Early FilmsEarly Films
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Intimate StrangerIntimate Stranger
Nobody's BusinessNobody's Business
The Sweetest SoundThe Sweetest Sound

Wide AwakeWide Awake
56 Ways of Saying I Don't Remember56 Ways of Saying I Don't Remember
Letter to the EditorLetter to the Editor

Edwin Honig




Widely known as a translator and critic, Edwin Honig’s importance to American letters stands with his poetry, best represented by the compilation of his 12 previously published books, Time and Again: Poems 1940-1997 (2000). The early poetry in the collection suggests an expansiveness, the “roving magnitude” (61) reflected in Honig’s often anthologized tree-shaped poem saluting Walt Whitman’s determination to continue “quixotically alive against / the hoax of sin & dying” (61). Towards the end of the volume, however, Honig speaks of a darker persistence as he hovers between natural and man-made space. In a late poem, “Chapter in the Life Of,” he depicts himself ironically as “still perched comfy / On the ledge unready as ever / for the blunt-edged bang of things to come.” (574). The progression in those lines from the “comfy perch” through the internal rhymes that connect “ledge” to “edge” suggests that the physical lassitude derives from a metaphysical anxiety, an “edginess” that results in immobility. No longer projecting himself as flowing seamlessly into a Whitmanesque nature, the poet hangs on even as he hangs back because “things to come” are haunted by the memory of things gone by: the “blunt-edged” century of violence he has witnessed.

Born on the day the Versailles treaty ended World War I, in September of 1919, Honig came of age in the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Drafted into the army infantry, he served on the battlefields of Europe from 1943-1946, endured the disquietude that most intellectuals felt during the McCarthy inquisitions and the Vietnam war and is still living in the aftermath, and writing about, the cold war period. He was Briggs-Copeland Professor at Harvard and, from 1957 until he retired in 1982, taught at Brown, where he formed the creative writing program and founded Copper Beech Press.


Edwin Honig: Early Poems
The Moral Circus (1955)
The Gazabos (1959-1961)
Spring Journal: Poems (1968)
The Affinities of Orpheus (1976)
The Anticatastrophes of Edwin Honig (1978)
Interrupted Praise (1983)
After Love, After Marriage (1976)
The Immanence of Love (1993)

Edwin Honig: Early Poems
On the Great River
Grammar of Memory
World View
Poetry & Pedantry

On the Great River


Blue bones, sunset, bleeding mountain.
The brawling average and the Safeway
Indian. Lorenzo, art is
Homeless. Topophobia.

Santa Fe

Hill and cross, the dustless plaza.
Texas man, his teeth and luggage.
Children Pérez, Sánchez,
and García. Anglophobia.


Neon nightrest, bursting river.
On her skirts the mushrooms. Her mixed
Wine collapses every Sunday
Noon. Amnesia.


Adobe and sticks in the valley.
River-muck, tumbleweed, toad.
A horse turning turquoise in twilight.
My melancholia.

Grammar of Memory

If the light fail
redeem it --
out of no old book.
out of no false stare.
out of no hardihood
for racing the common horse:

but out of the punctual worm,
crashing the coffin lid,
whose great electric head,
breaking the hoggish herd,
stirs those long wide-world
river bells.

World View

The stir of a man through a whirlpool of air
Sucked the hawk backward and down.
Lithe waters caught fire, wild weather
Went whirling the three-o'clock sun around.
A decade of seaweed split open a boulder
The burning high tide gulped down.
In the hawk's high lingering stare
The spell of a man, shuttered by boughs,
Became a fallen feather of sound.

Poetry and Pedantry

midnight summer sky's immensely light-blue-sandy-
(sandy less than powdery) no-wind-will-
cover hush is to the distant-
surf like a hugely
still wide-
open pasture sniffed at by a pent-up sheep herd straining
frantic for a way to enter it who
dimly bleat in feeble puzzle-
ment -- crushed because they
simply aren't

Edwin Honig: from The Moral Circus (1955)


Prophet of the body's
roving magnitude, he still
commands a hope as elusive
the Jewish savior-not dying, not yet
born, but always immanent: in a
blaze one sunny afternoon defying winter, to
everyone's distinct advantage, then going on to Eden,
half sham, half hearsay, like California or Miami, golden.
All his life was
squandered in his poverty
when he became the body's prime
reunionist bankrupt exploiter, from
early middle age, of the nation's largest
unexploited enterprise-baggy, queer, a Johnny
Appleseed freely planting selves the future mashes into
commonplaces, lops off as flourishes, an unweaned appetite.
Yet who can shape his
mouth's beard-brimming bubble,
that violent honey sound? Afterwards
they just blew hard, Tarzans hamming
through the swampy lots. His patent, never
filed, was being man's quixotically alive against the
hoax of sin & dying. Paradise is now. America, whose
greatest war was civil, must be born from Abel's wound
& Cain be welcomed
home by Adam-Father Abraham
opening his blood to continents, all
armies, lovers, tramps. A time for heroes,
but the captains, shot or dowdy, died. (Had old
Abe really smiled & tipped his hat or had he merely
grimaced?) Ulysses, finished, promptly sighed & chomped
cigars & toured the capitals. The people yea'd & shambled
to the greatest fortunes made
while he conveyed the lippy cop, the
whistling streetcart man, the ferry pilot
billowing upon the apron of his praise. Nakedly at
last he flailed his own paralysis with mud & flesh-
brush, A man, all men himself alone, a rugged blue-eyed
testament, his looks in Brady's lens are calm with after-rages.
"The real war
will never get
in the books.'
Below the ragged
line he signed
his chummy name.

