For Raymond Lévy
American, later, randomly percipient,
I sit on the back porch listening to a catbird
And reading about Raymond Lévy, a Résistance fighter,
Jew, who was arrested and transported—to use
The word of choice, applicable to material, animals
And people, though people were “human material”
In the ideological argot of the era—to Dachau.
I was not there when the Gestapo grabbed him
On the street, that sudden, vertiginous moment.
I was not there during the interrogation to see
And hear how answers were elicited, what
Species of torture was deemed requisite.
I was not there when, in a prison cell, he pondered
How short his life was going to be, how much
He had taken for granted about his days on earth,
What he would miss the most, who he never
Would see again. One life and no more.
The catbird continues—a mewing sound but birdy.
It could be the first day on earth and is.
But for humankind the calendar beckons, replete with
Spoken certainty and random feelings, commands
And musings, all echoing at the same instant,
Far off and near, as Raymond leaves
The train, his legs unsteady, a final world
In front of him, his head hurting yet clear.
I was not there. I was not there. I was not there.
Almost a series of birdsong notes. Almost
A wonderment. Almost a prayer.
Look! I became an old man
With wayward scraps of white hair
With nothing better to do
In the middle of an afternoon
Than write poems—
Useless, pointless, beyond help or hope—
In a childish childlike way
Still pecking at the mystery
Night, Apartment Towers, Manhattan
With each lit window the premise of a life,
Presenting to the arcane, oneiric,
Restless romantic pursued and harassed by
Glib daytime—thick with money, pigeons,
Litter, the wrapping and unwrapping, need and want
Circling, the air above the subway grates
Visibly, slowly swaying—presenting then
A vision blessed by nighttime and proffering
An ever-eyed show of cozy geometries,
Serried beacons to each mind-flung
Pedestrian who looks up, not at the fuddled,
Barely to-be-seen firmament but this fabric
Of steady warmth, metered electrical magic,
Each portal a realized promise:
What might lie within, what shared
And what must be intoned in a spasm
Of love, rhetoric, longing and anguish—“home.”
Late afternoon, the violet-gray gloaming,
The cars pointing home from the stadiums.
The shouts disperse. No further thrills to palpate.
Autumn is a fall. Hope has been thrown.
Stuck in such traffic, drumming the dashboard
While the work week beckons—a sickly grin
Of dull comportment. The Sabbath’s air deflates
While players crow or tend their broken bones:
All in a day as dusk becomes fell night.
Paned lights applaud. Where is my warm wife?
Where are the kids? Oh! They were tackled
Or intercepted. The dark. The wrong team won.
After taking a picture of herself
Nude, standing up, to send
To her boyfriend, she started crying—
Pleasure and pride dissolving
In the instant glow, the pang of me/not me
Exploding, grief for what lay inside,
Unphotographed yet leading
Its own stark life that wanted to be seen—
Her soul-sense—but never would
Or could, her revealed beauty blocking
A deep, unuttered magnificence—
Perhaps what he adored even
More than the breasts and thatch of hair
And winsome, sixteen-year-old smile,
All that stood within her given name
And that a year later would entice
Random World Wide Web comers,
This body blazing forth the call
Of one love, the many betrayals.
The New Wave
We talked about a Godard movie,
My Life to Live, as we ambled from
The theater to the formerly working-class
Irish bar that featured photos of Yeats
And Michael Collins, our words analyzing
What we took to be a crux of existential
Crisis rendered in a faux-documentarian style,
Such mildly acute thoughts leading to a booth
Replete with carved initials—decades of restless
Hands leaving signifying marks—as if
Creating a permanent testimony to the fated
Vanishing of identity, including the film’s star
Who was born to sexually declaim and then be shot,
To which grief we raised our whiskeys in mute toast.
If you could catch it
This would be eternity
(My friend says to me
While we’re driving through
Like in a book
(He goes on to say)
Like a word in a book
How something big
Way bigger than anything
Gets caught in something
Like a word
Like I said
But this (he gestures)
Is the real
But basically free
For the eye’s taking
Not asking for anything
Which is how I think
Not wanting anything
Not happy or sad
Great God lies down behind the stage and snores,
The fabled quiddity dispersed, much as my dog
Lies down after a vigorous dog day—
Scents of imperishable earth, two meals consumed
In eighteen seconds, a vain chipmunk chase—
The snore a spiritual hum perhaps my dog hears
Because she hears what I don’t, yet I sense
Is there: contentment snuffling through
Each porous atom of unabstract Being,
Dreams of past times, dreams of the Great Bone
That might daunt an arduous philosopher
Who, sans nose and tail, can’t share, despite
His inquiries, a dog’s heedless, well-earned sprawl,
Her feel for the world as sniffable paradise
Answering each godly doggy need.
Baron Wormser is the author of eighteen books.