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SHAZAM!

1.
April noon. A man is reading in his garden.
The garden has been ruined by an unseasonable
Snowstorm. He looks up from his book and watches
The textile shadows weaving and unweaving
Darkness and light. He remembers his night-dreams
That foretold the heart-attack from which
He is recovering. The man has been reading
Sir Walter Raleigh's HISTORY OF THE WORLD
Open before him now at the last page: "Eloquent,
Just, and mightie Death. . . . " -He talks to an absent
Friend as if she were present: "Dilectissima,

2.

The sliding shadows of the oak above me
Move easily over the leaf-strewn earth below
Without a sound. Such as they are, they will be-:
Filmy, watery, wind-flung nylons, night-fishing
Punctually at noon-night in day, day
Altogether light, a moment in a garden
Strewn with leaves, covered with winter trash.
On the grey trunks of the pine trees the shadows
Of oak leaves glide and over a dish of water
Visited by pictures of sparrows in need of a wash,
Also the looming oak, the blown sky, the golden sun.

3.

'I am El Dorado's voice, sexual brooder,
Who says, "LIGHT!"' At the beginning, the sun rises
Outside the window, extinguishing the beacons.
(If you do not hear that voice, you nonetheless
Know there is such a voice. And you imagine
What it says:-'Something happened TO ME.')
I am the Golden Man of whom they whisper:
'In the hour before the dawn, dust of gold
Is applied to his body with spoons. When
The rising sun strikes his thigh-POW! DoRAdo!-,
The salute is redoubled in the heavens.'

4.

And Light (a solitary weeper on windy roads,
Dawdler in the darkest hour, the hour
Before the dawn) builds up the LIGHT ORATION,
One note and then another one, and staggers
Like a squall in this direction, across
The bright lake from nothing to something, darkening
The water, waking the boats. -What DOES it say?
WHAT, DORADO? . . . Look! Through the East window!
The sun is hoisting up a gilded body:
Half-hanged, genitals cut out and burned-quartered
And impaled on the four gates of the city.

5.

So tell me, dilectissima, what kind
Of knowledge is this premonitory dream?
I woke up. I heard you whispering to someone
Up there: 'He's not alive. Nor is he dead.'
-That's true, beLIEVE ME (I thought). It could
Go either way. . . . When are you coming home?
. . . In any case, I must keep where I am
Or I'll blunder into death by mistake
Before you come. Though God is letting roll
A great pain on me, I'll stay where I am.
But come quickly, kid. You will not meet me

6.

Anywhere else.-That's what I thought. Then pain
Did thunder down on me, as the dream said.
The God, in fact, let roll great pain out of
His hill. And that has brought me close to death.
BUT I'M STILL HERE. I write it one last time:
If I don't love YOU, I love no one on earth
Maybe it is all letters, kid: -epistolae
From the Gates of Ivory. But now, once more, impatient
To hear the truth, they crowd the threshold at dawn,
Insolent Children in conspicuous clothes.
'Tell us (they shout) the premonitory dream'-:

7.

'I'm on the train with rattan seats once more.
No honey-blond Fate this time. No kisses. Hard
Winter on the Great Plains of dream. In the caboose
The cast-iron stove is cold. It repeats:
'If I am good, tell others about me.'
The rest is silence. The windows of the train
Are crowded with papery faces staring in.
Behind them are many immaculate houses
Where the light of Star Asper falls the same
In every room. Consider, kid! Unutterable
Pain assures us of our perfect conviction

8.

That what we know IS TRUE! -Look about you!
This town is home, ELOQUENT DEATH, Minnesota,
Last Stop in Space and Time. An April snow
Rises in the cold air. On the gleaming rail
The departing train is leaning on a curve.
What do I hear? High up, in the empty heaven
Where the lark was, someone is saying out loud:
'His crime is trafficking in light. High treason.
But this is his old age-nocturnal foldedness
Of day on day, floral. When light diminishes,
The flower withdraws into itself. Then

9.