Edwin Honig: from The Gazabos (1959-1961)

May 1945
Jane Retreat
For an Immigrant Grandmother
When My Sorrow Came Home
Grammarian Thumbing an Old Text

May 1945

Spring's great wafer caked in the mouth.

One-legged beggars hopped out of cellars
Reeking of dressings and brass.

Blue-lipped Rhine maidens whining like sheep
Slowly uncrossed their thighs.

Numb in the eyes Faustus went down
Nuzzling the conqueror's heel.

The corpses of Europe lay back in their char.

Jane Retreat

Jane Retreat falls stark asleep
In her large brown-headed shoulders.

The rest of her starts
Like fish half alive
Under the fumbling dark.

Where will the fire be found
To pilot the dark on Jane half awake?

O Jane Retreat
With your fish in my arms
Tugging through half the night:

If only someone would crawl through my veins
To tear out your shoulders and head!

For an Immigrant Grandmother

She sat for an age at the window with glances that threw
Pennies of pity at collarless beggars, and cripples
Who crawled like crabs from gutter to curb rippled
The geese in the bag of her hunched-over flesh. But you
Always could tell by her murmur for heaven to witness
When neighborhood children like sparrows hopped in distress
To catch from the hand of the baker his three-day-old bread.

Yet she danced with a hint of the hips and a lilt of the head,
And the savor of turbans and princes and spices welled
From her smile like a promise of Turkish delights withheld;
For her heart was a mediterranean cradling the earth
With wishes that tumbled like fish and golden sea fairs
Where pirates were drowned and angels were spared by her prayers,
Till she slipped unaware on the edge of a sigh to her death.

When My Sorrow Came Home

Then when my sorrow came home to me,
Then was my head a boiling pot
Hissing for spouts in my hooded lids,
Then was my heart sticky and hot,
As a summer bush nagged by hiving bees.

My sorrow came home like a brother to me
In his dusty shoes, his sweaty cap,
His gray lips moving big and chapped.
Not a word, not a wink, not a tip of the head,
He flopped in a chair, stared straight through me.

Sorrow, I said, is it early or late?
Sorrow, I said, why not this morning
When I was pulling up my socks?
Why not this noon, racing for the bus?
Sorrow, I said, why now, why here?

Sorrow's great lips turned me around
To see myself across from where I sat—
The mantel bulging with shells and rocks,
Picture slanting, wallpaper cracked,
And a wind passing through the clock.

Then when my sorrow turned me around
I saw myself tinily mirrored in the clock.
Sorrow, my brother, let me oil your lips,
Let me bathe your feet, let me kiss your eyes
Asleep (let me sleep, let me sleep), asleep.

Then I dreamed my sorrow came home to me
Through the open door like a summer wet tree,
A morning cry in the burrowing sun
To set me free, and I passed like a wind
Through the clock of the sorrow that was me.

Grammarian Thumbing an Old Text

Ribbons, bracelets drop, hose wrinkles down.
(God showed this lady to be brave.)
Tugged at, untied, stripped clean from heel to crown
(God told this lady to behave),
Until, thrust open like a stack of sheaves
(God bound this lady to be moved),
In darkness plunged, she labors to a scream.
(God owed this lady to be loved.)

Who fails to rise and harrow, folds greatness in.
New flesh waits to make the old bones sing,
Complete two separate bloods in one sweet wailing.

Say this hallowed lady rounds our dream
Forever; but God, before you thrust her altarward,
Say, is she Eve or Queen-- or Babylon abhorred?

Edwin Honig: Spring Journal: Poems (1968)

For Margot
Birth Song: In the Wing Seat, at Night
Second Son Day
Back to Bodega
Mornings in April and May
Late, Late
November Through a Giant Copper Beech
Bodega, Goodbye
Grand Tour -- Package Deal
Ah Life, This Lowgrade Infection
Cuba in Mind
Polyglot Israel and Back

For Margot

Almost fallen asleep
in the song of your face,
I tell myself vaguely
to waken and snatch it
at once, so close to
my hearing, or lose it
forever, be lost.

This music that passes
before words begin
streams through your face,
from the interlocked print
of centipede lashes
to the thinning gold down
ambushing your mouth,

and composes a song
my eyes close to keep
from breathing away.
Should I waken or not?
Enraged by the doubt
I hover, now nearing,
now backing away,

until -- what's this?
Your smile wakens eyes,
skies open wide!
Dazzled, still leaning
to hear, my head
drops into its own
Icarus pratfall,

dizzying down
to cacophonous kisses,
in rapids of your
tongue-glistening mouth,
drowning my "Am I . . .
and is this . . . and what was . . .
the song of your face?"

Birth Song: In the Wing Seat, at Night 

(for Daniel, born 1966)


See the pink light,
tiny and blinking,
now on, now off,
on a plane wallowing,
a light
swallowed by darkness,
swallowing darkness.

This is my immersion –
I, a traveller,
someone carried,
carrying his blood,
in darkness,
on a plane between lights,
between night and day
(a deathday, a birthday),
travel cross-country,
wrapped in still air,
knowing only
(through living a dying)
the end will be landing.



The end is so near,
It is beginning,
we are beginning.
A light is blinking,
pink as a doll.

A child is beginning,
nearing zero.
A starlight approaches.

I am he,
the one thinking,
the traveller.

And the child to be born
(already born,
you will say,
it has happened before),
now waiting
at the end of the journey
is almost here by me.

About me, people, like me,
travelling unknowing
(many men, many women),
waiting to die,
to be born.

The pink light
still blinking up on the wing,
doll-like, in sight,
and starlight approaching,
a child being born.


How shall I know who he is,
now so clearly beside me,
I who am living
knowing I'm dying?

Son! Brother! Creature! Being!
Man dying is
being born!

Over the blinking in darkness
a light, an aura
of fondness is widening.

