“The skin is broken. The hotel breakfast china
Poking ahead to the last week in August, not really
Very much at all, found the land where you began….”
The hills smoldered up blue that day, again
You walk five feet along the shore, and you duck
As a common heresy sweeps over. We can botanize
About this for centuries, and the little dazey
Blooms again in the cities. The mind
Is so hospitable, taking in everything
Like boarders, and you don’t see until
It’s all over how little there was to learn
Once the stench of knowledge has dissipated, and the trouvailles
Of every one of the senses fallen back. Really, he
Said, that insincerity of reasoning on behalf of one’s
Sincere convictions, true or false in themselves
As the case may be, to which, if we are unwise enough
To argue at all with each other, we must be tempted
At times—do you see where it leads? To pain,
And the triumph over pain, still hidden
In these low-lying hills which rob us
Of all privacy, as though one were always about to meet
One’s double through the chain of cigar smoke
And then it…happens, like an explosion in the brain,
Only it’s a catastrophe on another planet to which
One has been invited, and as surely cannot refuse:
Pain in the cistern, in the gutters, and if we merely
Wait awhile, that denial, as though a universe of pain
Had been created just to deny its own existence.
But I don’t set much stock in things
Beyond the weather and the certainties of living and dying:
The rest is optional. To praise this, blame that,
Leads one subtly away from the beginning, where
We must stay, in motion. To flash light
Into the house within, its many chambers,
Its memories and associations, upon its inscribed
And pictured walls, argues that life is various.
It is beautiful. He who reads that
As in the window of some distant, speeding train
Knows what he wants, and what will befall.

Pinpricks of rain fall again.
And from across the quite wide median with its
Little white flowers, a reply is broadcast:
“Dissolve parliament. Hold new elections.”
It would be deplorable if the rain also washed away
This profile at the window that moves, and moves on,
Knowing that it moves, and knows nothing else. It is the light
At the end of the tunnel as it might be seen
By him looking out soberly at the shower,
The picture of hope a dying man might turn away from,
Realizing that hope is something else, something concrete
You can’t have. And so, winding past certain pillars
Until you get to evening’s malachite one, it becomes a vast dream
Of having, that can topple governments, level towns and cities
With the pressure of sleep building up behind it.
The surge creates its own edge
And must proceed this way: mornings of assent,
Indifferent noons leading to the ripple of the question
Of late afternoons projected into evening.
Arabesques and runnels are the result
Over the public address system, on the seismograph at Berkeley.
A little simple arithmetic tells you that to be with you
In this passage, this movement, is what the instance costs:
A sail out of some afternoon, like the clear dark blue
Eyes of Harold in Italy, beyond amazement, astonished,
Apparently not tampered with. As the rain gathers and protects
Its own darkness, the place in the slipcover is noticed
For the first and last time, fading like the spine
Of an adventure novel behind glass, behind the teacups.

This Issue

February 19, 1976