Leaf upon leaf faces a sister, and recites
All night its history by the light of kindred
Faces until dawn extinguishes the beacons
And the golden voice is without assurance.'
Therefore, you visible or invisible agents
Who produce the days-this day and then another one-
I have nothing beautiful to say to you.
In a night, pain has changed the voice of
Eldorado and I hear the fatal whisperers:
'Take the wings of morning (they say) and dwell
In the farthest chambers of the east.' Come

10.

Quickly, dilectissima! It is all too clear.
I'm adrift in a garden of bright shadows.
Star Asper burns in the heavens. By day, I read
The last words of THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD:
'My harp also is turned to mourning. . . .'
By night, I will search for you the whole length
Of the longest rivers: Mississippi, Oronoco
(Kid, you went away to a wedding dressed up
Like a wedding guest and never came back)
And the endless Okeanos which flows
Round all things. In the river cities,

11.

The ringing of consecrated bells, echoing
In sleep, averts the hurricane and the tornado.
But gravity, eloquent as death, conducts
The patient river to the gulf, bearing with it,
Like granite on a barge, the voice of El Dorado
Who says out loud: 'Something happened TO ME.
EVERYTHING MOVES in the April garden.
Like an extinguished flame or a lost water,
THE VOCATION IS REVOKED. Rivers flow on
Without the light of heaven or of earth.
In vain do rivers run. . . . ' -I hear nothing

12.

But the whisperers: 'When he acknowledged (finally)
That he was incurably ill, his logic forced
Him to realize also that he would cease
To exist and hence cease to have thoughts.
Yet this is a conclusion the full content
Of which is incomprehensible to the human
Intellect and therefore horrified him.
It was heart-breaking to watch the frustration
Of his mind, when all hope was gone, in its
Struggle with the fate it knew to be
Unavoidable yet unacceptable.'

13.

-Today, at the remembered daily session
Before the dawn, the perennial shadowless season
When the nocturnal cats, net-fishers all,
Cry out in the garden, the pictured birds,
Each one a word of power, come for a wash
In the dish. Seated at the East window on
The bed's edge at that darkest hour of the garden,
The punctual moment of the extinguishing
Of the beacons, suddenly, I saw SHAZAM!
Our late Minister of the Public Works,
Seated at his table in the Town Offices

14.

(Second floor) of ELOQUENT DEATH, Minnesota
Through which the railroad runs. As I remember him,
A man of indeterminate age with vertical
Creases in his face that run from his hairline
To his jaw. A dusty green bird of treasonous
Intent is underfoot who eats his manuscripts,
Scalloping them page after page. A big book
Is a grand meal for a green bird. 'SHAZAM!'
I said out loud. And he: 'Whatever is,
It's all in the light. POW. All shine, Dorado.'
I thought: This place, in Minnesota, is

15.

The navel of the dream, the last stop in time,
ELOQUENT DEATH. The next towns on are: NECESSITY,
SILENCE, OBLIVION, and (just east of FARGO) TRUTH.
Before I could open my mouth, SHAZAM!
Speaks again: 'Shut up FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE! I'll send
A guy out to your house with a rake to repair
The garden (a public work?).' -I heard, then,
Sounds of a wedding in another room
Where women sang (the Death Watch Group): 'Domestic
Gaiety, pregnancy, mourning, committee work
And the spoons in the drawer that do not match.'

16.

-First light. Dilectissima. I am heartened
By your daily return. (We say, strangely,
'I think she has entered the room.') Isn't it
For that you came back at last from the wedding,
Stepped out of your clothes, your gold and your shine,
Naked in front of everyone, except
For your shameless nylons' slithery shade,
And went for a walk on the garden path
Throwing up your Lilac fingers in despair
To see the garden as it is, that you
Left so fine? Noon now. The gold all gone."

17.

The man closes his book and rises up.
I hear him say, "Death is nothing to be feared."
And, then, he says the same sentence again,
"Death is nothing to be feared. . . . " -Someone or other
Is moving in the garden, raking out the beds.
The wind weaves and unweaves the shadowy veil
Of naked April. There come to mind other
Dreams and other histories. But this masterless
Man, a golden slave, opens his throat:
"Spare me," he says, "that I may recover strength
Before I go away and be no more."

--Allen Grossman

 



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