Soon, my love, soon
as the starlight
approaches and brightens,
let this plane down.


Land hurtles to meet us,
bathed wholly
in blood light.

We land in a clatter of darkness.
The blinking is gone.

Son, brother, child,
alight with me now.
We are carried no more.

See, we have passed over,

Second Son Day
(for Margot, mother of us)

On this fleshy pink, too sunny afternoon
I note the riotous control of flowerbeds
in the civil, dogbarking air of Berkeley.

All one's innerness draped everywhere
in punishing detail, externalizing memory
in a climate too favorable for nostalgia.

I close my eyelids from the glare and think
only what I want to think – nothing
unpleasant, nothing too spectacular.

I am forty-seven and the just-made father
of a second son, downy Jeremy, asleep in the portico.
I doze to older Daniel spitting in a rage.

And dream I am the older son who gangs up
on his minute brother, slapping him awake:
"How could you intrude on us, we happy three?

You'll never be the darling I am to them.
I'll see to that. I'll nail you to a tree!"
My eyes jerk open, head pounded by a sneeze.

(A tent of gossamer, striped rainbow or pale bass,
invades the lemon tree, teems down on periwinkle.
Are they bands of feeding butterflies or bees?

Then something like a donkey's half-eaten head,
sunken at the feet of peonies, gets swamped by them,
trickling light like honey from a trough.

Do eyes deceive, focused only on the stuff
one wishes to believe? Well, what of it!
Eyes are the fine beginnings of ideas.

Ideas that may not please. So praise the bees,
if that is what they are, and light, if that's it.
I have mine and they have theirs to feed.)

Bless me, Margot, Daniel, just-born Jeremy!


Toward the child came starlight,
the light of his world and mine,
the light of the world he'd yet
to perceive and divine.

Birds, fishes, and men
drew breath with the child,
as if born again,
the dead moving toward starlight.

"Man is King of this life,"
sang the starlight.
"The hunger for death must die.
Man is divine."

Now birds, fishes, and I
hear our blood sing reply
in the newborn child,
opening the eyes of the child.


I look at you and tremble, smiling.
What are you thinking?
Am I the king your husband?
Some dead fish? Anyone at all?
Do I know you? Say I do.
Do I content you? Often, mostly.
Do you contain me? If not you,
who else would, could or should?

The day jams up with clouds,
far white sails striving
in the bay that sweeps them
out to the dark-mouthed sea.
Coolly in a brown light they will return,
one by one, toward sunset, glistening.
When they return, they will not return.
They will not be the same.

As I love you leaning down on you,
I feel the load I am you feel is me.
So the night blows. September passes.
The bay narrows by an inch of silt,
invisible to passing tenders night or day.
Debris goes by, waste hardens, fishes die.
The scene turns bare and freezes –
loses heart and changes.

Only we two stay the same in loving
what we bear, what we contain.

Back to Bodega

In the downrushing sun
winds endlessly fluent
gigantically crinkle
a spun blond field,
crack leathery strips
off a high eucalyptus,
ride lichen-green barns
over failure of fences
creaking and fallen,
shrink to a whirlwind
past carcass of rabbit,
dismembered sheep
in a darkening grove,
while above and beyond
rides totally clear of cloud
the triumphing sky's
appendage of hawks,
drifting controlled
in the ultimate blue.

Mornings in April and May

In the winegiver's gift freeing sunlight restored
in a ripeness begun with the longer days' light,
in the juice of his tongue-tanging, throat-thrumming fire,
are pulse beats recalling the slower first rounds
of the broad light's wheeling through coolness and heat,
of night & day riding with all the bright kindling & dwindling
of lovers, and moons in their white-
to-blue waning & waxing, of palefire-arching
and blood-falling suns through upstarting bushes
& branches, vineyards and orchards, all quietly urgent in blooming & greening, and in
their sure aiming, unknowing of fruiting & dying.



The moon full,
swimming plain and mottled
on the western rim,
the sun clear,
raw lime-yellow,
coming up in the east,
the sky red-violet,
turning blue,
turning pearl,
and the sense
of weight in both spheres
at opposite ends
giving the feel
of a momentarily
balanced world,
a starless artifice,


In the last snow
two deer appeared
in the dumb meadow,
sharply, at once,
standing as if
they'd always been there,
still as death,
twitching their ears.


It was night and the rain dropped
in wide spaces
and puddles ran on rocks
and the wind took on a shape
with the water,
like a body rushing

over low pillows,
something to be touched,
as if in a dream, a strange
familiar somebody, warm,
and craving love!

Late, Late

In the palehaired fields of August
sunlight gravely brushes
poppies, blackeyed daisies,

rusted roses gallivanting
up an old abandoned cellarway
into the open sky.

A peach tree, hunched and mossy,
hard fruit speckled, stiff,
grows near the absent barn.

Red chevrons flashing,
blackbird gangs swell by.
The titmouse follows idly.

Is it their passing darkens
wild mustard, carrot, parsley?
Is it daylight shadows falling?

A first nightstar trembles.
The sickle moon advances
with a special cunning.

November Through a Giant Copper Beech

This almost bare tree is racing
taut in the wind, leaves flaring,
jet fire fed by a hurrying
keen whistling bird, against

hundred-limbed elephant branches,
steadied in wrinkled gray molten
antediluvian skin,
wrapped tight to stay where it is.

Think of sheer endlessness, beauty
patient in form, forever
uncrumbled between time's nickering
teeth -- oh brutal necessity!

Think of the still and the flowing –
Heraclitus's everything passes,
the one-eyed conviction against
the rockheaded everything dozes.

On this bleary white afternoon,
are there fires lip up in heaven
against such faking of quickness
and light, such windy discoursing?

