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Letters of Blood and other works in English

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Göran Printz-Påhlson

Letters of Blood: Poems

One

Texte intégral

My Interview with I.A. Richards

1For Constance Horton Greenleaf

2In Memory of Ivor Richards and Robert Gessner

I

3Inversion is a counterfeit experience
there is but one irreversibility.
Chestnuts, rabid squirrels, slosh and sleet,
the sullen, birdstained wisdom of John Harvard.
O Fyffes bananas, obscene planks,
the flexes bared to vision like the sinews
in Vessalius. I grope my way
through the intestines of heuristic house.

II

4Last night we heard in Kresge Hall
a lion-vested English poet fulminate
like an under-paid volcano against Science,
applauded by a host of boffins.
Afterwards, a girl called Shirley took my hand
and wished to lead me through the maze
toward the magus posing there as Tannhäuser,
fettered with electric wires in a great maidenform

III

5‘I never liked the man.’—‘Grotesque…’
His face (a breakfast fruitjuice of a face
—like Santa’s after years of seven daily shaves)
frowns towards the window. I try
another angle—Oxford, Cambridge, the sad
dignified silence of his friend,
the poise of Perry Miller as a demon.
He floats like Peter Pan towards his country.

IV

6Suddenly, the telephone in boredom
jumps from the cluttered table, spelling
its coincidence of quick relief:
the establishing of friends of future
forfeits the nodding present, and we drift
through mists of April with the sleepy
drone of summer knocking at the door.
Time leaves us breathless at its wake.

V

7The evenings walk together, and we flee,
convened, rebuffed, solidified and sad.
Memory whistles round that cataleptic hour,
wasted to the world but not to me.
The silent voice behind that black receiver
will speak and ask and read a poem
about the mountaineers of mind (if mind has
mountains) with verses streaming from their rucksacks.

VI

8One evening in the future we shall meet
and speak of music, indigestion and delight,
and Connie, lovely Connie, will comply
to show her knickers on request. The night
is full of eyes, and trees, and bushes
bristle with the flat twang of summer.
We finish our drinks and walk away.
My wife and I walk home in silence.

VII

9Friend, there is a carrot-farm in heaven
providing food for rabbits, remedies
for nightblindness. In your preferment
of the second-rate, Battersea Park amusements,
walks at night through warm, protective darkness,
tarry awhile, and first consider
those who dwell in darkness through the night
with electronic eyes, blistered by insights.

VIII

10Drinking soda pop and smoking
innumerable cheap cigarettes. They
are the Kierkegaards of their own destruction,
breathing hatred on their bellies. Pity them.
But think also of the truly innocent,
the lonely typists in their immaculate rooms
with a small fridge and biscuits on the mantelpiece
where nobody except the caretaker has ever entered.

IX

11Friend, poet, the unterminated interview,
unwritten poem, unmade bed, or girl,
call out for completion. Do not
heed them. Learn how to revere
the unfinished, generating moments from its teeth
of happiness, hysteria and love
as useless, beautiful, incongruous and light
as sparks from high-heeled shoes against the flagstones outside M.I.T.

Generation

I

12We children of the thirties got daubed with melancholy.

13We were not lucky like the sons and daughters
Of the twenties, christened in jazz fumes
And the colored clothes of their first cries,
Nor free and desperate like the newborn
Of the forties, soothed by blackouts,
Liberated by flak bursts and search lights in the sky.

14We became late sleepers, mind readers,
Violent and autocratic statues in
The sea, skin divers in our amniotic juices.

II

15The streets were longer in those days,
The trams made noises in the nights.
In the small room a young girl with a child,
Waiting at dawn for darkness to
Be sucked out into the sky,
And the hours of low-paid work
Like scabs you cannot leave alone.

16The hours were smaller, the winters
Longer, with more wet snow on the window-sill.

17Bananas were coming in, and silver hydroplanes
Descended on the dead wet sea. The pilot
Waved and thought he looked like Charles Lindbergh.

