One Fall Night

Now that we’ve run the edge of a perfect circle,
we become recurrence.  From within its own absence,
the wind has picked up now—how sudden the advance
of this scheming season: doors shudder against the winds,
fields already lay bare but for those unharvested remains
still tendrilled to ideals of rotund abundance.

Once, we too were tethered to a timeless abundance,
an encompassing now which ruled our tightly drawn circle.
No movement beyond that present—nothing remained
from a yesterday, or for a tomorrow.  Time’s absence
removed us from the grief and hope that now wind
themselves tighter and tighter with each hour’s advance.

Not yet free, could we have known in advance
just how our first unthinking grasp of the abundance
would trigger time?   And evening.  And morning.  The four winds
carried us far from that primordial circle.
We drifted—evening, morning—and sculpted new absence
in our own image.  Then, discarding the remains,

we fled.  Never to return.  For us, all that remained
was rootlessness. Never to advance
beyond our first love of loving.   We made absence
our god, and we lamented our emptied abundance.
And now, every circle is a vicious circle.
And now, autumn’s hour is again. Grinning winds

gorge themselves on barren fields, and other winds
still wait in the hills to claim their share of our remains.
We are safe.  Safe, we move within our warm circles,
bolstered and fortified against the winds’ advance,
repeating ourselves and others, feigning abundance—
this too shall pass, we are safe now, you know, absence

makes the heart grow there but for the grace of absence—
repeating, cowering within our wind-
struck shelters, we lean and summon abundance
back from autumn’s ambush, but find that nothing remains
after yet another thousand years’ advance
and again we’ve run the edge of a perfect circle.

And abundance is last night’s grapes. Still chilled, they remain
in the bowl by the window, glistening against dawn’s advance.
You. I. Our absence. One fall night.  Encircled.

M. Salomon

Gari Light’s translation to Russian follows:

Однажды, Осенней Ночью

Ну что ж, мы прошли до конца совершенного круга.
и стали своим воссозданием. Из глубины своего отсутствия
ветер усилился – как неожиданно вдруг наступленье
коварного времени года: и содрогаются двери от прихоти ветра,
стали нагими поля, кроме останков ненужных частиц урожая,
все ещё вьющихся, словно стремящихся в круг изобилия.

Было, мы тоже однажды зависимы были от тех изобилий,
где их охват отрицал очертания круга.
Вето для нынешних резких движений – и ничего не осталось
уже от вчера для сегодня. Это отсутствие времени
нас отчудило от робкой надежды, и горя тех, что на взводе,
себя обрекли на тесные стрелки в прошествии каждого часа.

Ещё не свободны, могли ли мы заблаговременно ведать,
как наше первое чувство того изобилия
определит ощущение времени? Вечер. И утро. Ветер в четыре
руки нас отнёс далеко от того изначального круга.
Мы дрейфовали – вечером, утром – и даже слепили в образе нашем
подобие новой разлуки. Ну а затем избавляясь от жалких остатков,

Просто исчезли. Вполне безвозвратно. Все что осталось,
стало обычным безродьем. Прогресса не будет
за рамки влюбленности первой любови. Это отсутствие
нам божеством показалось, мы горевали об изобилии ушедшем.
Нынче любой из кругов станет кругом порочным.
Нынче и осени час снова к нам подобрался. Ветра гримасы

себя наполняют пустыми полями, а ветры иные
всё ещё ждут на холмах времена где им выданы наши останки.
Мы в безопасности. В наших согретых для жизни пространствах,
тех, что надежно укрыты от наступления ветра,
мы повторяем себя и других, в изобилии представив –
что минует нас чаша, что мы спасены, знаете это отсутствие

заставляет сжиматься сердце, кроме как в благодати отсутствия
повторяя, внутри наших атакованных ветром –
убежищ, мы склоняемся и вызываем изобилие
из той самой осенней засады, но осознаём, что ничего не осталось
после завершения очередного тысячелетия,
когда мы вновь достигли края совершенного круга.

Вот изобилие виноградин минувшей ночи. Они по-прежнему охлаждены
в блюде возле окна, блестят на фоне приближающегося рассвета.
Ты. Я. Наше отсутствие. Одной осенней ночью. В окружении.

–М. Саломон, перевод Гари Лайт


abiding dank in the squatter’s darkness

now is not always the best time for words

and which words might do and who will hear them

and what of their abject inconsequence

all that’s to be considered before words

before a word before some foundling note

is seized and carried to an altar now

before hoopla before hope before the

new year that is now and again and when

now is not always the best time for words


image: Tan solo un cielo estrellado, creado por Miguel González 

(Creative Commons, CC BY-NC-ND)




1. Cold Fruit Chorus
Cousin brain surgeon
deftly sections a grapefruit,
gobbles down each bite.

2. No Soup for Il Duce
Bundled up, they race
home, surprising even their
abandoned shadows.

3. Her Exquisite Beef Loman
“I wouldʼve dumped him!”
she tells the wind (right after
Death of a Salesman).

4. Before It Was Pie
A prizewinning rose
swayed wildly in that grinning
field of smug pumpkins.

5. Finnish Courtesan
Blue winter pauses
against unspeakable odds
then shoves right on in.

–M. Salomon

Image: Trophy Wife Holiday Dinner by Kevin McShane.