While November numbly collapses,
this beech tree, heavy as death
on the lawn, braces for throat-
cutting ice, bandaging snow.

Bodega, Goodbye

The wind is not right today.
It mocks the ancientness of beams
upholding this loose porch

that has shaded us all summer.
It makes the old porch shudder
and the termite dirt
leak down, down-down.

The wind fusses and blows wrong.
It makes the baby cranky
who should be sleeping in mild air
out of sun's reach on the crooked porch
by the half-gone wooden railing
where a smoked-out hornet's nest
lines the eaves like false teeth.

Night, and the wind still heaves
and gulps, and flaps the shades.
A nightbird cries as though
nothing had ever lain so still
as boulders in the moonlit field.
I turn over in my sleep
like a basket of broken bones.

Grand Tour -- Package Deal

You're feeling free and living abroad
near topaz lakes where legendary poets
swam and drowned, your eyes flitting up
mountain paths, saluted by breezy
ephemeralities, tail flickerings of squirrels
resuming the chase, one after another,
like stripes up a barber pole, going swiftly
past the waxy drippings of the pine gums.

Or you're feeling brusque, knifing into weather,
like a gunboat in a fog, off course, dangerous,
controlled, lit up and witless with concern,
in the dank black night going
nowhere, circling, but steaming on!

Or crunching in snow, looking down at your shoes
that look slow-minded back, stained
at the rims, you kick them -- since you must –
as if not belonging to you but to someone
who like you is now returning, puffing home
from this all-day tramp, voyage, flight,
and fall, when your eyes, finally, just
as they hit the pillow, slip quietly out
of their sockets like two used-up flash bulbs.

Ah Life, This Lowgrade Infection

(for Dick Dennes)

Puts fever in my mouth,
running sore and spittle swallower,
my disposall;
brings the highgrade doctor
on a nighttime call
in a black cape bouncing up my stairs,
his glinting Lincoln
purring by the curb.

Pearly spats perfectly akimbo
he sits kibbitzing,
With all that fat it'll take you years
to waste away (say ahh); just swill
your mouth with salt water.

Ahhh shut that juicy trap,
and damn those frozen smiling teeth
that don't bite off your tongue,
and the front gate clanking shut
for not slicing you in two,
because your limousine won't accidentally
smear you on the ground,
because your wife won't shoot you
pointblank between the eyes
as you sprint into the house drooling,
Wait till I tell you
about this windy prof
dreaming himself up a fever.

Poor me,
the infection worsens;
we're inseparable.
It speaks to me:
Ah chum, don't fret,
the doc's all wet –
fat or not,
I'll never leave you.

How can I be ungrateful?

Everywhere the lights are going out;
fog on all the windows with its tears.
Everywhere marriages are failing –
only mine alone is happy true.

So darling, come, let's kiss.
A little lowgrade fever mouth to mouth
shouldn't harm a bit –
it goes a long long way;
but don't let that get you down,
because life...
ah wife, I love you,
I've got it so good it hurts

(say ahhh) forever.

Cuba in Mind

You think, "I've never lived there.
I could never live there."
Anywhere you live
freedom builds within
or breaks your bones.
You have lived there.
You live there now.
Cuba is home.

Polyglot Israel and Back

August, late aout, days of the dog.
The papers say it's snowing in Schweitz.
But the whole Mediterranean rim
bakes and leaks like a jelly.

Mad in Yeroosholayem, hangdogging at noon,
my tongue's on a leash.
Tourists crack Yiddish
like sunflower seeds.

Dry fountain. Dead kitzel park.
An Arab curled up like last year's leaf.

Like a woman who bursts into tears,
I burst through my skin in a lasting sweat.

"How can you be a Jew in that country?"
"When will you come back here to live?"

Weep for me not, o daughters of Zion:
I go home tomorrow, my birthday
(forty-five years of the wars and the deaths),
to Amerikanismus depraved.
Strapped in and dozing,
I'm slapped awake by a drink and a steak.
I stick to my oar
like a galley slave
flying El Al to golos U.S.A.

Edwin Honig: The Affinities of Orpheus (1976)

Asking Eurydice
Lines for Dancers
Lines for Her Living
In Afterlight
Now Back Then
Eurydice Thought
Movements of the Appassionata
Beyond Recall



It is your last day and hour and you are alone
You have nothing to say even to yourself
Your mind is almost blank
A fly is buzzing in the room
You can kill the fly but you don't Your
thoughts will not move you Without color or
depth they skim across your mind Before you
can read them they disappear
Now after ten minutes or thirty you begin to
hear the sound of words spoken words
You think Who speaks You are greedy
for another sound another presence
Who speaks Who is speaking
It is a half-friendly Who Like your mother
when you were a child Soft round voice with
the querulous edge
The words fade The voice goes over the
edge and disappears
You look around the room It is bare but
things are in it your mind will not name
You look around the room twisting your
neck turning your shoulder
You stoop you kneel you lie down
You get up quickly
The voice with the words opens up again
Who you ask
Be still
Be still be still
A silence grows breaking into the voice
slowly speaking as you listen word quickening
faster more lively
You think It is like my father
You think It is like him
Him the other one
You think It is like myself in him
It is coming faster turning the
room turning you on your knees again The
ceiling moves down
Words pour out faster clearer fresher full of
feeling never before spoken words never
heard before out of you
You they say You they say You they say You
You YouYou YouYouYouYou Breaking
loose they surge out of your chest you
pushing to join them till you are all
at once all of them in a long water flowing widening
flooding an ocean sea world all water without
earth or sky a water all over water gone over

Lines for Dancers

Dolls remember
waiting to be born
an empty turmoil
in the head

the memory
of milk

a quiet shifting
in the straw


The body straight
the body folded
then poise altering the center
the difficult
of a thoughtless


