LETTER TO SEFERIS IN THE GOBI-RATTLER ROOM
“I do not say loveable or admirable.
I say sympathetic, sentimental, mediocre,
wasted….He symbolized those to whom
we refer in daily conversation
with the expression, ‘the poor devil.’
However let us not forget that these guileless
men, exactly because they are ‘easy’,
are often the best carriers of an evil
which has its source elsewhere.”
--George Seferis on Elpenor.
[Elpenor, drunk from wine, fell from roof and broke his neck. Young and foolish, first among the dead, and first one Odysseus sees in Hades.]
This is a room in a house nobody knows,
so how could they take it? This afternoon
I must return your books to libraries
where they’ve found homes; California
and Oregon, inter-library loans.
Your diaries quicken my heart; Lines
from your poems fill my notebooks.
The first thing God made, the long journey.
Memory hurts wherever you touch it.
Like that, over and over. Front to back,
and then back to front. So many guides
Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard,
lovely Anvil edition. A Poet’s Journal:
1945-51, Athan Anagnostopoulos,
my favorite, and over time
Sam Hamill opens doors three decades past.
So I come to know Stratis Thalassinos,
How can you walk with the dead?
Flowers are in heaven, Chris Smart says.
And you? We are the seed that dies.
And I entered my empty house. Now?
Blessed be your inability to see.
Exiled arms witness against torpor
in tattooed words. Your Banquet Speech
for the Nobel, Poetry has its roots
in human breath – and what would we be
if our breath were diminished?
You speak for the sailor in our souls,
unearthing us, scouring words new.
Poetry is an act of confidence,
and who knows,..our unease
…not due to a lack of confidence?
Images in ocean waves clear out
careerist collars clinging neck-tight,
false calls secure in abstract dis-belief.
You’ll get used to it, little by little.
Coming home. They don’t live in the poem.
What Neruda called La muerte pequeña.
The little death. Both of you, Mr. Seferis,
humble at the banquet table, Neruda,
most local of local poets, You:
We are lost because we have been unjust.
I was in high school when you spoke.
50 years later, building home in a poem,
I type your words and pin them to a wall
made of words. Fated archers, diplomats
miss target after target. In my time
TV sport never ends. Elpenor cheering.
Forgettable whistles furthering holocaust.
You stand with Rex Warner in the stadium,
understanding. Coded language of love
before the horror. Steadfast in sympathy
for Elpenor, who we can no longer name.
My poor, foolish Elpenor. Oh, Help us!
You instruct in diary and anecdote,
one day going for a swim, coming on
the sunken wreck. Surrounded
in water and light, the poem, Thrush,
born here—close the curtains
to bring what’s been hidden to the surface.
1 September-15 October 2014