American Gestures: Cento
The poem "American Gestures" also appeared in Rehearsal in Black, 2001. It's a cento, one hundred lines of poetry, all of them taken from the work of another poet. Some are purposefully well-known, like the two lines from Gilbert and Sullivan, or "I know why the caged bird sings." When the Norton Anthology of Poetry ran out of inspiration for me, I turned to Volume I of Rothenberg and Joris' Poetry for the Millennium, which gave me lines like "toco tico tocati." My axiom: all stolen lines are original, especially in this form.
"Poetry is the memory of language."
There is one story and one story only,
one luminary clock against the sky.
I remember it was in the bleak December.
I wandered in a forest thoughtlessly,
where love is a word, another kind of open,
and innocence is a weapon.
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
black at their centers. They have come along nicely
under the separated leaves of shade,
near the snow, near the sun, in the highest fields,
and then to awake, like a wanderer white.
I wish that I had spoken only of it all
and put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
I know why the caged bird sings
back in the human mind again,
and thereupon my heart is driven wild
with noise of winds and many rivers.
When it comes, the landscape listens
and we are here as on a darkling plain
fantastic with mythic trophies:
a green thought in a green shade,
a Chippendale in a dominoes etude,
mute, insensate things.
They are all gone into the world of light.
All things within this fading world hath end.
Tell her that wastes her time and me
your mouth opens neat as a cat's. The window square
raises a remote confessing head
rich with entropy; nevertheless, separable, noticeable.
"It was too much," Mike says,
who enticed my father from my mother's bed.
Too late now, I make out in his blue gaze,
in the quite ordinary heat of the day,
a neurotic mixture of self-denial and fear.
Though it is not yet evening,
the trees are coming into leaf;
the eyes open to a cry of pulleys;
and yesterday's garbage ripens in the hall.
The high meridian of the day is past,
in a different form beyond any meaning.
Clay is the word and clay is the flesh.
Oh, for a bowl of fat Canary,
nature's true riches in sweet beauties showing,
where all's accustomed, ceremonious,
and I left my necktie god knows where.
Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
from Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical.
To wash the spot, to burn the snare
and the full moon, and the white evening star
is pure acceptance, sprouting alike
in broad zones and in narrow zones
like the distant Latin chanting of a train.
Because there is a literal shore, a letter that's blood-red,
draped with material turning white in the sun,
the wounds are terrible; the paint is old.
Then a house disappears and a man in his yard
counts the stars and those of plum-color.
This drizzle that falls now is American rain,
in which the woman I left was sleeping.
Behind closed windows blankening with steam,
the rooms and days we wandered through,
into that dark permanence of ancient forms.
A minute holds them, who have come to go--
the night watchman in a perfume factory,
the old man hammering in a doll shop
whose thoughts are summer lightning,
It is only in isolate flecks that something is given off.
When a kid puts on a wedding dress
in the darkness of a closet,
his beauty defies all kisses, seasons,
and moves with an uncertain violence
among the tentative haunters.
Children, if you dare to think,
in converse with sweet women long since dead,
know that the mind of man creates no ideas.
I think of you as I descend the stair
where the lower and higher have ending,
and I shall stand here like a shadow.
The imagination that we spurned and crave,
a mound of refuse of the sweeping of a street,
shows only when the daylight falls,
but in the flesh it is immortal.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
dark house, by which once more I stand,
I mean a lonely impulse of delight
between Muskogee and Tulsa
and the bamboo that speaks as if weeping:
toco tico tocati, toco tico tocati.
This is the valley's work, the white, the shining,
horseman of the wild party
at the Elk's Club Lounge.
I am slow, thinking in broken images,
but often I am allowed these messages,
like wrinkles on some mad forehead,
the thousand eyelids of the sleeping water.
Under the poinciana, of a noon or afternoon,
where the great pattern dozes,
trinket apotheosis and mollusk.
This is a dead scene forever now.
I am because my little dog knows me.