The sexual body
dropping in a chair in bed under him on her
and the neutral wisdom to rise again from broken stances


Gesture after gesture
sometimes hardens them

the music stops
but nothing can slacken them

curled up on their sides
night and day

bodies dance to reproduce themselves
with all their might

and faces lock
desperate to be blank

Lines for Her Living

She breathed herself out
and breathed back in
what wouldn't dissolve or float

veering off from herself
and in one movement returning
not like a top
but like its spinning

herself as a child
herself as a dwarf
an infant a fetus
a mote

dancing so fast in our eye
we could see nothing
without her in it


Fighting the need to change
she changed
against letting herself be changed
into a stranger nothing

changing herself
but never in time
like the flick of the small fish tail
as the smile of the larger devours it

as if cheating the terror
sure to slip into her face
a delicate bladder
deflating in wrinkles

living on almost the same
between what she was just becoming
and what she never could be

then driving herself
into somebody's shoes
toe work and furious heel work
stamping it out
like a Spanish dancer

In Afterlight

The night I heard you
limping behind
I thought of a girl
squeezed under by space
In the morning my eyes
lay abandoned
like stones returned
to the beaches
of time.

A buzz came from the skulls
of beasts dumped
in the summer ravines
where cupped honey
was making.

When I turned to the road
light tipped
my feet and I ran
that way hobbled
for miles.

Now Back Then

If I remember the time
it is wrong
and not like the time itself was

remembering that quick
mile-long smile
I was always late picking up

If I remember times
you were there
I am there too much when I wasn't

remembering what wasn't –
maybe it hadn't come yet
maybe it only just might have

If I remember you as you were
the no one you are meets
the no one I was then remembering

dancing like snow in a glass
I am holding without
me without you to the end

Eurydice Thought

Barely to be first
is to be another
not oneself alone
that other one who dreams
there is time
that time arrives
when one becomes oneself
filler of time
a message wandering
in search of a recipient
One watches after him
for signs
Has he received it
Until he does
one cannot be


Watching for him
one waits forever
coming neither soon nor late
No one ever ready
no one on time
body fills its bag
wishing its final emptiness
breathes out again
its bubble spit
breathes in again
the sky
He comes at last
and one is gone


Ponder me
I am no longer
what you think
returned for me
eluding you
stuffed in
my midnight
swollen orifice


I remember how you made me wait
hunting yourself
fooled and angering
Folded back and narrowest
when fed by you
I dreamed you would be me
found dead


The mother tree is still
that doubled over winter
broken branches gone
and murder winds now calmed
for heat of leaves to come
considering the surgery
before the hidden fruit
can fall
that breaks the mouth


Break the catch
free time in the throat
God the enemy returns
to see some clearing
after daylong whirlwinds
God let blind fog thin again
into your emptiest
most lucid sky




By morning weights like you
are wakening in bed
in shuddering hills
the bleeding sun
is yet to fill
while I the bond you left
raging in the dark
have never waked
and never slept

Movements of the Appassionata


Sick-blind with trouble
is the way it always starts.
Spring's late and early too.
Part of the trouble, maybe.
The thought kicks her out of bed at four.
A crackling blue January,
then balmy February yellowing the bushes,
and all the crocuses saluting
when she looks up,
imagination gone black and blue
with sinusitis.

March freezes solid.
Nothing walks.
Icicles the hilarious winds click off
stab bushes like excaliburs.
One loony bird escaped alone to tell her,
"Listen, it's time to live!"
turns up next day
in the neighbor's wolfhound's mouth.


And what's she to show,
a slowed-down beauty combing
twenty-year-old bluebells from her hair?
"Mother in her fits
reminds me I had two last week.
One nearly drowned the infant
in its basinette,
the other came close to breaking up
my marriage, such as it is.
"So what?
April drips with crazy twitterings,
trucks and loaded vans shift up
the turnpike like crapping hippopotami.


And in the end –
the end that never ends?
"There it goes again,
that tinny tune I hear above the din!
like when they got me down
among the violets and operated,
then months later the therapist (the rapist!)
whistled it, screwing my head back on.
Ah, the Appassionata!

Or something like it
I can't decipher –
a lover's stroking hand, or maybe
it's just tucking in my shroud.
Well, hell, I call it Sanity,
so stop turning down your mouth!"


Yesterday a jet landed in the yard,
and the pilot (there were no passengers)
slipped out holding a daffodil,
"I'm the angel Lucifer," he said:
"What name is that?"
Yes, she stalled for time.
The Prince of fallen light!

No use, of course. It had to be.
The angel kissed her mouth,
and pierced her with the daffodil.
The sky went on bombarding
the delicate ear and mind.
Then her ecstasy broke through,
"God, I'm pregnant with the Lord tonight!"

Beyond Recall

"But you never saw or heard from her again!"
"It's beside the point if I did or didn't. I mean, in the end there was nothing between us, probably never could be. But for the moment, during that strange, intense experience, nothing seemed more urgent than my having to see her again, if only to pick up the lost chain of events and force them to continue just to see what would come of it, I suppose. I didn't ask myself if I'd see her again. I just assumed there'd be no doubt that I could, and if I could I would! No, I didn't think I'd never see her again. I thought of what had happened: that intense encounter of ready lips, poised hands, and the unbearable possibility lodged in the forbidden eye exchange. Why had I broken it off so insistently, though accidentally, as it had to seem? Simply because I could not stand myself wanting her so much then and there -- and for all the wrong reasons!"

"What was it all like, an unexpected tickle, a protracted itch, too much to bear without doing something about it? Was that it?"

