But came to me then           a vision

                              which I carried, though it pleased
                              me not, this reef and wrack,
                              resting place riding as it seized,
                              sudden, upon my back.

                              But came to me then and stayed:
                              The poem as canvas, dried and rot,
                              a worn-out, faded sailor’s cot.
                              Clearly I saw then          and was afraid.

My father-in-law, Dr. Arndt,
met you once, not long before your release
in 58, while you held forth, pell-mell,
on the front lawns of St. Elizabeth’s.
(Murray, not Walter, the butcher
of my beloved Faust.) Murray,
English professor and Salvatorian priest,
before he left a decade later
with that great American exodus, that
bold act which led, among other things,
to his granddaughter, Virginia, being born.
Virginia Marguerite, named
for two of her grandmothers.
In the Italian way. Virginia Marguerite.

He told me this on our way home from Parke
County, Amish Country, your country once
(before you shipped, were shipped out),
where we’d gone shopping for a chair
and to look around, had passed
on the road, seconds before,
two authentic horse drawn buggies
with Indiana plates.

      (Behind us, the great
      golden sun dipping down,
      wine-red bubble
      under the back window blade.)

My favorite image of you
is in Rapallo, captured
opposite a middle-aged Robert Lowell
then included in Mariani’s
uneven biography. A couple
of bona-fide reprobates, and you’re thin,
thin as a rail, dressed neat in blacks and whites
and silver beard, but seem, for once,
almost at home in the world.

      (Bald farms,
                              and this roadside wreath.)

He was teaching Christ and Bible then
at Catholic. You were a field trip
for bored students and peers
who saw you, if they saw you
at all, as sworn shock-jock and traitor,
the one-time editor of Eliot, then
committed enemy of banks and Jews.

Ah, what you were in life, you’re less
and less in death, but per
this enterprise, bedeviler,
what would you make? I confess,
I don’t know what to make.

So this.

But then to set oneself (to be beset),
braced against the endless,
unquestioning present
and its all-embracing style? With this,

besotted with word-shadows, then the numb
clutch of madness (re: crutch), little thought
given to the suffering few
I hold dear, proceeding bankrupt, unheeded

and unheeding, poem after poem,
the poems like ciphers decoded,
then forwarded on in code? Is it dross,
this madness? Is it new? Is it mine?

      (It’s been thirteen years since I first
      read you, 13 years but I still
      haven’t read them all. For that,
      I weep, and am glad.)

And how should this obsession end, how
should it best be ended? With such hurried
speech, peppered with tricks
and the usual suspect questions?

With this pre-pressed image, a time-stripped
and faded glimpse, the stretched corner
of some abandoned untraveled world:

Up and well and shipped out, the crack(ed) mind
capped against swells and the chill wind,
ship’s prow ahead, the mast behind?

      (But to have done this much
      instead of not doing...)

The pitch (past pitch) and the price:
The true returns are endless...

stress truth stress loss (i.e. the loss)
which means Time. Venerandam,

then the catch...

_ _ _

Stellasue at Rattle sends
her succinct blessings. She writes
these “epigraphs are wonderful,” but comments
she felt she could serve me best
if I sent her some of my own work.

      (A man of no fortune and with a name to come...)

Rapallo, now there’s somewhere
I’d like to sail to and see.

_ The poem is an anagram of Ezra Pound’s first “Canto.”

Mike Smith | Mudlark No. 30
Contents | Stevens at the Strip