart
  Like a clown in sudden suicide.
  Then the mottled nakedness
  Of the scene comes, like a blow.

  Stoically crushed in hovering grey
  Night lies coldly on this street.
  Momentary sounds crash into night
  Like ghostly curses stifled in their birth....
  And over all the blankly box-like buildings
  Raise their sodden architecture
  Into the poised lyric of the sky.



TRANSCRIBER’S NOTES:


  Italicized text is surrounded by underscores: _italics_.

  Inconsistencies in hyphenation have been retained.





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