Poems November 1984
Cleaning out the cellar
Time once more to clean the cellar out,
to thin the brace of cataleptic bikes,
the moldy bats and gloves, the brown-edged news,
the cardboard boxes stacked in grainy light:
things kept against a time which never comes.
Like those mummy notebooks bloated
with my dead professors’ gnomic axioms.
So much Angst expended once
on the dusty air of accident and form.
The cellar holds its mummy time intact:
a box of old tax ledgers, a disassembled wheel,
one chipped claw hammer and three large nails,
this cookie tray of broken Christmas bulbs,
my lost dog’s cracked green plastic supper bowl
kept these eighteen months in case his bones
should ever lope their way back home.
In this flyblown print of Dürer’s Melencolia,
each thing sits apart, insists on keeping
to itself. An angel twiddles with a large
twin iron compass, sideways glowers
at a falling star. The scales clink empty
in the breeze above his head. Each broad
surface of the granite polyhedron, whether in
or out of shadow, insists I am, I am,
I am, as sand sifts down the hourglass
and dust seems to measure dust,
a batfaced serpent, mouth agape, grips
its needle teeth about the word:
the mirror meaning of the melancholy whole.
A seawracked, seascummed catalogue
of things to number on the fingers
of the mind, then lug grunting up
the cellar steps to cart the load away.
O blessèd Abelard and good St. Freud,
subtle masters of the windy sound,
O you who understood how words
were thresholds of the terrible sublime,
the inverted image dancing in the lake,
in the final count worth a trunk
of tens and twenties minted Richmond,
April, 1865, you can hear me
as you circumambulate about the brilliant
dark as if at ease at last,
the word a dream of dancing things,
the dream become the dancing Word itself,
remember me as rooting in my cellar,
counting on my fingers and my toes.
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This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 3 Number 3, on page 42
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