Variation One The Pirate

Jerome Rothenberg
     from The Gorky Variations

draws blood from stone
or brilliance
that a paper bag
conceals

men on a journey
who can spy
their lord
in stones & rocks

their eyes askew
grown blue & hard
like glass or ice
lose colors

pale or shining
silver as the sea
might look from heaven
robots riding high

another journey starts
the pilgrim
like an iron man
breaks thru the snow

the lord’s flag
rises overhead
above the garden
laughter rises too

a voice calls
from a paper bag
blue snow
cold iron
ice within an inch
of where they wander
stone & iron
sounding in a dream

(2)
at the moment when he rose
the sand turned gold
then green
then gold again

the grey light
made the gold grow pale
the world absorbed it
locked in a cabinet

so many centuries
of growth
illumined by a candle
bound by iron wires

grains of light

(3)
how jewish is it
where the women
hold up candles
cash old clothes

where jews look out
beneath creased eyebrows
squeeze bent keys
against the corpse’s throat

laughter carried by
the wind     a tongue
that wags & ceases
overcome by sleep

his heart has skipped
a beat     his hair
bound by a string
falls to his chest

over the dead we place
an awning
flowers all around
no cash at hand

the system fails
& falters
leaving a smell behind
stale odors

basket like a casket
where the body lies
old hands old fingers
jews & phantoms

a store awash with
phantom jews

(4)
open the door & let
the sun flood in
& bathe the little town
inside its shell

the heaviness of dreams
at first a trickle
swells & overwhelms
the sleeper

a body without
air & water
cannot live or thrive
nor can a forest

inside a shell
glass skews the light
each man a refugee
entombed in water

water fills their eyes
when light dies out
the false excursion ends
the air aflame

sight lost forever
in the sudden heat
men die from
specks of light

inside the shell

Variation Two
The Water of the Flowery Mill
    for the Rabbis

(1)
spread your hands
& let your lips
fall open

the earth rests under
its high roof
the sea flies up

it coats your thighs
with gold
a pirate might pursue

the wound exalted
sacred muscle
bright commode

your only armature
is flesh & blood
like streaks of oil

green water hides
the scar
along the penis

a sea of gasoline
the gold light shining
fat runs deep

(2)
or raise an arm
in sleep
the dust is white

like marble
hot like dung
inscribes a perfect

circle
fish & eggs
in sunlight

like a bauble
at the sea’s edge
a green courtyard

flesh & blood
of suicides
eyes over waves

a killer with a fist
squeezed tight
an accidental monster

everything a country
needs or knows
stacked at the entry
veins cut open
blood between his fingers
tumors overripe

unlikely baubles
numbers adding up
the wind so fierce

it makes the lanterns
sway & fall
more real than real

Variation Three
The Betrothal

he points a finger
at the stars
a cyclotron of racing bodies
like a plane in flight

a darkness in which
lovers struggle
women’s hands
grow hard

the country hides them
hammers strike the air
blood turns into ice
the way the dead do

there is more bile in this
than heretofore
the cry of water
when the sun comes out

crushed hats
will suit no head
no heart beat
like a drum
a black umbrella
place determined by
subtraction
sealed & sold

the skull has lost
its gums & lips
deprived of air the dancers
search a passage

leading to a passage
where the sea waits
with its boats
a taste for breaking free

leaving his bed behind
to test the water
set the ocean shining
like a diamond

flower for a heart
the places & the spaces
that a heart fills
vacant    heartless

blue cucumber
frozen    rain
that falls so hard
his mouth can’t hold it

ice forms on my shirt
my cap    the beating
of my heart
a feeble sound

teeth clenched
a faucet dripping
pennies clinking in a glass
a trunk half full

where a derrick lifts
the bodies of the dead
abandoned couples
line the route

they watch & wonder
turn a page
that leads them to a room
at night    bewildered

heart in mouth
& hand aquiver
clouds reflected in a glass
sun in the gutter

the hair atop my head
inside my nose
has come alive
my wish is fatal

wounded    split
a false betrothal
ice invades their bodies
down to the bone