"Yes, of course, but more like -- "
"So how come you never did -- "
"All right now, go ahead and retaliate!"

Edwin Honig: The Anticatastrophes of Edwin Honig (1978)

The End of Romance
The Sixteen-Year-Old Poet Sploshed on a Seaman's Pint of Germs Joys Juice
The Tendencies
Three Documentary Poems for James Schevill
Three Monkeys at a Watergate
Watering the Garden
Wisdom Against Wisdom


There'll never be an end to poetry
...never be an end to poetry.
...never be an end...
Tu Fu.
Too few?
Tout fou !!

for James Schevill

The End of Romance

the mountebank
the mirror
and the tricked out skull
against the balcony
the rose of ego
blooming silently

the famed fiesta
rolling by

clacking dances

a jostled gown
a swirl
of lisping dominoes

the morning hush
a puzzling

these echoes
of a fading chant

The Sixteen-Year-Old Poet Sploshed on a Seaman's Pint of Germs Joys Juice

Beknights I used to klim the whiskry heights
of wetwit wenchers in a klutsch
of duncks and dranks, and sins to kinsch.
How I gluttoned each sea angel's Gutterpflight!
A door, a fear. Adore a fere. A sheep ship full
So I slopped my biery mouth.
Dispelled death's dirty doughty doubt.

Moot, this moochin mug had munch tomb-use.
The licensed ills licentious grew,
askewered harmonies to tinderized profunnities.
Then oop spuk rale Huckle Punk,
the molar champ, jooshin his molls a bout.

--Gwan, unknot this sot, I'll not be got tonicht.
Why de long puss on yous ? Got no feelins, Tom?

Dickdock he jawked his dickery joizy jernts
stiff hip hup and downed the clock,
this squeamoocherin people hoocher.
It spleeved me, clean honest it did.
The limpy chaw, the mucky jeer,
in his fleer a monkey swore.
I licked, I leaked, I nearly locked, I did.

Hoot how this hoyden snatcher jimmy cracked a huckleboon.

-- Jest spy me then, so long and full in stem,
when slilky Syl, tummee sez she,
O Punky, pleash me pink!
Go plump me chaise, then skiss me aisy slow,
then (lowkey) lump the fingers twain.
Mark me neap-and-tug, so neck-in-dip,
all nickt like this.

How I would flame to feat those whorable diversities!

-- Ye sowstale scheapsacked sheebacked backscheesh thumpin lyre!
-- Wazzat ye say, Tom?
-- Hick huck.
-- He sez ye nosed it. Punk
-- O did he naw ? Chump!
-- Jimpansee?
-- Fool to speak withoot yer hat.
He's brood and broad the waist to head,
he'll bolt yer boobside back,
he'll batter ye two bits, he will.
-- Gwan, yer thwackin the boot, ye are.
I'll flatten yer floozy ore, I will.
-- Swinge me silvery till I spill me
swilldownswish the tigglish tits atender Syl!
-- Ginmen, ouch ye go!
-- Leggo, ye creep, leggo my joistik, hic.
-- Huck is stuck, I'lI husk his duck.
-- Who dare it, do.
-- Me, I done dood it, dicklydare,
me, ye peterpiker wetlouse, so.
Behest me at yer inquest, bo,
I'll come dripplin fleaballs ounce by jounce.

So rung by lung asalting tongue,
a swearling sheepship sungk!
And all asure the wooly while,
O wily willy me, a lickluck lubberboy,
ascrivening clean all mudnight threw
oop my trinkle trimsy poisy.

for Richard Ellmann

The Tendencies

Nice knowing you one said
just when you thought
you'd never met
about the time your world
began to come apart

Here they are dear they've arrived
well bring them in dear
don't keep them waiting
then you said oh
walk right in

And in they came all right
each one screaming back delighted
till you thought of asking
where am I
but you weren't

Three Documentary Poems for James Schevill


April 27, 1945

Stuffed in a barn
with thirty/forty GIs,
no space to budge
but where your bottom
hits the floor,
the whole place becomes
a kitchen full
of cooking tins.

Outside spring plays
wind in the morning,
rain in the afternoon,
toward evening
a full sun declining.

Hills wrapped
in a gradual faraway haze
with here -- there clouds,
rolling smoke over towns
slowly bombed -- shelled,
cockroach tanks
dotting the skyline.

With my "liberated" camera poised
I try to capture it all –
smoke, tanks -- hills. . .
too unreal.
Lines of prisoners
clomping down the road,
grizzly grim faces –
behind them in camouflage suits
flushed out of caves
six German snipers
too young -- sullen,
arms bent jutting at the elbow,
fingers laced behind heads,
to right – left
Gl guards cocking rifles
pointed inches from each head.

So much gone and going now...
Is the past like this barn
a refuge
from our incalculable dealings
with the world?


April 28, 1945

This pleasant captured town where
the regiment rests officially...

Living almost privately
in commandeered houses,
sleeping late mornings
in giant feather beds,
at candle-lit tables
in the evening
(no electricity of course)
dining on fresh-killed rabbit
with a certain toying deliberation.

The unending traffic outside,
thick with German officers
in natty uniforms riding,
files of trudging, ragged brown
Hungarian soldiers,
also prisoners, preceding them.

And through open windows
passing as we shave,
the liberated Russians,
Poles – Frenchmen
pop their heads in, winking
("Who knows my native language?"
-- spoken in the language),
and the schoolchildren
flinging us their English,
quaintly begging for Schokolade.

Their newspapers report
we loot, murder, rape the heart
out of this country
where, downtown an hour ago
in the shattered train depot,
I saw well-dressed civilians
mob -- break into boxcars
abandoned by the Wehrmacht,
stash baby-carriage loads

-- wagonfuls of military clothing,
maps -- pencils,
missing nothing,

...starting over.


