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Stele for Lost Time

Solo for
as the Angel of History

First Layer

Just as I
no sooner than
I had seen you
for the first time
journeyed back
with you
from where I came
and the faces I saw
had disappeared
unable to trace
what I had known
too long
just as you
journeyed back
with me
no sooner than
we met
where you fell
for the first time
hardly to face
the facts I saw
what I had known
always disappearing
and the places
you saw
unable to trace
what’s known
then gone
just as I
journeyed back
with you
no sooner than
I held you
from where I came
for the last time
never to face
the facts I saw
what I had
now whispers
just as you
no sooner than
you touched me
the first time
journeyed back
with me
to where
I am.

Tvòdlÿ-uxìs kanq’ otmì
V’xùq’iÿ-uxìs kanq’otmì
Çàv vu-desìvelotmiutvut
Vuq’çùq’iÿ-vun çisèli

Blame is a child’s game
played by men
in the furor
of their discontent.

Nuvjis-vun vu-vmimòtmi
Vu jùnië-vu zi-dumfàdvotlit

Beyond the despair
is the listlessness
of not. The shipwreck
of the arational
on the shores of
the promised. This is
where I
founder, disappearing
into tears, hidden
in the masks
of the victor’s

Vu, ini-tomàmotu
Dev vuq’hàï-vun zo-jetotù
Vuq’ni vjisìgusi vi-hoxiòtmi

Blame a child’s game
Played by men
In the bureaus
Of their contempt

Vùq’uàv-oq’ ke-oq’-ùâv
‘Qìhojçus-inìn tjìf za-otuòm
òlië-çumùf hoq’ za-foslòtu

Deep in the heavens, high on the breeze
I told the examiner, found the key
Went to the opening, key didn’t fit
Forged another, it got ripped

First there’s a tumble, then there’s a sash
So irksome you scratch it, scratch till it’s ash
Losing the battles, winning the war
Sinking in quicksand when you can think at all

Sometimes look back, sometimes set fires
Who’s to judge? No one’s above desire.
The monkeys you are, the angels you’ll be
When truth comes to lashes, when language is weed

Tq’esÿ-him vu-çièvotmi
Xis vu-otlì

I back away
helpless, my eyes fixed.
This is my task:
to imagine no wholes
from all that has been smashed.

For now time is lost, now time is
cracked, now time is empty, now
time is framed, now time is lived,
now time is hollow, now time
is smoked, now time is stolen.

And the new angels pass away
like sparks on coals

Just as we
no sooner than
we had seen each other
for the first time
journeyed back together
from where we came.

For now time is lost
now time is gained
now time is empty
now time is full
now time is lived
now time is hollow
now time is made
now time is stone.

Second Layer

The best picture
of a picture
is not a picture
but the negative.
The negative pictures
the picture
just as I
picture you
without ever seeing
the picture
you see
as your reflection.
What can’t be seen
is still
even as I lose more
than I retain
as I go
in time toward
time’s end.
Keeping still
I misplace
the picture
of the picture
tossed in tales
of the rune
of the telling
the threads
that hold
the leaves
the frieze.
The best picture
of a picture
is not the picture
but its reverse
rehearsing tales
until they
in the tolling
even as I regret
more than I
in the tumble
of my apprehensive
The negative pictures
the picture better
than the picture
just as I
picture you
ever having seen you
or touched you
as now you fall
from my arms
into my capacious
insomniac forgetting.

--Charles Bernstein

("Stele for lost Time" is the epilogue from Shadowtime, an opera-in-progress by composer Brian Ferneyhough with a libretto by Charles Bernstein. The opera is based on the life and work of Walter Benjamin.)

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