Digital version (© Dovid Katz 2020) based on the first edition by The Smith – Horizon Press New York 1972 (Library of Congress: 73-99934-66309). Photomechanically reproduced edition online at: dovidkatz.net/menke/Books/RockRose.pdf.
On the Birthday of a Forgotten Poet
ROSES OF BORO PARK
My Father Heersha-Dovid Used to Say
PRAISE TO THE STUTTERER
- Where is the saddest twilight in the world,
- if not in a subway train where a stray
- moth roams under a dour electric sky,
- seeking meadow sweets in the day’s jull sweat.
- I sway on a strap as a circus bear.
- The moth — my daydream in this dreamless train,
- a flickering whim moving the concourse,
- is about to dash into my poem.
- It is Mammon’s train of iron, gall, gold.
- If it stormed through my trainless, lulled childhood,
- I would see it through the cave of a myth,
- chattered in the mud charms of my village.
- The moth is weary, it is time to die.
- She chose a sash like a chimney corner,
- the only standing room left to die here,
- in the rush-hour of the crowded subway.
- The roar triumphs over a routed day.
- Death is here as near as the dying moth,
- as near as its first and last duskless dusk,
- the end of time is near enough to touch.
- O if there were only a sunset here,
underground, in the summer felled evening,
- the sun would kneel, in awe, at the drooped wings,
- as at the rites of the graveless goddess.
- The moth is the last prayer of the day,
- I see it through me as a speck of fright.
It dies (as I will) in a wild daydream
- and moulds a shade of grief on the tomb sash.
- unrbymed, unrefrained double ballade
- Sappho, how strange to meet you in toytown,
- in the contest of dolls with names of old,
- wondrous poets. Here is Homer, a blind
- doll laughing with a Homeric laughter;
- Alcman, the doll in love with four dactyls.
- Hail Sappho, winner of the doll parade!
- Sappho, Miss Toytown, child-god, did you know,
- children like dolls tire of too much beauty?
- Now in your decline, you languish at a
- child’s feet, with bruised roses on your cheeks, with
- a scarred mouth, moulded to kiss the ” dust of
- Timas,” the bride who died in your poem.
- Your hair torn, the braids knotted like a noose.
- Mad combs gnash at me with their broken teeth.
- June budding on my street sighs over you,
- as through the blossoms of a child’s grave.
- I vow by the gods and little fishes,
- to heal your every sore, until death dies.
- My gay garret is your doll hospital.
- I bathe, comb, adorn you: with poke bonnets,
- a gown with folds falling in a cascade,
- gemmed shoes, fit for the dance of an elf-queen,
- earrings to ravish the charm of legends,
- a key to open the locked songs of rocks.
- We share our destiny: mine, the shade, yours —
- the light of solitude. Only sorrow is mine.
- My fate is to grumble against the winds;
- yours, to smile to the end of misery.
- I touch you like the forbidden apple
- on the highest bough which no one can reach.
- It is late, you played with every wonder,
- heard your poems carved on the ” one girl ” bed.
- Time to sleep, you close your doll eyelids,
- like Aphrodite listening to your ode.
- May you dream you are a live prankful child
- of Manhattan. O Sappho, my tenth muse.
- Sappho, traveling thousands of years through
- the steep miles of centuries you arrived
- at the beginning, breaking out of each
- time-bound bolt, you are free of the ages,
- you are now superhuman as a doll,
- a little girl who knows life beyond life.
- I am drunk with
- the wines after me. O let
- us drink a toast: man,
- eagle, woman, rose, beast, sun
- to rise beyond my last day.
- I marvel with you
- the worm as well as the stars.
- O scent me in your
- lilacs O distant ages
- O neighbors of tomorrow!
On the Birthday of a Forgotten Poet
- For Chidiock Tichborne, executed on September 20, 1585 for his attempt to kill Queen Elizabeth
- You are known to the unknown hermit — the stone,
- the mouth of the dumb, the lonely and the cursed.
- The stone crowned you as the poet laureate.
- O your truest admirer is the stone,
- human as the shade of the wise apple tree.
- All winds celebrate your four hundredth birthday,
- O cherub eyed Satan hating only hate.
- You are read by the trapped mouse, praised by the doomed
- on their way to meet the law loving hangman.
- You will be ever known to every lover
- of kind death, the hellbound will ever see you
- handsome as darkness before there were gallows.
- God, weary of his own everlasting life,
- comes to rest in your wondrous solitude,
- in the true eternity untouched by man.
- This is a day wondrous as the five newborn
- mice — a quintuplet of fantastic children
- I found in a drawer of this old forest house.
- Heaven, earth and I toast in celebration.
- The mother mouse — Godful, cursed and glorious
- sees me (her marveling vegetarian)
- like a giant hellcat clawed to carnage her
- without trial or jury for the first sin of
- being born, guilty of living, O mother of
- the humble, we are kindred by the same fate.
- This poem is your laurel crown O queen of
- true-eyed elflands, immortal kin of the doomed.
- Night. In the open drawer, their hidden birthbed
- cushioned with the moss of an ancient mattress,
- (sowed with fathered seeds who still yearn to be born)
- they welcome darkness as their true savior.
- A family in a blurred picture left whole —
- only a mother’s outstretched hand, strained beyond
- its limits to carry her fading children
- into safe dreams against the risk of pitfalls.
- Death lives here like a prince in a fairytale,
- in the fervid nights of forgotten lovers.
- A starful brook, nearby, repeats God’s blessing
- for the modest, the unknown, the wonderdumb.
- The paperweights on my desk are wondrous
- as the hand which charmed them with carved legends,
- with dueling knights and shield-maidens, with
- brides who blush in castles, waiting for me,
- the prince of the ennui of Boro Park
- to wake them from a hundred years of sleep,
- with the fire of an undying kiss, with
- the touch of Genesis to give them life:
- my harem of fabulous concubines,
- guard day and night each scrap of my daydreams,
- poems still unborn which climb mountain-high,
- threaten to erupt in volcanoes, to
- explode the ages of time-metaphors,
- bury me alive under blazing rock.
- unrhymed, unrefrained rondeau redouble
- Even the old river complains life is short.