April 30, l945

Awaiting news of the German surrender.
Mussolini lynched by henchmen,
northern Italy crumbles,
Munich captured,
new Social Democratic government
in Austria.
Everything speeding to a close
and a new opening.

Half a million German military
taken prisoner
diminished by
last-minute Wagnerian suicides
of bigshot Nazi Gauleiter,
methodical SS men just finished
butchering their last thousand
concentration camp survivors –
as newly freed DPs
of every nationality
cavort in heavy joy
down the broken streets,
in houses full of kitschy trophies,
wall-drawings of military scenes
back to Bismarck,
Gls mount their first
surrendering German Maedschen.

They quote Himmler warning
Hitler may be dead.

Roosevelt dead,
Truman, making solemn
Rooseveltean world-peace
United-Nations promises,
starts the San Francisco Conference.

And my constant
shadow-boxing buddy
from the Bronx,
who cursed in Yiddish all the way
the giggling German citizenry
, squeaks again,
"Won't it be great to get home!"

Three Monkeys at a Watergate

Tell me if you want to know
how not to know it
You are and I am
and they are not
If we are and they are not
what we know is what counts
and what they know
by definition doesn't
It just doesn't exist
because they don't
If you exist and they don't
what you know
and don't want to know
is what counts
You know you don't know it
You know if they say
it's there it isn't
because they aren't
Therefore what you know
you don't know
Therefore it doesn't exist
does it


Tell me what did you hear
You did not hear
you heard it
Don't tell me if you heard it
Don't say you heard I heard it
I don't say I heard you heard it
I didn't hear it and if not
no one heard it
Whatever it is
it isn't
it wasn't
it couldn't be
Tell yourself you never heard it
or just don't listen to yourself
It doesn't exist
it isn't
You are
but it isn't
If it is
you aren't


If they're there
we weren't there
we're here
If they say it's there
and keeps growing
we can't hear or see it
we just aren't there
we're here
They're there
and what they say
is just nowhere
growing or not growing
it's just not
If it's not there
they can't see it
we can't see it
it just isn't
is it

(from a performance in The Wastepaper Theatre, Providence, R. I., April 15, 1975.)

Watering the Garden

A bit of the hosing the woodshed got
Sticks to its side like a stain
Where the sheep skull slanting down

Depends on one small rusty nail.
Under lollops of skittering water
The fat geraniums bob their coxcombs
In perfectly weeded window-boxes.

Then why so stubborn, crumbly shed,
When the sun just blurting out
From under the shadowy locust tree
Will suck you dry to your tiniest hole
Where without any need for seed
The minutest pale red fungus grows,
Polyp by polyp by polyp by polyp.

for Peter Kaplan

Wisdom Against Wisdom

Vishnu, I'm through. Your avatars are wit's
dumb slaves. They take my breath and wizen it.
They whisk my will away and whittle it.

Buddha, no bread or butter. I have, I think,

but one Nirvana here above the ditch:
an itch to burn life sweetly to a crisp.

Nietzsche, no more elites. No Ubermensch
with King Kong's democratic jaws unhitched.
I want no candid monster at my meat.

But who's that slinky beaut, stacked high and neat
in cherry-eyed bandannas singing, "Drink !"
The world's a splotch of ink, dri-eye-yed ink!"?

for Charlee Wilbur


Darling, I thought of you today –
going down so fast on the elevator
before I had time to face the door
I was banged to a stop on the bottom floor,
my brain wedged like a brick
between my shoulders.

That's how it was when we began –
impact was all!
mere living, the smash
of tumultuous kissings in depots,
airports, rent-a-car garages,
and breathing, one hot war to the death
in geysers of unsquelched desire.
Apart, sunk to the eyeballs in gloom.
Together next day, a swarming of minds,
a clashing and locking
of jack-knifing bodies.
Limp with watching
the world lay down like a dog to whimper
for weeks in the dark
while we threshed out our love
like a pair of King Kongs.

Which reminds me, my dear,
where've you been?
I haven't laid eyes on you for days.

Right under your nose, dear,
washing diapers by hand.
The washing machine broke down.

for Charlotte Zolotow

Edwin Honig: from Interrupted Praise (1983)

To Restore a Dead Child
By Sea Stone
Being Somebody
Letter from New Hampshire
For His Mother Flying Into Her Seventy-Seventh
Last Song
Pablo Neruda
Three Moments for George Sullivan

To Restore a Dead Child



Sometimes while I sleep
I hear the single cry and tire screek
that never end.
My blond and foolish brown-eyed brother
lugging his fretful love
shambles after me
as the cunning Mack truck
lurching out of nowhere
cuts him down.

He's a long dead almost-three.
I'm a long lived five
just turned sixty-one
still running in a dead heat
with the rolling cab that swooped him up
heading for the vanished hospital.

It's then on waking
I feel the snot of infant faces
leak into my mouth.


Hearing it wake, we feel
the windy calling to each other
of the kindred sleep and death
in the morning opening
of the eyes of country horses,
the odor of earth's dampness
in the crystal tree light,
and the touch of rough bark
on fingertips.

Seeing it, we feel again
the worn heart welcoming
the slow envelopment of dark,
the falling off of sight

in the old gray house,
when sun's heat passes
and the first breeze
lifts a faint dust
along the hedges.

Remembering, again we see
the embers crumbling in the grate,
the fire flaring up again,
the pause before the turning shadow
spans the polished floor
and drifts into the open world,
a street that wanders
endless as a silent grief
that will never know itself.


