Late Song

After Rilke

To still be standing: to have lived through it all,
even happiness—calmly, fully—with true joy.
Wordlessly trials came, then in word and voice.
Who wouldn’t look back wide-eyed at the spectacle?

As long as life lasts no one reaches such mastery,
because no one can—only the infinite strives
infinitely. And what happens to our lives
is not as new as the gold-green of the birch trees.

A wood dove coos. And burdens that come back
feel like burdens that are only about to begin.
The bird calls and calls. You exist, diminuendo,
in the midst of that song, and entirely awake.

from This Broken Symmetry

(Force)

NOTHING ENTERS HERE THAT IS NOT GEOMETRY,
Block letters traced above the classroom door by her students
In Roanne, ordered for removal, though outside, under the cedar

That casts a shadow over them, they “discuss in perfect freedom.”
Her reason for hope? “To understand the force that crushes us,”
The Reichstag burnt, a calculated ruin, the new Chancellor risen

Out of the ash, hate, like a tuning fork, sharpening its pure note
To krystallnacht, transports, wrath, onslaught. In time she sees
The mechanism, how it works, brutal, how much less humans,

from This Broken Symmetry

(Screen)

This flicker-shimmer in the cave’s wide dark: a figure lifts,
The little tramp born days before the Fuhrer, dead ringer
In The Great Dictator; though now in Modern Times, Simone,

Entranced, watches Chaplin, frenetic on the assembly line,
Wrench tight the speeding widgets as they madly pass apace.
And now he’s riding the conveyor, cog born to implement

The single feature of his job inside the great machine until
He’s swallowed down this hungry one of many rote mouths
Into the gear works, one of the yield, wheels within wheels

from This Broken Symmetry

(Marmot)

And so for a figure of the creature consider the marmot,
Clawed probing forepaws more accomplished than pickaxes
At parsing stones from earth, carting each off in its teeth,

Rock pile like a mound builder’s where its burrow tunnels
Under, spread mat of grass at the entry, in the “living rooms”
Where only one family lives, where the generations follow

There on the high meadows with the other families together
Slowly expanding underground their lone itinerant systems
As one stands sentry: whistles, chatter, a warning beat of tail.

Poetry’s Native Country: On Mark Jarman’s Dailiness

Dailiness: Essays on Poetry
By Mark Jarman
(Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books, 212 pp., $19.95)

“Daily life is the native country where we feel at home, wherever it may be, however it may manifest itself,” Mark Jarman reflects in the preface to Dailiness, his most recent book of critical prose (x). Whether by intention or happenstance, Jarman’s definition for the art he has practiced and regarded so incisively and vibrantly for more than four decades echoes a declaration made by Wallace Stevens’s in “The Man with the Blue Guitar:”

I am a native in this world
and think in it as a native thinks,

“The Eternal and the Axe”: On Szilárd Borbély’s Final Matters: Selected Poems 2004-2010

Final Matters: Selected Poems 2004-2010.
by Szilárd Borbély,
Trans. Ottilie Mulzet.
(Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019. Pp. $19.95)

At one particularly evocative moment in “The Task of Translation,” Walter Benjamin reflects that great works of art should find “their eternal afterlife in succeeding generations,” and that through translation “the life of the originals attains its latest, continually renewed, and most complete unfolding.”1 In the case of Szilárd Borbély’s Final Matters: Selected Poems 2004-2010, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet for the venerable Lockhart Library of Poetry in Translation, Benjamin’s ideal comes to exhibit an unusual but exemplary poignancy.

From “This Broken Symmetry”

Simone Weil, 1943-1909

Time as it flows wears down and destroys that which is temporal. Accordingly, there is more eternity in the past than in the present… Thus, the past presents us with something which is at the same time real and better than ourselves, something which can draw us upwards—a thing the future never does.

Hunger: we imagine kinds of food, but the hunger itself is real: we have to fasten onto the hunger…

Simone Weil, Waiting for God

(Bybrook)

She adored sunsets, and her last was a flaming host
Placed gravely on the ocean’s tongue, indistinguishable
From dawn, the vagrant star, the soul’s final morsel.