- The fate of man, stars, beasts and stormlit mountains
- moans in the shoal waters of the riverside.
- The old river is the true friend of the doomed.
- Cows in their old age, the grandfolk of the herd
- with much mooing and little milk, old barrens
- at five, beggars of pity, milk slaves at the
- mercy of the skinning knife, all who drag the dust
- of the road on their way to the slaughterhouse
- are welcomed by the river to quench their thirst:
- Bearded goats, brokentoothed, priced only for
- their raw hides, are of no use even to God.
- Sheep, meek eyed preachers who preach peace all their lives;
- castrated steers raised for beef, bulls breathing fire,
- face the butchers in white — the angels of death.
- (Their souls live in the heavens of empty barns.)
- River willows offer wild grapes for their last meal.
- Calves, jolly children with bells on, unaware
- they toll their own death, leap and cheer and marvel
- as if the slaughterhouse were a wonderland.
- Streams caress, form water herds, hug each other,
- run a rig in the summer evening, reflect
- like savage mirrors the skin and birn, frighten
- the wits out of the generous old river.
Looking Through A Rare Gem
- unrhymed, unrefrained villanelle
- An elfmaid lives in this lonely castle.
- When hungry, she eats a star, when thirsty,
- she hits a gem and it turns into a brook.
- The brook is here in a mirage, nearby.
- The mirage, the father of lies, offers
- the wines of emerald, of noble opal.
- I see three mirrors scintillate in the brook.
- A stingy angel (half scorpion) guards
- the brook, night and day, in the first mirror.
- The second mirror, drank as a wine-fountain,
- waits for Bacchus, god of the merry cup,
- to drink a toast to every grape on earth.
- A sorceress in the third mirror observes
- the witches’ Sabbath, hoarding the gems of tears
- since Eve, in the castle of misfortune.
- The fiends of the castle break the mirrors,
- the pieces scatter like startled rivulets,
- flowing to scorch with thirst the locked elfmaid,
- doomed, by the gods, to immortal splendor.
Furnished Room at Dusk
- I hear Scheherezade still tell her tale,
- at twilight on the streets of Manhattan,
- (My furnished room is like a haunted hut,
- I saw on the Isle of Capri.) the same
- charmed paupers still polish Aladdin’s woe —
- worn wonderlamp to lure the genie out
- with a command to change the dying day
- on the gemmed windowpanes into cash gold.
- Scheherezade is a dream in a dream.
- The sun falls like the head of a concubine
- which a sport-starved king severed at each dusk,
- in the true story hour of grim wonder.
- New York, city of refuge,
- from listless calm, stoic ease,
- welds its own skies, the fate of
- live steel, drills its own lightning,
- streets compete with galaxies.
- Towers at dawn are rising
- torchbearers, dust remembers
- when alchemists built Babel
- with the iron of alchemy,
- when lovers lived forever.
- New York, city laureate
- of cities, vies with seven
- wonders and always wins, sees
- a Broadway on the moon, day
- dreams the Genesis of man.
- O the streets of New York are glorious.
- Here comes Gwendolyn, bride of my city,
- subdued by the grandeur of her own charm.
- She walks on Broadway like a street born waif,
- confluent crowds demob in her presence.
- The Great White Way is struck with true wonder.
- Shrill multitudes are, near her, music-mad.
- Lovers languish in ruthless yearning, name
- her in dreams: jewel of Jamshid, torch of night.
- Pampered in gossamer, slender witted,
- as if she were spun in clear autumn dawns,
- by small spiders out of floating cobwebs;
- adept in the craft of stealing the bloom
- of the cheeks of her wan, rival sisters
- she knows, the prettiest rose is dungbred.
- The sun sets like an exploded heaven,
- trapped angels cry havoc to Gwendolyn.
- Her splendor on the streets of Manhattan
- torments the gods, good old Satan and me.
Twilight On Lincoln Square
- How sad to see Lincoln in cold marble,
- on the grand stand of the hero market,
- iron-souled through twilight — a torch of fright.
- Looking at his shadow on the glum Square:
- the outstretched arms remind of prison bars,
- the trimmed beard as a weird bird, clipped and stoned.
- It seems, he did not turn into God’s dust.
- The sculptor has so smitten him with joy,
- he fears he may not know sadness again.
- A visitor gripped by infinity,
- he fears he is doomed to live forever,
- he fears the earth may rob him of his grave.
- Dusk urns the last fires of the Civil War.
- Chaste ladies come with roses and spent love.
- The sun is like a goblet in his hands,
- to revel with every fellow mortal:
- mouse and king, gnat and eagle, moth and child,
- a toast for every fellow guest on earth.
- Night. Old devils dream of new chimeras.
- Tramps snore in muck as in beds of roses.
- Rise O rise Lincoln, I see a cloud change
- into a tree, the tree into gallows,
- the hangman’s image over your free Square.
- Dawn. Lincoln rose out of his locked statue,
- not a hero, but the humble Abe from
- the steep ridges of Kentucky backwoods.
- He rose in dreams of a vagrant poet,
- a ragged chieftain of a homefelt bench,
- the charm-struck visionsmith of this poem.
- Lincoln rose through me — a new Genesis.
Twilight in Coney Island
- O the garish god
- of Coney Island, shrieking
- down tower and town,
- the wild bore argus
- eyed, half lion, half goat with
- a dragon’s tail, bores
- to death even death;
- dulls the flaming sword which guards
- every entrance to Eden.
- A stray moon scales through
- the hysteria of lights,
- to eclipse the dusk:
- festival of fire —
- fiends, man-made suns, counterfeits
- of my century.
- Summers shrink in June
- on June street, winters are shrouds
- for fallen angels.
- Spring — a born pauper,
- loiters in bleak tenements,
- like a skinned, spectered autumn.
- Plump piewives make June
- street comely, small worlds revolve
- around the ennui of time.
- Whalemouthed whalemen
- whale stormdrenched, in inch-deep seas
- of growing tall tales.
- Walls unlock their might,
- climb to attack the heavens:
- O giants of solitude!
- Welcome June to the slums of my city.