18We had our games. The soldiers were
Italians and Abyssinians. It seemed the
Abyssinians always lost their feet and heads.
Their Jesus robes turned into moldy grey.

III

19My uncle who came to America
BeforeI was born,
In the sly and wincing first year of the depression,
Went into a barbershop in Buffalo.
Shaved by a Negro he saw, against the
Grayish palm the later white and jolly
And heard the thick black lips say:
Du e la svensk. The black man was a Swede, too,
From Gothenburg.
My uncle became a carpenter in Quincy, Mass.
But remembered the lather in the hand,
Snow on squatting slagheaps like some unwritten Dylan Thomas story.

IV

20I wake before dawn
With a night’s small poems swarming in my head:
‘Now when I am forty-five and almost dead
I’ll let my hair grow long and wild
And I’ll be stalking flowers in the parks
And by observing learn to pick them.’

Televisiondreamroutines

21Galvanizing, I would think, said Peter rabidly.

22Their son, called Justin, had invented a new game.

23The three men hanging from the chandelier broke the fall of the fourth clinging

24To the flex and ripping the stuccoed ceiling of the Moroccan Room.

25Charles fingered his brocaded necktie nervously.

26Now we have to face the most unreasonable man on earth, presumably a hotelier.

27Meanwhile at the Zoo, Melchisedec the Cow.

28The crew, mostly dressed in rather momentous black, except for Celia who was un-

29Accountably naked, were cheered on by the vicar himself.

30There the victuals precede the auditorium.

31Meanwhile back at the Zoo, Celia dressed in rather demure black, was naked, cheering

32The cow and the vicar.

33Now we have erased from this earth l’homme moyen sensual, presumably an ostler, Charles

34Said, fingering his Moroccan necktie with remorse.

35Well, at last, their son invented a new game. They were just in time.

36Patronizing, I would think, said Peter Rabbit avidly.

37Note: The phrase ‘Well, at last’ is taken from the MGM 1949 version of Dostoevsky’s The Gambler, starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner.

The Longest-Running Show on Television

38The longest-running show on television

39Is the one in which the moderator is also the chairman of The board of your company.

40He is half-asleep most of the time, and you can never understand

41His jokes. Surely he has gone mad.

42Most of the discussion seems to be about the proper way

43Of conducting the proceedings, but it is hard to know for sure

44As the languages used are Tamil, Basque or Arawak,

45But never a language you can understand. Prizes

46Are given out, sometimes for the dumbest answers.

47People nobody has ever heard of are constantly being invited

48To give speeches. References are made

49To the fat reports littering the tables, but only to the pages

50Which have gone missing. In the lobby

51Of the hotel where you are all staying,

52The bellhops are unspeakably rude. They always demand

53Money of unknown denominations, in particular small

54Octagonal coins, almost as fat as they are large.

55In the creaking of steel-tubing of stylish rusty armchairs

56Sleepers are snoring, hecklers heckling, most people bored…

57Nobody knows whether he is spectator or participant. The program

58Is entitled ‘Life before Death,’ or sometimes, simply

59‘Goings-on.’

The Enormous Comics

I. Superman, or: How to Succeed as a Failure

60The simple silent feat is first; the bridge
Collapsing needs a steadying hand;
The masked and hook-nosed robbers, on the average,
Fall to abject poses at his harsh command.

61Then the retreat: how cleverly, how smart and smooth
He beats the lightning as a transvestite
In that conveniently empty booth
Before a man has time to whisper
kryptonite.

62The drag is next (and tiresome it proves to be)
The girl reporter gloating in her mad pursuit
Of her Man of Steel; loved at a distance and myopically
By the owl-like clerk for whom she doesn’t care a hoot.

63And history: from noisy quasar, distant star
A dying world expels a fotus-rocket with a roar
To impregnate our helpless planet from afar
With the surreptitious virus of a dedicated bore.

64The hidden meaning of this farce no doubt
Will find itself reduced to something cute:
The analyst will see the writing on the wall spelled out:
SUPERMAN LOVES CLARK KENT. He is a fruit!