We walked out of time
into the woods of pain
and never seemed
the same again.
We tilted with the hope
of finding ourself
in another skin,
and bent on recovering,
turned with open eyes
to find welcome in the arms
of a dead brother --
sleeping his dream of being,
a dream so long unfulfilled
there was no time
even to begin to live it,
till in his own hope
we lived what we believed
may have been
reserved for him.


Watching the immense self scattering ocean
ruffle out before us,
our wonder stirred and time became
an intricately formal mating,
night on day on night,
a repeated wave flash
signaling the act and its abating,
and the last long rolling into shore
turned into a fresh aspiring
of newborn creatures
to join the greater mating
sky and ocean,
and the creatures reeling beyond our wonder
mingled with the lifetimes
of our aged parents, each one apart,
our cheerful sister's pregnant daughter,
also apart,
and this briefly sunlit reawakening
stung alive the still unanswered
black and blueness
we never would be clear of --
though no longer cherishing
the old bruised core,
no longer poised against
the battering disablements,
we simply gazed again
and let our wonder live again,
and die.


For everyone the call of light,
seeing figures of the creatures
from the mountain and the sea:
an eagle flying and a snake
whipping past the chicken coop,
a horse neighing in a flash
of meadow, with wayward water there
to slake the thirst a moment.
As light descends,
following the slow shapes
bulking briefly in their place,
it makes as if to stop
and give them way and cause,
as if to stroke
and praise their substance fully
before each creature
passes into its own remove
with rapid smile print
(as on your face and mine appears
held there by heads soon to be
no longer yours or mine)
till it lets the shadow quicken,
overtake the bobbing bulks,
and rise immensely over
like a mercy to devour them.


As we would have it,
it would be nothing simple
or profound,
nothing easily attained,
long worked for or perfected.
It would be of a wholeness,
full and large and figured
in its substance.
It would be all engrossing
to itself and others --
like the playing of a mindless tune
between a richer music
and a silence:
a peaked and dribbling sound,
a sound wavering in descent
but kept in measure,
and in that measure
letting all know
how deeply it could love
the silence following.


Not to be listening
yet to be heard
in the huge inconsequences
of the heart,
where having conveyed
the full measure of our hate
as a gesture of belief
in something worse than ourself
is barely to have escaped
self murder,
the intended sacrifice
become the bound body of love
in a younger self --
wearing a brother's features
still scored through
the dead boy's memory --
forever jammed between
the tonnage of his death
and self hate's last convulsions,
like the lost deserter
fixed in an ice cake
some intruder yells up
early one spring.


As the light descended
the night was pierced a moment
and there was seen
in the vagueness of a shadow
a form more his
than our idea of him,
and the shadow wobbled
into a figure merging
with the hope of his lost being
come to be again,
as we tried swiftly to put on
the dark loose patches
fallen from him in the light --
trying to fill and fill
all that was left
of his living clothes
before his body vanished


No longer would he have to run
each time we left him
before our mindless going
struck him
as needing to be answered,
and the need make him
fly to us
and press his body
on us briefly.

For now, if again we left
without a smile or hand wave,
he would no longer need to fret
or wonder how to weight the meaning
since as last reminder

he had left
his body printed on us.


I did not die in that war
or in any war quite
though I died in the first
and all the wars since --
at first all at once
then with practice
a bit at a time

While I'm alive
I'm ready to die any day
in a war --
the value of dying
is in daring
to come back

If I die in the next
as I did in the first
you who survive
might understand
it was good for something
though not wanting
to applaud me --
and I wouldn't blame you
much as I'd envy
your being alive

So I'd have to come back
because you'd forget
no matter how many times
you'd read it all in the papers --

he's so good at dying
he died in the Punics
War II the Crusades
poor bastard can't stop
he's at it again

By Sea Stone


Blackening ebbtide
sings dumbly by you
whipped by a wind swirl
weed hair drips over
stone bodies huddled
in monkish communion
making low song
of unshaken risings
and dim withdrawals
of long breathing waters


These stones if they spoke
could tell what lives --
one doubled flowing

an outgone returning
of timed open sea
conveying a smallness

like breath in the air
drawn out and in
of a hugeness --

ends as a slippage
of stone upon stone
on a packed sea shelf


Nothing much left
to stop your breathing,
you still swim out
and the waves topple you
arriving back.

All those green eyes
littering the beach --
the glinting lovers
and their surviving wives,
no longer lovers,
of dead friends --
stare past you at routs
of winter starlings overhead,
disregarding trophies.

Mozart hums the distance
out to sea and back.
Poised and never waiting,
the red sun pricks your eyelids --
take heart
take heart . . .
You love your heart
even when it falls
and is not dead.


Can you remember beginning
to shape your solitude?
Was it clarity or fog
that started it?

Maybe the eye caught by a rose
tore on a thorn, and the moon,
peculiarly close, hung bleeding
till you could almost bear it.

To be flesh of the thing that felt
the pangs of its beginning
is only to know you must trace
the end inside of you.

Now and then you hear
a window frozen
in its frame creaking
as if the moon was back.


All the nights the house slept through
are dead: at dawn in bed the same
white ship spanning the horizon,
and every word the heart denied
sopped up with the daily bread.
The house still waits where shore lights
winked against the bay suggesting,
like old friends, more than they said.

Night again, and time for stars
to stir the shadows on the roof
but no star is in the sky.
Time for a late birdnote or two
to clear the windowpanes
but none comes through as yet.
Still the house keeps beckoning,
bone white and dry inside:

some body should lie down in it.


Conrad saw behind the wheel
the unappeasable horizon
where heroes with maddened eyeballs
mounted the ageless waters
on sinful stumps. Who else
could execute, against his heart,
such livid sentences?

The blooded words they whispered
kept thickening into Justice
until the blindfold lifted
and a gunshot blanked them out.

The shot emptied his feelings,
and the ship he manned sails on.