- Even condemned tenements celebrate
- your arrival. Flowers tramp through bright slop,
- dress like elves in all colors to greet you.
- Skies, nearby, wreathe garlands out of soot on
- crooked walls, pave with gems the bleak alleys.
- God’s breeze spins a yarn, only wise babies,
- dandelions and little birds understand.
- A hermit dog — the homeless philosopher
- of the slums meditates at midnight blue.
- The moon dumps its silver in charmed sewers,
- as if to get rid of its counterfeit.
- Cats marry under starlit canopies,
- mewing their love to all past and future Junes.
- I saw angels dream under
- a city moon, like a handless
- clock which tells time beyond time,
- beyond play, ache and laughter.
- I said: motherless children,
- woe, you are all Spring, autumn
- will not know you, you can not
- grow a wink older than God.
- If you are weary of the
- endless day, you are welcome
- to take refuge in my poem,
- to taste stone, tears, steel, longing.
- Angels, no sadness on earth
- is as sad as your heaven.
- Cricket, ghost of the lonely, which fate brought
- you here, my garrulous neighbour, babbling
- over and over from birth unto death,
- the only bleak chirp you know: So-li-tude.
- Over the din of shouting Manhattan,
- I hear your small cry for the great beyond.
- Cricket, voice of the loveless, praying for
- every hermit of my city, from a
- high, hung brick of this crumbling tenement.
- No wonder, evil is a treasure here,
- guarded by Satan, the loneliest angel;
- cast out of heaven he vows to avenge God.
- The night feeds the mighty calm of walls. Even
- the ruler of hell is ruled by solitude.
- Sundown. God, I am lonely, I will go
- to the whorealleys of old Manhattan
- and fetch me a jolly liberal bride.
- The evening is drunk with its own wine on
- our wedding bed, you will be my wife an hour,
- I, your lover — a thousand and one nights.
- I am all yours, my unmothered, unowned love:
- I swear by the ecstasy of our trance,
- by the hatched shadowbands of this twilight.
- Night bears the commerce of licensed kisses,
- the law ridden guardians of humdrum,
- bereaved of you and me, of our soulquake.
- You left, O firefooted elf of the streets.
- The summer, greensick, cankers on cracked walls.
- Flowers in a pot pine for home — the far fields.
- My bride coquets through the blight of slummed streets:
- wholesale dealers in smoke, iron, gold, death,
- praying through the ages for their downfall.
- Even time is tired here of night and day.
- The loveliest harlots are in New York,
- nocturnal at midday, children of twilight,
- paramours of the mist, menaced by light,
- they sweet-scent the nights with every balm on earth.
- Here comes Lilith — the first wife of Adam,
- hellbred, out of a night-scene of Goethe’s Faust,
- (Her room in the slums — a perfumed, stale mouth.)
- a whore more naked in garb than all nude wives.
- Her eyelids are like the green gates to Limbo,
- her navel like the eye of a sky-gazer.
- The streets are charmstruck by her generous arse,
- her delicacy — a rockrose of old New York.
- The stars in the gutters are free dimelands.
- The wind — a daredevil rapes her in broad starlight,
- plants stoneseeds in her womb and runs the gauntlet.
- Her bride-bed, skyworn, is guarded by the cherubs.
- unrhymed, unreframed double ballade
- Lucky to have Dante as my roommate.
- The exile from Florence lives now with me
- in comfort, in a drawing in pastel.
- The artist split the sky with thunder, lit
- the clouds with storm to build an inferno.
- Immortal beggars beg here crumbs of death.
- It is Spring in the backslums of my street.
- A streetwalker fragrant with fieldbalm which
- blossoms on her skirt, asserts Spring is here.
- She resembles Francisca da Remini.
- I stand near her as her perfidious
- lover Paolo. I say: “Come, my love,
- sterile laws at midnight are for the dull,
- “We reach the door as the gate to divine
- hell, with us is Dante and the grief of
- a dripping sink reciting through the night
- (seven hundred years later in New York,)
- his unwritten, hundred and first canto:
- — Dante, while you are our undying neighbor,
- we condemned guests, as you pass through time, tell
- us which are the most sacred sins on earth? :
- — The sins which can not sin even in hell,
- sins no rain will ever dare to wash away.
- Sins of the doomed who escape the evil
- light behind bars like hunted beasts of the
- chase, seeking within their souls free darkness.
- Sins of angels, weary of heaven who
- defy the bondage of eternity,
- to love mortal maidens — mine, yours, God’s sins:
- — And which are the most wondrous sins, Dante?
- — The sins of poets, of ever longing.
- (O fear paradise more than any hell!)
- Just as the desert hankers for the sea,
- so is the sea sailing for the desert.
- * * * *
- The luxurious sky is generous
- to every crevice of our pennyland.
- Suddenly she rose, a stripped madonna
- and ran from me, Dante, and all his hell.
- She left her fate in the wind — a weeping flute.
- The city, a moonlit Sahara, ventures
- to quench the thirst of lost wanderers with
- the wines of a mirage, drawn from bone, dream, steel.
- Hercules was born in an
- electric furnace with a
- soul of molten metal to
- achieve twelve labors, such as
- firebrick, beam, truss, slab, eyebars:
- swing, lift, foot, cantilever,
- suspension bridges, mast (an
- arm of the sea) aerial
- ferries — Hercules, wise with
- muscle sense of great cities.
- Southey, Wordsworth, Coleridge, I also live
- in the lake district, hence we are neighbors.
- Only a poem between the idle,
- dreamlit lakes of Westmorland, Lancashire
- and the busy Hudson and East rivers.
- Only a century, a step of time
- from the manytribed roar of New York to
- the cuckoos of Cumberland which cu-ckoo
- in perfect trochee to the ghost of humdrum,
- as they leave their eggs, motherless, in strange nests.
- Only a horselaugh between the English
- cavalry, in a race with subway trains:
- the tunneled underworlds of Manhattan.
ROSES OF BORO PARK
Roses of Boro Park
- unrhymed, twin sonnet
- Rivke, little as a child, my comely wife.
- The color of sadness is hazel brown in
- her eyes, fresh as the cut heart of tulipwood.
