Only after, at the end
of the exam, after the table cleared
and the men departed, always men
mumbling words of congratulations,
almost awards, without naming the suspect,
this candidate succeeded in completing…
does Celan return to his home,
the birthright by grace of his
dead parents, to the space he inhabits
today, beyond the killing fields,
past the terror that he, as a poet,
was made to absorb.
I curve the word toward Iraq.
The ancient kingdom, invisible.
Words cured in the blood of biblical texts,
obscured by sand, ring out from
the dead. So much depends on
more than the text. That
was the difference he said, a German
could make, real feeling in steel,
like absence, and how it is played
off history. Forget family, friends,
the sudden deaths of so many others,
the final worth shifts to the future:
it is still unmade.
Brennus and His Share of the Spoils (1893)
after the painting by Paul Jamin, "Le Brenn et sa part de butin”
In Jamin’s eye, Brennus stands spread-legged in the doorway
surveying the chamber which seems too small for his glory
but fits into the frame. The women huddled around the Apollo
are plumb, no matter what we may think today,
but they will not be that way for long. After all, who feeds
the slaves of the barbarian victors anyway?
Perhaps they will be used up in a day, for Brennus’ prowess
is legendary. Or perhaps he’s not so fond of women at all.
An old Roman warrior, hid half in the shadow of the door,
holds it open with two hands, trembling. The light behind the man
entering shows that history itself has set, in the way darkness
is now within the chamber, the empire’s borders breeched.
But none of this speaks to Paul Jamin in the late
Victorian age. When he thought about the glory of Rome
destroyed by the helterskelter hordes, and all the love
spilled out on that temple floor, he thought of Cezanne.
Four women naked, two tied, one in a last moment of despair
reaching up to the figure of Apollo, the golden god in miniature,
the dull metal moment when all the heavens fall to earth.
Naked spoils, the pinkish flesh of the girls.
Some jewels and fabrics are scattered in the corner,
but who cares? The painter knows the barbarian’s soul,
as he knows Cezanne’s bad eyes. Jamin hungry for the moment
he has missed by two thousand years.
Note Saves Me From Despair
It is Saturday and I am reading Jack Spicer,
so goes this wandering, as long as
it leaves the moon in its deep hole,
but more, I am reading the Collected Poems,
collected because he is dead.
What a time to be lamenting the word
as the start of a relationship that lives
in the past, and thinking of San Francisco
in the early 1960s, and how every tercet
would have failed, like the three flags
of another country where only seniors
are poets playing with their pensions,
and lamenting the fall of the great line,
fearing the never-to-be recovery of poems
on the beach, the shipwreck of space
and time. This far into the murky reality
of the future, I see Jack as a kind of mild
madman, believing in love and himself
only secondly, and then questioning
what the self could do on a Saturday afternoon
without a car or a sunny day to steer it,
and it makes no difference that I am here
on the cold shore of Nova Scotia
on another planet, wishing poetry would
fly me out of the self again, lift me
like a magic carpet, lilting in the wind
of a line, a turn of surreal phrase,
forever to not care about the future,
or the college students staring, or a girl
whose reality became simply a name,
drowned, and I come across a wide-lined
slip of paper, folded so flat it must be
forty years old, hidden in the center of Jack’s
laments about the distance he is from
friends, that summer in San Francisco,
and how poetry which was so meant
to save him keeps sadly slipping away,
and read a list of key figures through
history, or histories we might say today,
Aquinas, Rimbaud, the Republic of Plato,
Buddha, Chaucer, Jean of Arc, with dates
next to their names, and wonder
if the tercet will survive the Flood,
if after we’ve come and gone our distances
increased or disappeared, and if we become
like slips of forgotten wide-lined
notebook paper, always meaningful,
always carrying the wound of the personal
like a foreign flag into some country
where everyone has waited for spring
even through the long months of summer.
George Moore's poetry collections include Saint Agnes Outside the Walls (FutureCycle, 2016), Children's Drawings of the Universe (Salmon Poetry, 2015), and The Hermits of Dingle (FutureCycle, 2013). Poems, recent and forthcoming, are in Stand, Antigonish Review, Orbis, Otoliths and Valparaiso. He lives with his wife, a Canadian poet, on the south shore of Nova Scotia.