Monologue Of An American Poet


A loved one leaves
like air from the lungs-
vapor amid the final dry snowflakes,
the black branches clicking and sagging
with ice.
She can’t be breathed back in.
A mere gesture, I abrade my cheek
on the rust-scaled trunk
of a drain pipe.
To no purpose, I weep.
She departs.
Friends depart,
fellow sufferers,
as from the field of the young
we are led toward separate pens
away from the once-shared milk
In vain, like an unweaned whelp,
I whine for friends’
they don’t come back.
Hopes depart-
such darling ladies,
whom I use on such useless occasions!
Only their petticoats stay in my hands;
hopes are meant to be held for a moment.
Certitude departs.
I remember, I swore a sacred oath
to break my stupid head against the wall
or the wall with my stupid head.
My head is scratched, true,
but unbroken.
And what of the wall?
The bastard smirks;
on its blankness they are blandly changing
the posters,
the portraits of heroes…
where are you?
New York,
your dark sky circles above me
like a hawk.
America, believe me,
I’m finished,
I’m finished,
I am a ship
where all the cabins smell of doom
and rats leap in terror from the clammy deck.
Hey, seagulls-don’t weep!
Don’t don’t pity me!
My lovely leggy guests abandon me.
They take their places, as prescribed,
the first in the lifeboat-
Farewell, my mistresses!
My apple-cheeked cadets abandon me.
They want to live.
Fair enough,
they are still young.
Farewell, lads!
Row ahead.
You are men.
Now the inane rumble of the engine shuts down.
Only talent
like a drunken, unshaven captain
stands somberly on the bridge.
The captain is the captain.
But he too, tears smearing his windburned skin,
he too abandons me,
he too…
he too…
Hey, lifeboats-stand away!
A ship, when it sinks,
makes a malestrom around it.
To be totally alone
hurts worse than a knife,
but I won’t suck anyone down with me.
I forgive you all.
Robed in death’s foam,
I bequeath it to you to demolish that bastardly wall.
My trumpet juts from the marble swirls:
comrades, battle on

Translated by John Updike

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