- Her father’s dreams, pennywise, age like wine stains
- in this house, old as a legend when young Pan
- was here the god of goats grazing the rooftops
- of this parkless Boro Park in bleak Brooklyn.
- The sun rises like a thriving pennybank.
- Homespun tedium is brightest at highnoon.
- The world is on sale in every show window.
- Stores teem with earlocks and gems, wigs and garlic.
- Salestalk proves knitted apples are from Eden.
- Sellouts undersell cheap riches dyed on gowns,
- harvest home the unfilled fields of Boro Park.
- The end of all seasons is here all year round.
- Wares are ever the last sheaves, sold at the spear.
- Men hunt down bargains like buffaloes and bears.
- Alice in plastic woods dreams of wonderland.
- Women (the only roses in Boro Park)
- against cut throats hunt large prey in packs like wolves.
- Their summers under the grim elevated:
- iron knotted, screeching like trapped owls for life.
- The street is a patched luxury at twilight.
- Rivke — Rebecca riding on a camel
- to her first love with a grace that never dies.
- I am locked in her eyes — a self chained captive.
- A prankster, bred in her bones, willed like David,
- roams here with bittersweets of her prince poet.
On a Lover of Flowers
- The old princess is in love with flowers.
- The jasmine amuse her as fragrant elves,
- the buds are rain-scented with rare perfumes,
- bow blessings to her for their noble birth.
- Flowers are trained, comedian cherubs.
- The columbines are clowns in a gold pot.
- The roses womb their stems, lick their own fire,
- hug each other like blushing lesbians.
- No dew will kiss the stingy earth in pot,
- each pot is soothing as a cozy jail.
- Orphans of the fields, godless flowers pray:
- God, give us the pride of the piercing thorn.
- unrhymed villanelle
- I leave a pennyworth of dust,
- an undying swan song, my son,
- the great will of the infinite.
- For you my every highbred whim,
- the dugout ore of each caprice,
- the sage meditations of dust,
- the might of my obstinacy:
- rock-reared, tested by the patience
- of time, probed by zeal, infinite.
- For you the vagaries of the
- storm-drenched vagrant — the regal rogue,
- his life and death divine as dust.
- Beware of the dawn of ennui,
- twin of the turtle; night is for
- owls, old tales and the infinite.
- Death is a game the cherubs play.
- Just a slight change from dusk to night.
- I leave a pennyworth of dust,
- the great will of the infinite.
- Sappho, if God loves
- poetry as I do, you
- are his poet as well as
- mine, scentful as the muses,
- the roses of Pieria.
- I shall keep my date
- with you Sappho, my will is
- written. I leave my
- beautiful darkness for my
- son, Cupid and the churworm
- who lives as I do
- close to the immortal roots,
- derides the hollow
- bubbles, the puffed up, dazzling
- prize winning poetasters.
- This I learned in the
- Land of the Leal: every cell
- of every worm like
- mine, like yours is a divine,
- microscopic universe.
- I am the poet
- whose grave will glare unknown, my
- comely name blurred on
- the falling headstone, crested
- with moss like the crown of Hades.
- Good your ancient song
- is always in the wind, good
- to hear your poems
- like swans in a dream, love, sing
- thrice three thousand years. Sappho,
- good to see you at
- dusk, cloudborn over New York;
- your wild hyacinths
- wounded by shepherd’s feet, bloom
- again on all towerpanes.
- Ha, if you come my sixtieth birthday,
- as an age intruder to frighten me
- that I grew old, dusk is a ghost candle
- where the feeble wick glimmers at its end,
- the broken flame quivering in panic:
- barrenness — the dry tongued, falling evil, —
- then hear my virile grandfathers laughing
- hilariously for you tickle them
- from my navel — Eros’ winecup, to my
- noble genitals, yawnproof, cupid’s dart,
- tested by sublime hell and high waters:
- from the chaste madonnnas of Raphael
- to the budding whores of old Manhattan,
- walking in silver slippers of the moon,
- on streets — brothels for the homeless angels.
- O no sterile ghost will survive in the
- luring bushes of my manful eyebrows,
- will run for safety to bluebeard’s castle.
- At which feast skeleton are you creeping,
- through revels with my petite glutting wife,
- or dare you haunt through the naked terror
- of my private harem when awe stricken
- concubines trail the wild vine, climbing by
- scorching tendrils to the succulent fruit.
- Come O come, wise hearted three score, I am
- racing to you on my bicycle,
- in early autumn through scentful harvest
- with grace of an unhounded free bred deer.
Day of Doubt
- My last day is as glorious as the first.
- It is dawn yet. I am still so rich with time,
- until I fall at sundown from a roof of gold.
- I shall plan my life on my onliest day.
- The first hours I shall give to you, Dovid,
- my twelve year old miraculous brat,
- heir of my unconquered zeal, my unwritten
- poetry which you will muse, laugh, sing or cry,
- flare the light-proof suns of the days beyond me.
- We will keep our daily appointment with our
- bicycles, ride a thousand years on each block;
- ride in one hour back to Adam, then onward
- to the end, to the origin. Then we will
- explore the wilds of Times Square, applaud the
- airborne horses, galloping with wild lovers.
- as hoofbeats strike borders, distances join hands,
- to reach the castles of shabby movielands.
- * * * *
- Then, I shall meet you, my love, to tell you how
- blessed it is to live next to you, breathe the same air,
- in the same century, on the same pillow,
- navel to navel, fire to fire, seed to seed.
- The twilight I will give the dusty goddess,
- the widowed guardian of my poetry,
- on mount Parnassus of my Brooklyn attic
- where the first ray like the marvel of Peru
- arrives at four P.M. to admire my poems
- which seek their way to light through the ceiling.
- The last moment I shall meet God eye to eye,
- at the top of a tower, at the airport
- of flying carpets — the first aeroplanes on earth;
- flying through the splendor of selfchosen doom,
- I will pilot an invisible monoplane,
- as I land on my private isle of farewell.
- But dusk, my love, is ages far and away.
- It is still dawn, my day, my life is teeming
- as a plucked pomegranate with sanguine seeds.
At a Hundred and Twenty
- unrhymed unrefrained chant royal
- I see the year two thousand, twenty six.