65The moral of the fairy-tale is clear:
We love our failures, fondle our distress
And cling to our coward selves in fervid fear
Lest we shall lose them to the lover dumb success.

II. Bringing up Father, or: The Unending Revolution

66When I consider how the monstrous years were spent,
The years that man has called this star his home,
I see enormous heaps of human excrement
In growing piles beneath the starry dome.

67We often contemplate our forbears down below
And treasure recollections of the primal horde.
This serves to gratify the impulses to go
Down to the mucky depths we can’t afford.

68What could induce our youthful minds to dwell
On the adventures of this hen-pecked immigrant,
A ne’er-do-well who inadvertently did well
And had to pay the price in cultured cant?

69Remember how the rolling-pin was swung
By hefty arms; how crockery was hurled
To force the husband to ascend another rung
In the social structure of his conquered world.

70The impact of this stubborn downward urge
Which made him real where his wife was not
Gave us excuses in our mind to splurge
All operatic tantrums in a shower of snot.

71Think of the tale of the Icelandic priest
Who promised to become a Christian instead,
If seats be promptly booked at the Eternal Feast
For all his relatives who were already dead.

72We can forgive our ancestors the mere
Deception of their ruthless living lie
But hardly the brutality to leave us here
And rot away and stink and simply die.

73This goes to show that feeling is without pretence,
Construing the unbearable (as our pun gets slyer)
In bringing up our fathers in the awful sense
Of exhumation of a dreaded sire.

III. Recollection of Innocence in Experience, or: The Katzenjammer Kids, Middle-Aged, Remembering their Happy Childhood in Africa

74Remembering the golden days, the door
That’s shut forever on the toy-shaped scandals,
The pop-art palm-trees and the muffled roar
Of the bright red bombs, like Christmas candles,

75We can still feel the paper breeze that tries
To rock the cornflower billows, still
Smell the artificial fragrance of the pies
Forever left to cool upon the window-sill.

76The obscene innocence of the childish pranks
Was just a weapon in our constant strife
To give the bug-eyed, absent-minded cranks
Their smarting lessons in the School of Life.

77Our childhood was all childhoods, for
In adult tranquillity we let go the grip
Of the secure exposure of the secret core
In the spasmodic movements of the comic strip.

78In this two-dimensional Eden of repose
We dwell for ages, weakening by degrees,
Stalking the obscure powers that disclose
The subdued rage of fitful memories.

Poem Unnamed

79So, at least, there is one thing we have in common,
The habit of assuaging the country mist:
Because there is one thing you must not allow,
In particular in the autumn when the
Pastures are trivial, leaves playful.
This is how I figure: a disruption
Of any kind of narrative (as I a daughter
Asleep from drinking, left alone)
This is the time I don’t come from
But rather the opposite, like St. Augustine,
Another installment in my debt to you
My darling Janet: Negation NEGATION
At least I can speak now and not
At that omen (I was a poet once and
Then) miraculously (read an old
Acquaintance: is that first-order logic is
Consensually agreed on, or words to that effect.
That is why this poem is called ‘The
Decline of the Supernatural,’ although its
Title is ‘On what was as near to
Happiness,’ but dedicated to Henry Mayhew
and the memory of Clive Jenkins.

80I do only countenance arithmetical order
Which is the stark nonsequitur of most
Vengeful fathers.
Forgive me, as vulgar as a poem mentioning Chomsky (incognito There), or whales, or wage demands.

Botchuana

81When I molested your plaits I was
reminded, inadvertently, of Alameda County,
doctrinal. Period. Useful. Insolence.
Substitute
solitude. Hitler made sin and me. Quote.
Bristols. As little poetry comes out of
Dialectics as out of South Africa: That is,
Svegdir, a way to cut open.

82We gleaned one thing, from G.M.
Hopkins at least: not to waste time on explanantion.

83Whatever it may seem like.
He was a big man: eighteen stone.
I never carried the coffin.
I cried when my father’s workmates spoke.
I remember that line
‘Master bridges
Dirty breeches.’
This is a love poem.

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