for Shanshan

The wave of that year
flooded the sands on the mirror
to be lost is a kind of leaving
and the meaning of leaving
the instant when all languages
are like shadows cast from the west

life’s only a promise
don’t grieve for it
before the garden was destroyed
we had too much time
debating the implications of a bird flying
as we knocked down midnight’s door

alone like a match polished into light
when childhood’s tunnel
led to a vein of dubious ore
to be lost is a kind of leaving
and poetry rectifying life
rectifies poetry’s echo

Bei Dao
Translated by Eliot Weinberger and Iona Man-Cheong


It came to me the other day:
Were I to die, no one would say,
“Oh, what a shame! So young, so full
Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes
Will greet my overdue demise;
The wide response will be, I know,
“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,
And death is real, and dark, and huge.
The shock of it will register
Nowhere but where it will occur.

John Updike

See also the discussion of Updike’s poem at the Immortal Muse blog.

Water Lily Pond & Weeping Willow (Monet, 1916-19)


day was
things were simple
and the ideas
inhering in things
even simpler

day was
we’d already
memorized tomorrow
unintruded upon by the lilies
how faithfully we rehearsed
the coming day meaning it to be
nothing more than the full enacting
of our rote learning and nothing less

oh how day was
but for the flash of lilies
and now how suddenly
it is that day was

–M. Salomon

For whom the possessed sea littered, on both shores,
Ruinous arms; being fired, and for good,
To sound the constitution of just wards,
Men, in their eloquent fashion, understood.

Relieved of soul, the dropping-back of dust,
Their usage, pride, admitted within doors;
At home, under caved chantries, set in trust,
With well-dressed alabaster and proved spurs
They lie; they lie; secure in the decay
Of blood, blood-marks, crowns hacked and coveted,
Before the scouring fires of trial-day
Alight on men; before sleeked groin, gored head,
Budge through the clay and gravel, and the sea
Across daubed rock evacuates its dead.

Geoffrey Hill, 1955


Today, despite what is dead

staring out across America I see since
Lincoln gunmen
nursing fantasies of purity betrayed,
dreaming to restore
the glories of their blood and state

despite what is dead but lodged within us, hope

under the lustrous flooding moon
the White House is still
Whitman’s White House, its
gorgeous front
full of reality, full of illusion

hope made wise by dread begins again

–Frank Bidart in Slate, 20 January 2009

Frank Bidart reading, links here.

On January 13th 2011, Ozzy Osbourne’s
daily horoscope took a sudden turn:

This is your big day, truly your biggest yet.
That vague feeling you’ve always had–
that people have been ignoring you
(at least since 167 AD)–is suddenly affirmed
by a global burst of sub-cosmic recognition. The stars insist
this would be a perfect day for you to wear something
other than black, to court favor with people in really really high positions,
to gamble on adventure, to feed the serpents,
and to flirt with strangers. But you must take great care,
at all costs, to avoid accountants, firearms and transfats.

What a frigging ruckus.  Well, I suppose it’s not every day the astrologers
add a sign to the zodiac.  And this revision has implications.
Two and a half millennia of celestial symmetry now irrevocably
ruptured.  Suddenly, one star sign matches everything or nothing.
Is that sign mine?  The operators at e-Harmony are standing by
to take your calls all night long.  And, oh yes, they are bothered.

OK, I’ll be the first to admit that, like Ozzy,
I too admire reality.  Even so, I just can’t help feeling
that the advent of the 13th sign is just one more thing
bigger than ourselves. Just another looming otherly thing—
like big government, like grizzly moms, like Goldman Sachs,
like Glenn Beck, Wikileaks and nymphomaniacs–
merely the latest in a series of big-assed little things sent here to afflict us,
to inhabit us with no higher purpose than to Ophiuchus.

–M. Salomon

Illuminated Tree

There are no longer any gods whom we can invoke to help us. The great religions of the world suffer from increasing anemia, because the helpful numina have fled from the woods, rivers, and mountains, and from animals, and the god-men have disappeared underground into the unconscious. There we fool ourselves that they lead an ignominious existence among the relics of our past. Our present lives are governed by the goddess Reason, who is our greatest and most tragic illusion. By the aid of reason, so we assure ourselves, we have “conquered nature.”

But this is a mere slogan, for the so-called conquest of nature overwhelms us with the natural fact of overpopulation and adds to our troubles by our psychological incapacity to make the necessary political arrangements. It remains quite natural for men to quarrel and to struggle for superiority over one another. How then have we “conquered nature”?

As any change must begin somewhere, it is the single individual who will experience it and carry it through. The change must indeed begin with an individual; it may be any one of us. Nobody can afford to look round and wait for somebody else to do what he is loath to do himself. But since nobody seems to know what to do, it might be worth while for each of us to ask himself whether by any chance his or her unconscious may know something that will help us. Certainly the conscious mind seems unable to do anything useful in this respect. Man today is painfully aware of the fact that neither his great religions nor his various philosophies seem to provide him with those powerful animating ideas that would give him the security he needs in face of the present condition of the world.