- There is still a jail in every town on earth
- where jailers keep wistful summers under lock.
- June in slum ganglands still smells of blossom blight.
- Old tenements still pray for their destruction,
- walls sigh through the nights like half sunken boats, stairs
- still wind through dark ages, through guile, plot, terror.
- The withered faces of bygone autumns still
- haunt the first Spring snowdrops in cheerless backyards.
- Chubby whores entice with opulent bosoms.
- Presidents still babble of great societies.
- The hammer is still raised against its maker,
- the red sickle is a gentle guillotine,
- peddlers still promise bearskins, ages before
- the bears are caught. The toadeater, the servile
- inkslinger still serenades the antiwar
- warmongers, the Fedorenko marauders.
- Abraham, the openarmed father of the Jews
- with a beard out of the Bible, with love locks,
- still builds little Jerusalems in old Brooklyn, —
- the grim light of Auschwitz smolders in his eyes.
- When storms rise the dust of my forgotten grave,
- I am great news to the retired, yawning grass.
- Only Dovid, my son, at three score and ten,
- (now in his twelfth May) knows I once lived and died,
- remembers me a frolic boy of sixty,
- celebrates my hundred and twentieth birthday.
- The sky is like an open Book of Splendor.
- Stars, rusteaten, under the elevated
- subway still rehearse our twin childhood, (his — first,
- mine — second) play hide and seek through the fissured
- attics, the crosseyed castlets of Boro Park.
- My son, while you live there is heaven and earth
- and I am here at a hundred and twenty,
- (O shout Menke, my son, I am the echo.)
- Waiting for the beginning when Eve, a novice
- will come to borrow a rib of my ribs.
- • • • •
- It is the year of two thousand, forty six:
- “I died in nineteen seventy four, when did
- you die, Dovid, my son?” “I just died, Menke,
- a young yearnful ninety, soon after the fourth
- world war when man bombed the earth off its orbit,
- back to chaos, to the formless infinite.”
- “At my last sunset I saw even Noah
- sink with his ark, an olive leaf lulled in the
- mouth of a stiff dove was the only peace left,
- in a glum world, destitute of you and me.”
- “O hear, wind to wind, soul to soul, brook to brook
- thirst each other forever, Dovid, my son.
- I end this chant of love to you at sixty one,
- standing in a subway train, in glowing health,
- on August twenty first, nineteen sixty seven,
- as crowds choke the summer day on this blue Monday,
- at five p.m. in our ever new New York.”
- An infant over a mother’s newspaper,
- reads the unwritten verse of the nightingale.
- Wonder is real as the man on the nearby moon.
- I see Cain and Abel beyond evil asleep.
- The earth vies with the heavens, wins Genesis.
Dusk in Brooklyn Bay
- Boats sail at twilight in Brooklyn bay where
- the urban rivers meet with the might, grace
- and valor of the Verrazano bridge.
- Hudson is a tale which the narrows tell.
- Elfmaids, archaic visitors are here,
- to charm the panes of our metropolis.
- (To Rivke)
- My little woman standing nude at the
- mirror is from head to toes midsummer,
- fragrant with the grape which is still uncasked wine.
- End of July, glory of her season.
- The harvest moon will rise (ripe, not for reaping)
- with wondrous fruits, unknown to any autumn.
- Night. A conflagration of planets revolves
- around her navel, the middle kiss spot.
- The center the flame of the enchanted bush
- like the humble seed can not be consumed.
- Every evil is crushed in our whirl dance.
- The stars over us are a fire hazard.
- We are rowing with one oar from Eden
- to hell and visa versa, back to birth,
- on to death, reborn again, cleansed through fire,
- redeemed from the devil of dust, we are
- all light, even death is a shade of light.
- We come from light, we return to light.
- Our rowboat (entrance to the beginning
- and end of life) is miraculous as
- the creation of Eve, our pulse is the
- rhythm of the cosmos, our fervid moments
- are hymns to the penis, the true god of love,
- (debased by debasers) blaze to the core, knows
- the agony of drought more than any desert,
- rising as a self-assassin, he is
- the first one to fall in the winter solstice.
- We relish, a minute, the glacial climate,
- our little ice age. My little woman
- is plowed, hoed, tilled, (she is always hard to plow)
- fertile with the rain of immortality.
- My mother spoke the small, idle talk
- of rivulets — the language of the
- humble, the comely and the unknown.
- She shunned great seas, loved the little waves:
- the maidens who live in myths, jeering
- the billows, oar through time, in a trice.
- God’s brook was deeper than man-taught seas,
- an ant wiser than the robot-sphinx
- roaring shallowness three thousand feet deep.
- She heard stutterers speak like Moses.
- Deaf-mutes knew the mighty speech of stones,
- their tongues could smite water out of rock.
- Her grace was obsolete as scented
- raindrops forming limpid cliches on
- the patched panes of her skyful village.
- The sun went down to its own last rites.
- The last rays dreamed they are still unborn.
- Water tattlers in the nearby lake,
- tattled the tales of tomorrow’s streams.
Hymn to the Potato
- O my first hymn was to the potato,
- lure of my childhood, fruit of the humble,
- the diurnal festival of the poor.
- No fruit is noble as the potato.
- Cherries are coy, plums have hearts of true stone.
- The wind is a drunk fiddler at the grape.
- The potato knows how much light there is
- in the fertile darkness of seeded earth,
- kissing the dust to which Adam returned.
- On the hungry alleys of my childhood,
- the Milky Way was a potato land.
My Mother Badonna Used to Say
- SELFWORSHIPING DUNCE
- If you never let
- a bird out of its cage, you
- never saw a bird,
- never led a child through a
- burning house, were never free.
- delights the eye when
- you see a moth cheating the
- flame out of a round
- of life, marveling God’s work,
- before it turns into fire.
- You are so just, you
- may fine even the saddest
- star, stealing to the
- barred pane of a death chamber,
- bringing a dream for the doomed.
My Father Heersha-Dovid Used to Say
- ON OLD AND YOUNG
- Fools are old at birth, old is the laughter
- of the young bore and the voice of the toad.
- Old is the gossip of the cricket, the
- tattle of the telltale, the piping crow.
- Old is Mammon who sees the stars diving
- into busy rivers to mint rare coins.
- Young are the kisses of the Song of Songs.
- Young was my grandfather’s last rising dream,
- as he took death out of his lucky bag,
- listened to the labored wind, bread scented,
- operating the sails of his old mill,
- grinding the ripe grain into sated flour;
- blessing with the townfolk the new moon.
- Young is the oldest gold of every dawn.
- Since the last organ grinder died in New York,
- the wind is the only street musician left
- to dirge forever my mother’s razed village.
- O her vanished village filled America,
- grieved New Jersey with its own desolation,
- yearned at twilight over the Passaic River.
- Birds on hoar Jefferson Street still serenade
- over and over in divine monotone
- of psalmists the coy sameness of her village.
- She trod warily on stones for she knew well,
- only stones are in love with true solitude.
- She saw a mossed rock meditate like a sage.
- Forsaken alleys, at dusk, wind like scorched dreams
- the sun like Satan raises a toast to hell,
- but the calm of stones can soothe even cursed Job.
- O the days ebb like a travel-worn river,
- around low lands which were once avid hilltops.
- Spring. Clouds turn into thirsty rills on the streets.
- The wind returns all lost seeds back to its soil.
Girl on a Poster
- The dancer on the poster reminds me of you
- O Shulamite driven out of the Song of Songs,
- though she shimmies through the lights of the Great White Way;
- yours is the dance macabre of Oschwentchim,
- every death: present, past, future, joins your dance.
- King Midas hoarding the sunsets on Broadway
- dares to touch your cursed bread, your vile fate and turns
- into a blind beggar beating with his stick
- the glittering din, he proclaims: the sun is blind.
- You drop a star — a gory coin in his almscup.
- What does the rain do here on this battlefield
- without the harvest song, without the corn dance;
- without the cropped blessings of a loaf of bread
- for little children, in this betrayed grainland?
- The cries of the rainbird could not augur rain
- for a field where only death is in full bloom.
- Could be misled by a mirage strays the rain,
- hence it misconceived the fine soil of new graves
- for seedbeds waiting in rows for sun and rain,
- unaware it can only help grief grow here
- where only a medal may replace the heart.
- The night is wonderstruck with routed summers.
- Let us proclaim a
- memorial night for the
- unburied soldier.
- No grave honors his valor,
- his country is unknown dust.
- Left of him is the
- echo of a battle cry:
- mournful nothingness.
- He is the lost general
- of all bodyless soldiers.
- I named him Cupid.
- He appears at dusk on a
- crowded street, at the
- peak of the rush hour, throwing
- away his bow and arrow.
- He is now a god
- of love, unarmed, with clipped wings:
- a naked boy, crushed,
- trampled underfoot, playing
- possom in a mined firepit.
- Only the wind knows
- where he made the soil fertile.
- O bless your lucky star,
- you are not anymore a
- disciple of brother Cain.
- Beware of mirrors, an informer hides
- in every mirror, the moon searching a
- river is a secret agent — a ghoul.
- Silence is a snake in ambush, stones are
- designed to footprint fugitives from hell.
- Light is fierce enough to behead us all.
- Let us hide my love,
- like gods or small blind fish who
- understand darkness,
- guarded by caves and deep streams,
- hidden from light — their arch foe.
- O see the sun rise
- as a blond medaled robot,
- kind as iron, in
- love with birds, roses, children,
- efficient as cold terror.
- Let us live unknown,
- as lovers in a dream;
- lost as names on sands,
- against sad rains which sing odes
- to their immortality.
- Let us hide my love.
- The super brave soldier is
- here, the death drummer
- with a heart made of the flesh
- of free, victorious morgues.
- Learn from the blind to
- see God like John Milton, the
- soul-lit, poet-king
- who lost and found paradise,
- in self, in his own great deep.
Eltshik and Dveirke
- unrhymed unrefrained chant royal
- Eltshik, my brother, you died at seventeen.
- You will be ever and ever seventeen
- as on the wonder island of Bimini.
- No retreat is as good a haven to yearn
- for you as on the thronged streets of Manhattan,
- no solitude solemn as dusk on Times Square.
- Subways in the rush hour know my hymn to you
- when crowds flock as if to celebrate their
- next to live, the adventure of being born,
- shout down the city: Ho! Waiting in endless
- row of ages since Genesis, we arrived!
- You saw your last sunset in Mikháleshik,
- our hometown devoured by retreating armies,
- limping to their death on Lithuanian
- bareboned earth. You died longing for your maiden
- Dveirke bound by an oath at the open ark
- of the moonlit synagogue that your love will
- live as long as Spring, flowers and bees will meet.
- Moses walked out of the Torah to witness.
- The creek rolled like the pilpul of the Talmud,
- drowned in dispute of the wise sages who live
- in the mirror of the river Hiddekel.
- O good to find our lost hometown in New York.
- Shadows of buildings give shade to the same sky,
- prankish cherubs play hooky on towerpanes.
- A tower ascends like our town in a dream,
- the hovels climb over one another,
- reaching for the known unknown to remind God
- it is time for Messiah to rouse the dead,
- to wake the children massacred at their play
- while kneading out of mud-pies a new Adam,
- to resurrect the tattle of the mute hag,
- every blot and blemish — the true signs of life.
- Charon on a cloud ferries the dying day
- through the dark memories of the river Styx,
- a day smoke-eaten as an ashen alley
- of my childhood against the howls of battle:
- June was foul with the rootrot of red armies,
- uterine brothers of plague breeding storm troops,
- proclaimed free gallows for all creeds and races.
- Poor Satan was a farmer with a gory
- sickle, beheading Jews, God, Tartars alike.
- The sun was like the gold head of King Midas,
- the last rays pondered on spears, in love with death:
- No kindness is as kind as comrade Death.
- Kind is a felled tree made into a coffin.
- True are flowers daunted in a mournful wreath.
- No beginning is as gracious as the end.
- Dveirke appears, stars hold her silver bride chest.
- Left of her is her voice in sobbing rivers:
- Come my love out of the lovers of evil.