I know what the Buddhists would say: Things would go right if people would only follow the “noble eightfold path” of the Dharma (doctrine, law) and had true insight into the Self. The Christian tells us that if only people had faith in God, we should have a better world. The rationalist insists that if people were intelligent and reasonable, all our problems would be manageable. The trouble is that none of them manages to solve these problems himself.

Christians often ask why God does not speak to them, as he is believed to have done in former days. When I hear such questions, it always makes me think of the rabbi who was asked how it could be that God often showed himself to people in the olden days while nowadays nobody ever sees him. The rabbi replied: “Nowadays there is no longer anybody who can bow low enough.”

Carl G. Jung, Man and His Symbols, (1964) pp. 91-92

Man with a Hoe (Jean-Francois Millet), Getty Museum

Bowed by the weight of centuries he leans
Upon his hoe and gazes on the ground,
The emptiness of ages in his face,
And on his back the burden of the world.
Who made him dead to rapture and despair,
A thing that grieves not and that never hopes,
Stolid and stunned, a brother to the ox?
Who loosened and let down this brutal jaw?
Whose was the hand that slanted back this brow?
Whose breath blew out the light within this brain?

Is this the Thing the Lord God made and gave
To have dominion over sea and land;
To trace the stars and search the heavens for power;
To feel the passion of Eternity”
Is this the dream He dreamed who shaped the suns
And marked their ways upon the ancient deep?
Down all the caverns of Hell to their last gulf
There is no shape more terrible than this–
More tongued with censure of the world’s blind greed–
More filled with signs and portents for the soul–
More packed with danger to the universe.

What gulfs between him and the seraphim!
Slave of the wheel of labor, what to him
Are Plato and the swing of Pleiades?
What the long reaches of the peaks of song,
The rift of dawn, the reddening of the rose?
Thru this dread shape the suffering ages look;
Time’s tragedy is in that aching stoop;
Thru this dread shape humanity betrayed,
Plundered, profaned and disinherited,
Cries protest to the Judges of the World,
A protest that is also prophecy.

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,
Is this the handiwork you give to God,
This monstrous thing distorted and soul-quencht?
How will you ever straighten up this shape;
Touch it again with immortality;
Give back the upward looking and the light;
Rebuild in it the music and the dream;
Make right the immemorial infamies,
Perfidious wrongs, immedicable woes?

O masters, lords and rulers in all lands,

How will the future reckon with this Man?
How answer his brute question in that hour
When whirlwinds of rebellion shake all shores?
How will it be with kingdoms and with kings–
With those who shaped him to the thing he is–
When this dumb Terror shall rise to judge the world,
After the silence of the centuries?

Edwin Markham

Among School Children
I walk through the long schoolroom questioning;
A kind old nun in a white hood replies;
The children learn to cipher and to sing,
To study reading-books and histories,
To cut and sew, be neat in everything
In the best modern way – the children’s eyes
In momentary wonder stare upon
A sixty-year-old smiling public man.

I dream of a Ledaean body, bent
Above a sinking fire. a tale that she
Told of a harsh reproof, or trivial event
That changed some childish day to tragedy –
Told, and it seemed that our two natures blent
Into a sphere from youthful sympathy,
Or else, to alter Plato’s parable,
Into the yolk and white of the one shell.

And thinking of that fit of grief or rage
I look upon one child or t’other there
And wonder if she stood so at that age –
For even daughters of the swan can share
Something of every paddler’s heritage –
And had that colour upon cheek or hair,
And thereupon my heart is driven wild:
She stands before me as a living child.

Her present image floats into the mind –
Did Quattrocento finger fashion it
Hollow of cheek as though it drank the wind
And took a mess of shadows for its meat?
And I though never of Ledaean kind
Had pretty plumage once – enough of that,
Better to smile on all that smile, and show
There is a comfortable kind of old scarecrow.

What youthful mother, a shape upon her lap
Honey of generation had betrayed,
And that must sleep, shriek, struggle to escape
As recollection or the drug decide,
Would think her Son, did she but see that shape
With sixty or more winters on its head,
A compensation for the pang of his birth,
Or the uncertainty of his setting forth?

Plato thought nature but a spume that plays
Upon a ghostly paradigm of things;
Solider Aristotle played the taws
Upon the bottom of a king of kings;
World-famous golden-thighed Pythagoras
Fingered upon a fiddle-stick or strings
What a star sang and careless Muses heard:
Old clothes upon old sticks to scare a bird.

Both nuns and mothers worship images,
But those the candles light are not as those
That animate a mother’s reveries,
But keep a marble or a bronze repose.
And yet they too break hearts – O Presences
That passion, piety or affection knows,
And that all heavenly glory symbolise –
O self-born mockers of man’s enterprise;

Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul.
Nor beauty born out of its own despair,
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.
O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

W.B. Yeats

Image: Herstmonceux Chestnut Trees by debs-eye