- It is the end of grief, the end of Sheol.
- The charred gibbet can only frighten itself.
- The folks of hell break the sword guarding Eden!
- * * * *
- The city reborn, rides down the skyline drive.
- Eltshik, there is more wonder on Fifth Avenue
- than in the hanging gardens of Babylon,
- there is more legend in our casual chat
- dallying with time at a cup of coffee
- than in Scheherezade’s thousand and one nights.
HILLS AT TWILIGHT
- The hills are the tall tales of the village
- of Kerhonkson, between dusk and full night,
- they are the castles which the twilight builds,
- where enchanted maidens of long ago live;
- some hold casks of wine, some wine-stones to age
- the aging wine, some are goose girls again,
- tend the geese on their way to bathe in the
- Rondout Creek, braid their hair with mountain laurel,
- with wild violets, with rain lilies, after rains.
- A love-mad Eve climbs to the hillcrest, plays
- with the falling sun as with an apple of
- the eternal tree (the apple of God’s eye,)
- waiting nude for the still unborn Adam,
- destined to create a new Bezalel,
- with all the gifts of a black and whitesmith,
- to mold all the keys into a wonder key
- which will open all jails, all locks on earth.
- (O then, even the blind will see Messiah come.)
- The nimble waters of the creek still dance
- the sun, snake, war, hemp-dance of the jolly
- Indians of Tuscarora, singing
- their grief and delight on the face of rock.
- The tall tales driven into whining hollows,
- the goosegirls banished into oblivion.
- Left here of the geese is the haunted honk,
- the shrill tongue of the halfwits, boobs, nitwits,
- honking: honk-honk, ker-honk-son, honk in
- the hag, the humped idol of ennui, even
- the creek runs in panic over the hills,
- rushing to Pan for help down the valley river,
- as she hobbles into her crutch for the days work,
- to rule the seven wonders of ker-honk-son.
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF KER-HONK-SON
- The townboard — the choice brainshop of ker-honk-son,
- -pregnant a century or so with the
- mountain of the austerity budget.
- Numbers invade every dream, outnumber
- the stars, plunder the green and gold of days.
- Yokels smell with stale thought, with mossed axioms.
- A new Columbus is about to discover
- that water was, is and will ever be wet.
- The air is heavy with thick meditation.
- The witch of numbers giggles into their
- teeny-weeny universe of discourse,
- leaps from head to head to prepare her brew,
- cackling: carry me day and night, night and day,
- until you all turn into a flock of geese.
- The grocery where the grocer is plagued
- with the itch of a mite, the queen of the itch mites
- of the royal mite family, acaridae,
- in competition with the tartar food store
- where the moth saturnidae is emperor.
- The old tartar, the punch of Sundays,
- dressed like the mongol Batu Khan, with
- sham solitaires on his wealthy fingers,
- riding on his glum horse with the inflamed
- genitals, he sees through the mirrors of sunset,
- the ” golden horde ” of fourteen eighty six.
- The late luncheonette where the hermits,
- the sleepless and the ghosts dine at midnight,
- where the gallsick business bores with success fou,
- manufacture stones in their gallbladders.
- Life is tense as a mouse-ear in a trap.
- The rich fantast of the lonely gasoline
- station who daydreams miles of customers,
- standing in a thousand and one rows, wrangling
- for their next — the peanut dreamer, rolling
- in his dreams the wheels of America.
- The pimpled spinster who manicures the claws
- of her tomcat and never tires of petting
- his ailing testicles, taught to caress,
- to neck, not as an adopted son, but
- as the ecstasy of her old maidenhood.
- The hook and needle, yarn shoppe without the legend
- of the spindle, the shuttle and the woof;
- without the maiden at the loom who can
- entice a prince by sending the spindle
- to dance merrily before him to show
- him the way to her God-loved sod hut, covered
- with floral and scroll designs of her stem,
- chain and crewel stitch, for her unknown wooer.
- Left of the legends is dull merchandise,
- stingy coins between teeth and claws. The needles
- remind of Gulliver’s lilliputians,
- wrapped in pink shrouds, stare with blank eyeholes.
- Each spool of yarn, wire, ribbon, cord is wound
- like a noose of boredom. The yarn craves to
- return to its origin, to flower again
- on the cottonfields of Carolina.
- The days tarry with the lazy chatter
- of smart bumpkins, of cartoon characters,
- echo with the gag of the dull, with the
- silly laugh of giddy girls, like dwarf cherries.
- Even the birds are bored in ker-honk-son.
- The spots of the woodthrush are like numb tears.
- The minor poets of the birds end their song
- in midsummer, poetasters sing in
- season only. The robin sings best in ]une
- when singing is at the height of fashion.
- Only the wren, the true poet of the birds,
- declines to retire as nature’s pensioner.
- The songsmith shapes a hymn out of every chore.
- When the last fledglings fledge, he builds a nest for
- the sake of building, loving, singing, even
- in ker-honk-son because build, love, sing he must.
PRAISE TO THE STUTTERER
Praise to the Stutterer
- Praise to the blocked word
- of the stutterer, stumbling
- out of the mute might
- of the rock which Moses hit,
- to quench the scorched wilderness.
- No, not the rainbow
- of the bubble, bragging it
- is a gold planet
- flying to replace the sun:
- the pomp of charmed nothingness.
- The word which falters
- seeing God face to face, rocks
- ages of bondage,
- stammers like thunder as it
- rolls to applaud the cosmos.
Vachel Nicholas Lindsay
- unrhymed, unrefrained chant royal
- I know the silence in the lonely house
- where death is the only invited guest.
- The walls are fierce with beasts living in paintings.
- A 200 in watercolor cries for the woods,
- in the green room where you were born and died.
- Lionets yearn in gilded frames, rockfaced,
- with mouths furious as tempests, learn to
- roar at no one but their own wrath. Darling
- snakelets, offsprings of anonymous artists
- play with dangerous apples in Eden,
- hiss at Adam and Eve, inventors of sin.
- Night of December fifth, nineteen thirty one.
- The late autumn is now the town crier,
- announcing the end of Vachel Lindsay.
- A weeping birch is your only mourner.
- Even the winds in Springfield Illinois
- are crazed with your musicomania,
- conduct a ragtime band, serenade you
- like dead musicians playing in a dream:
- bass bassoons, alto flutes, plaintive oboes.
- Winds suicide raging against cliffed walls.
- Even the aged windowpanes rock and roll:
- Hallelujah, here is William Booth, the
- general of the humble, marching out of
- your poem as out of the drum of the doomed,
- leading kneeling armies, noble riffraff prays:
- We are all descendents of misfortune.
- Every blade of Spring is in touch with autumn.
- All children see Satan at birth, guardian
- of evil, hear his voice of hell, he speaks
- to us the kind language of death showing
- each newborn the last tear before the first smile.
- This is why no child ever smiles at birth.
- Our nearest and farthest ancestor is dust.
- Even dust in wind moans against its mission
- of awaiting us as a final host
- who swallows each and every guest on earth.
- Yet, all children are teeming with the wonder
- of being born, the naked limbless child
- of the mother worm, prejudiced since the
- beginning of time, as well as the eagle.
- All, all children are welcome to heaven.
- * * * *
- Night of Yahweh, a night, a scaremonger
- which could pluck the feathers off Poe’s raven.
- Vachel, Chang’s one winged nightingale is singing.
- Do you feel like Keats as though of hemlock
- you had drunk, as you raise a cup of poison,
- the strongest toast to your fifty two summers ?
- Dawn. A cricket in the throat of the chimney
- hides from the sun to weep in the darkness
- of solitude. A mouse prowls so gently
- even God has to strain to hear its curse.
- Your last thoughts rise to strangle the daybreak
- which crowns the skeletons of a blanched flowerpot.
- Your dawn, plagued forever by the throes of birth.
- Vachel Nicholas Lindsay, do you know
- I am writing your unwritten poem,
- in this crooked attic of Boro Park?
- If you do not know you ever lived, you
- never lived or died, you are sheer wonder.
Isaiah on Freedom
- Isaiah is always there
- where builders build a new jail.
- He says: Alas, my grim sons.
- the sword is still not a plow.
- If one image of God will
- be somewhere chained in a cell
- the chain will shackle us all,
- in heaven and on earth.
- Angels will know the weight of
- the chain, winds will not be free
- to curse even their own fate.
- The sky will be an endless
- prison roof if one captive
- will still remain in a cell,
- at the end of time, nearby.
- O the orange grove in Carolina!
- Each orange resembles a shrunken head,
- the conquest of the head hunter. The wind
- through red cedar plays on the shepherd’s flute,
- the shepherd turned into a cross, Christ-borne.
- Clouds bring storm from the stone-age — a cave-mob.
- A tree at dusk is a crimson dagger.
- Dandelions are toothed dwarfs forging God.
- The mourning dove monotones the last rites.
- Death, redolent with jasmine, sweet pinesap.
- O the flag waving like a starry noose!
- Calm encumbered with the wrath of Cain’s soil.
- The wren, mute, like a stuffed apparition.
- The moon is in love-and-silver business.
- Cunning merchants sell heaven by the yard.
A Lesson in Kabbalah
- Go soul down to earth,
- the earth is upper Eden.
- Mingle with the dust,
- my most sacred treasure, the
- father of Adam.
- You are all virtue,
- the first light of the first dawn,
- but do not grow un
- alloyed as an unhusked seed.
- Sinless yokels are all sin.
- Be envious only
- of the stone which is here to
- teach ages yearning
- for Messiah that patience
- can outdistance all distance.
- Be my guest on earth.
- Your body like the soul is
- my true image. See
- the end near the beginning,
- the return to Genesis.
- Do not ever turn
- into soul-chaff: selfchosen,
- as a grain of gold, endure
- fire without an inner scar.
- It is Spring again: king, shepherd, wild lover.
- Your concubines are here, the crocus reminds
- of Abishag — sin-wounded, blushing maiden.
- The rosemary is fragrant as Abigail,
- meeting you with corn, wine and figs, all roses
- gather the world over to remember you.
- Forget-me-nots, the dream of longing women,
- comely in the nude as bathing Bath Sheba,
- self-widowed, love-anguished reach out for your touch,
- hear young streams breaking the prisons of the earth,
- calling you from hilltops to river valleys:
- Come O come, David, the wind — a psalm or your
- harp playing through the aeons your humble glory.
- You are authentic as a kiss in a dream.
- First buds fill their cups with the drink of the gods,
- as a toast to Spring, you and unending life.
On my Book of Poems
- I know this book will outlive man and beast,
- though the moth may grind the solid imagery.
- The lovelorn will love me to the end of time.
- The swan will return to its fable to sing
- of me when chased off the skies by the hunter.
- A harpooned whale will hear a calling sea.
- A stream in the desert will chat of me
- with Elijah — the ever stray wanderer.
- The self-doomed will read my poems to cherubs,
- longing for me throughout infinity.
- A cherub is a baby mouse, a flake
- of snow, a face in a womb, a lionet.
- God will read it in the loneliest nook
- of Eden under the eternal tree.
Some of these poems appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Smith, Prairie Schooner (University of Nebraska), The Midwest Quarterly (Kansas State College), Chicago Jewish Forum, Though (India), Poet (India), Fiddlehead (University of New Brunswick, Canada), The Jewish Spectator, The New York Times, and Discourse (Concordia College).
In addition, some of these poems were translated into French, Greek, Italian, Kannada, Japanese, Shona, and Spanish, and published in the respective countries.
LATER ANTHOLOGIES INCLUDING POEMS FROM ROCKROSE
- A Hebrew edition of Rockrose was published in book form as פרח סלע (Pérakh Séla, translated by Dov Vardi, Sifriyat Poalim: Merchavia and Tel Aviv 1973).
- Individual poems from Rockrose have been included in subsequent anthologies, including:
- Stanley H. Barkan (ed), This Little Land. Cross-Cultural Communications: Merrick, New York 1992.
- Kerry Shawn Keys (ed), Selected Poems: Menke Katz [bilingual English and Lithuanian edition]. Versus Aureus: Vilnius 2009.
- Steven F. Lawson (ed), Menke Americana. Online.